Imposter Syndrome: When You Feel Stuck on Your Career

When we start stepping our feet toward a career goal, there’s just something holding us back. Have you ever felt that? You are on the track toward that goal, yet you still ask yourself “what gives me the right to be in this position? How can I deserve this achievement?” And that condition brings you to feel like a fraud, that all you’ve got is not because of you. Eventually, the fear of being successful or failed comes because you don’t want people discovering your ‘real’ ability, discovering that those achievements are nothing but luck.

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If you ever felt that way or were aware that one of your friends felt that way, anxious about being discovered as a phony, you need to know that it’s of course not just a random feeling. This condition is called the imposter phenomenon or syndrome.

Well, what might pop in your mind when you hear the word “imposter” is the Among Us online game. Apparently, an imposter is not merely a fictional character; it’s a real-life phenomenon.

The term was originally used to describe the phenomenon that was usually felt by high-achieving women. We’re aware that women were and are framed to be in a lower position than men. Unfortunately, some women internalize the value given by society or simply by their closest environment, and end up feeling like a fraud of their achievements. Although this syndrome could be experienced among people across various backgrounds (age, role, race, or gender), it may be more common to affect the underrepresented groups. Not only affecting the mental side, but this syndrome could also affect the career development of the person.

If you’re aware of this phenomenon, whether it could be you or your friends, let’s dig deeper to understand imposter syndrome and how it could affect someone’s career development!

What is imposter syndrome?

You may start to get a view of what imposter syndrome means. To make it clearer, imposter syndrome is a condition when someone perceives they don’t have the actual competency while there’s evidence to break that belief system. This way of viewing one’s competency is followed by the feeling of being an imposter, someone who deceives others by his achievements because those are actually nothing but luck.

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Even though people give positive feedback for the achievements, someone with imposter syndrome will still feel that it’s not his ability that brought him to the achievements. It could be said that the bottom line of the syndrome is the belief system regarding themselves with little or almost no objective evaluation on the actual competencies they have; they believe they don’t have the capability, that’s all. Therefore, it’s hard for someone with imposter syndrome to internalize his achievements.

Wait, isn’t that a good sign? Unsatisfied with our achievements will bring us to the next level, right?

Well, of course, feeling dumb is necessary for us to learn more because learning is a never-ending process. But, we need to acknowledge these two different experiences; feeling dumb that drives us to get more knowledge is different from feeling dumb and fear to be discovered as a fraud which is what imposter syndrome feels like.

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What highlights the imposter syndrome is the non-objective evaluation of one’s self. When we can’t evaluate objectively what to improve and what to fix, how can we bring ourselves to the next level? Instead, this non-objective evaluation will bring us to other conditions that prevent us from experiencing the development in our career. What are those impacts?

How imposter syndrome could be the psychological barrier for the career development

Before talking about the career development barrier caused by imposter syndrome, it’s important to understand how someone could experience this syndrome.

Research by Neureiter and Traut-Mattausch explained that the fear of success, fear of failure, and low self-esteem are the predictors of imposter syndrome among workers. We may understand or relate to the fear of failure and low self-esteem that could prevent us from gaining career development. What does fear of success mean? Well, someone who has the fear of success is someone that fears the loss of connection or affection they have with other people when they achieve something in their career. Also, the fear of success is a feeling to protect a person from experiencing failure in a higher level or position. Hence, one decides to just stay on the same level and not go beyond.

In the same research, Neureiter and Traut-Mattausch found that career planning, career striving, and motivation to lead are the three aspects of career development that are being impacted by imposter syndrome.

When someone fears being successful or failed, or having low self-esteem, it will be hard for the person to seek possibilities, thereby preventing them from proactively planning his career path (career planning). Having imposter syndrome may also lower the drive for striving for a better career (career striving). As a result of having the fear for success or failure or having low self-esteem, one could also have low motivation to fill the leader position (motivation to lead). Even if the person fulfills the qualification, imposter syndrome is being the barrier for the person to take the higher responsibility as a leader.

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How to cope with imposter syndrome?

We already understand what imposter syndrome is and how it affects someone’s career development. Hence, what we can do is try to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings; is there any characteristic of imposter syndrome?

Being aware and trying to talk to someone might be really helpful to overcome the syndrome. If your friends show the signs, try to reach them and be their support system. And unfortunately, we also still can’t ignore that some women still don’t get an equal frame as men regarding career development. That’s why supporting women to thrive in their careers is important. Engaging with someone or a community who shares the same spirit to reach a higher goal is also beneficial to prevent you from having imposter syndrome.

Girls Kode is aware of the issue and therefore provides a safe place for women to express themselves through digital and technology. If you’re interested to know more and need a support system for women in the digitech world, reach us on our Instagram! It’s always such a pleasure for us to welcome a new family member.

Written by Laksita Laras


  1. Arlin Cuncic. (2021). What is Imposter Syndrome? Verrywellmind.
  2. Mirjam Neureiter and Eva Traut-Mattausch. (2016). An Inner Barrier to Career Development: Preconditions of The Imposter Phenomenon and Consequences of Career Development. Front. Psychol. 7:48. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00048
  3. Ted-Ed. What is Imposter Syndrome and How Can You Combat It? — Elizabeth Cox.

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