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Identifying and Coping with Imposter Syndrome


Success occurs from the inside out. Your thoughts, beliefs and feeling either spur you forward or hold you back. Although it’s rarely talked about at the water cooler, most accounting professionals experience some degree of Imposter Syndrome.

Feb 14th 2020
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Imposter Syndrome Derails Your Success

Success occurs from the inside out. Your thoughts, beliefs and feeling either spur you forward or hold you back. Although it’s rarely talked about at the water cooler, most accounting professionals experience some degree of Imposter Syndrome.

How can you tell if this applies to you?

  • You doubt your capabilities.
  • You worry about someone calling you a fake.
  • You discount your achievements.

When left alone, it’s like a silent cancer which sabotages your potential.

According to research, 70 percent of professionals feel like a fake at some point. Imposter Syndrome crosses all demographics, from start-ups to well-established firm owners. It’s most common among high-achieving women who experience self-doubt.

Sometimes an isolated incident triggers your concerns, especially if you took on a project which stretches your current skill set. Other times, your inner voice constantly questions your capabilities.  

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome wasn’t named until 1978 by a team of psychologists.

Many highly respected people in history had difficulty acknowledging their achievements. Although their peers respected them, they quietly worried about being exposed as a fraud.

Symptoms and Clues

If you hold yourself to exceptionally high standards, then you’re prone to Imposter Syndrome. Which of these five common experiences apply to you?


Each job requires perfection. You end up re- checking your work multiple times to avoid errors and reduce omissions.

Reviewing all the minor details can add hours to a project. Anxiety, doubt and worry fuel your desire to get it right and avoid mistakes.

The constant self-criticism drains your energy; it’s exhausting. Since you naturally focus on what didn’t go well, you often forget to celebrate your accomplishments.

Rather than learning from the experience, perfectionists re-run mistakes over and over in their mind. Anything less than achieving the goal is viewed as a failure.


You’ve discovered a couple ways to compensate your feeling of being a fake. Working long hours is a clue. You sacrifice your social life, personal health and spiritual connections for the sake of your business. 

Do you often find yourself working late at night to do one more thing? If so, it’s a sign you are overworking.

Undermine Achievements

Compliments are uncomfortable. Even when someone publicly acknowledges your success, you brush off the kind words.

To reduce overwhelm, you subconsciously sabotage further business growth.

Here are some examples:

  • Last minute cancellations of important client meetings.
  • Missed deadlines.
  • Not responding to new client inquiries. 
  • Convincing yourself someone doesn’t want your service before you meet with them.

When milestones don’t meet your high expectations, you discount them. That mindset makes everything you do very black and white. Either you’re failing or succeeding.

In reality, you consistently accomplish more than you give yourself credit for.  

Fear of Failure

Because you don’t like to fail, you avoid risks. As a result, change is difficult. Even exploring opportunities to advance your firm, like new technology or referral relationships, challenges your comfort zone. Instead, you prefer to stick with what you already know. 

You routinely set goals. However, you prefer the easy, achievable ones rather than the stretch goals. The research and planning phase goes on for longer than necessary. It’s a way to postpone the action phase.

Discounting Praise

Although you’re a hard worker, you don’t like any recognition. When someone does compliment you, your inner voice tells you it’s not true and dismisses the praise.

Instead of saying thank you, you minimize the work you’ve done. Actually, you struggle to accept sincere praise for work well done.

First Steps to Feeling Real

There’s a high cost to tolerating these things. Here’s the good news – you can overcome the fraud factor. The following steps shift your focus away from criticism.

1. Awareness: All you need to do is start recognizing when you’re being harsh with yourself. In the beginning, you’ll recognize the criticisms after the fact. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it every time you catch yourself being critical. Although it sounds silly, this simple activity creates mindfulness.

2. Accomplishments: Create a Kind Words Folder for your awards, achievements and testimonials. Place everything positive into this folder, including client testimonials and thank you cards. Then pull out your folder to look through it anytime you feel like a fake.

3. Avoid Comparison: Women tend to compare up to people who are more advanced. This reinforces toxic beliefs about never being good enough. Your success path is your own. If you want to make comparisons, review how much you’ve grown since you first started your firm.

4. Admit Mistakes: As you know, no one’s immune from bad decisions or wrong choices. Don’t define who you are by any singular action. You’re so much more than that.

My clients learn to follow the lead of highly successful firm owners. They find ways to turn a negative into a positive.

Many successes are tucked into failure. Identify the good, the bad and the ugly. Then course correct your plan to get an even better outcome the next time around. 

5. Attitude: Criticizing and complaining keeps you focused on all that’s wrong. Frustration heightens when you focus on things beyond your control.  Plus, this perception reinforces a sense of scarcity and lack.

You only control two things – your actions and your attitude. If you’re not satisfied with something, then find the solution to turn things around. Sometimes the solution involves another person. Other times the solution involves a series of action steps.

Turn a Negative into a Positive

Don’t mistakenly expect your critical thoughts to magically disappear. That’s because change is a process, and awareness is the first step.

Ready to turn things around? Here’s my challenge to you. Pair each negative statement with one positive statement. If you’re going to be self critical, then include an equal number of statements acknowledging something you did well.

All my clients learn to share their wins , whether small or large. Some of them write down their daily accomplishments in their Kind Words Journal.

Starting anything new requires more focus and energy. It’s okay to start with small acknowledgments. The more you do this, the more you train your brain to notice the good things, too.

Doing these things gradually chips away at the fraud factor. The inner critic starts to lose its power of you. As a result, you begin to step up where you used to resist.

Remove the Mask

Success is messy. Let’s reduce the negativity. Rather than focus on all that’s wrong, tune into what you’ve done well. Take responsibility for your actions and your attitude. It’s highly empowering.

Because Imposter Syndrome shows up in a variety of ways, it’s difficult to do this work on your own. That’s simply because you’re so close to it that you probably don’t even realize when it’s happening. The fraud factor, however, affects your firm’s success.

As you free yourself from the imposter syndrome, you start to step up where you used to hold back. Success occurs from the inside out. Imagine experiencing success and owning your accomplishments.

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