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Leadership Blog

Understanding and Overcoming Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome

Julie Strittmatter, MBA, SPHR, Division Vice President of Human Resources/Chief Human Resources Officer at St. Luke’s Health

December 16, 2023 Posted in: Leadership
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Negative thoughts can take root and grow quickly if not examined with an unbiased gaze, leading to self-doubt or imposter syndrome. As an aptly titled article in Becker’s Hospital Review states, “Leaders aren't immune to imposter syndrome.” No one is.

One of the biggest misconceptions about imposter syndrome is that it’s easy to fix. Often, the opposite is true. In an effort to encourage someone who shares their struggles with self-doubt, we give kind words and expect the issue to resolve. However, this brushing off is insufficient to help overcome imposter syndrome. A directed, deeper conversation is often necessary to process what’s really going on when someone is affected by such self-doubt.

Just a few years ago, I would have insisted women are more vulnerable to experiencing imposter syndrome. However, women have seen vast advances in leadership roles in recent years, leveling the playing field for all. It’s my personal experience that imposter syndrome seems to affect women and men in similar ways and with similar frequency.

Identifying the Effects of Imposter Syndrome

Self-doubt isn’t always bad. In fact, a small amount of it can open your mind to new ideas and encourage you to try harder to reach your goals. Wondering whether your performance is up to par can motivate you to push harder and grow professionally and personally. The problem is when self-doubt lingers. When that happens, it becomes harder to believe we’re competent and capable. 

This is when imposter syndrome settles in—when self-doubt crosses the line between helpful and destructive. According to research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, as many as 82 percent of people have experience with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome may cause the following:

  • You begin to question your ability, education, professional development and experience. This is the telltale sign you have imposter syndrome. You begin to deny your own skill and worth, and it can be difficult to accept positive feedback from others.

  • Fear of being exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome tells you that you don’t deserve your current position or responsibility. Even worse, imposter syndrome makes you fear the rest of the world will find out you’re a fraud.

  • Failure in one area (home) spills over into self-doubt elsewhere (work). We love to talk about work-life balance, but these areas don’t always have clear, finite boundaries. Because you have the same inner dialogue running through your brain all day, feeling like an imposter in one area of life can cause self-doubt elsewhere. 

 

Regardless of how well you’ve performed in the past, self-doubt insists you’re a fraud. This can be debilitating, making it impossible to move forward on even simple tasks.

Let Lyra Help

As we lived through once-in-a-lifetime events over the last few years—namely, the COVID-19 pandemic—the need for wellness resources has been overwhelming, as more people felt underprepared for the novel experiences brought about by the pandemic. To meet this need, St. Luke’s Health began offering Lyra in December of 2022 as part of our robust wellness benefit plan. 

Open to all SLH employees and their eligible dependents, Lyra is accessible via the following:

  • Lyra app

  • SLH benefits website

  • Telephone


Through the program, users can access coaching and therapy to help address self-doubt, imposter syndrome and other mental health challenges. Some employees use coaching calls to kickstart new healthy habits or thinking patterns, and others take advantage of the program’s included therapy sessions (maximum of 10) to begin a mental health healing journey. 

Thus far, the program has proven very beneficial among our employees. In fact, it’s had such a positive effect that many employees include the Lyra phone number in their email signatures. This serves to remind email recipients that should they need it, help is only a phone call away.

Tracking Doubt Within and Without

I understand self-doubt from a clinical perspective and know how to avoid or overcome it. Additionally, I was honored to be named an outstanding business leader in health care by the Houston Business Journal. Despite this, I’m still liable to experience moments of self-doubt. This occurs because anyone and everyone who steps up to a new challenge questions their ability to succeed—at least for a moment. Just when you feel you have it under control, another new challenge opens the possibility of imposter syndrome.

While you can’t avoid self-doubt altogether, you can move past it faster with a few tactics.

  1. Remember—no one has all the answers all the time. Just like you, everyone else learns one step at a time. When you feel like an imposter, practice self-compassion. Then, take the next step and grow your competence and confidence simultaneously.

  2. Track your accomplishments. It may sound arrogant, but we should take pride in our accomplishments. I track mine with the note app on my phone. When self-doubt creeps in and sticks around longer than necessary, I open my notes and remind myself I’m more than capable of taking on whatever challenge is before me.

  3. Tell yourself the truth. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome creep in slowly as you tell yourself untruths over and over. Instead of letting lies fester, reflect on your internal dialogue. When you notice negative self-talk, correct it with the truth. 

You should also look outside of your own self-doubt. Remember: imposter syndrome has a vast reach, and it can be difficult to see when someone is struggling. Help colleagues and peers avoid self-doubt by praising them when they succeed. No matter how often they find success, encourage them to speak up if they feel self-doubt affecting them. By doing this, leaders help other leaders and team members put imposter syndrome in its place.

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