How millennials can overcome imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome & what can you do about it?

You’ve worked your whole life to lead up to this moment. You’ve put in the hours, studied your heart out, and visualized this achievement again and again. 

Ane now, you’ve landed a big promotion, yet you feel that there must be a mix-up somehow.  That surely someone smarter than ourselves will realize that we’re a hoax? If so, you’re not alone: The culprit of these feelings of doubt and insecurity is “imposter syndrome,” a condition that’s more common than you may think.

Research shows that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lifetime. If you let it, this condition could hold you back from your true potential. Here’s the good news:  You can be proactive to regain your confidence and own your accomplishments.

Why Do I Feel Like A Phony?

Millennials are talking about it! This generation is prone to this condition, for many reasons (we’ll get to that in a minute). However, Boomers, Gen X, even some Traditionalists,  continue to experience the imposter syndrome. This phenomenon came to be in 1978, characterized as a persistent fear of feeling like a fraud. People with imposter syndrome feel not good enough or smart enough for the task. They attribute external factors like luck or timing to their advancement rather than skill, talent, and hard work.

Here’s the thing: Imposter syndrome doesn’t just go away once you’ve reached the pinnacle of success. They live with the fear of others “finding out” that they’re a fraud and their feeling can even intensify the higher they climb.

There are several factors at play and trigger these feelings. Perhaps the most obvious is social media. Today, you’re not just comparing yourself to others in your department or organization, but the universe. A glimpse at someone’s great website or seeing their thousands of Instagram followers can easily lead us to feel inadequate.

Millennials, in particular, have been conditioned to compare themselves to peers online, from the MySpace days to today’s LinkedIn landscape. As digital natives, Millennials also expected to have a standout digital presence and to keep up with constant technological advancements. It doesn’t help that most of what we read about Millennials today is negative. One survey found that just 39% of employees believe Millennials to be hard-working.  Others see Millennials as entitled, narcissistic, lazy living in their parent’s basements, unable to make eye contact, and expecting a trophy for just showing up.

It’s no wonder Millennials feel they have to continually “prove themselves.” Much is written about this generation’s delayed entry to adulthood.  Today, Millennials are less likely to acheive the traditional adult “milestones” that their parents had at their age. According to the new study from Bowling Green State University, Millennials are delaying adulthood to an extent unheard of in previous generations.  Fewer Millennials are married, fewer are living on their own, and fewer own their own homes or live with biological children. All of these factors can fuel the flames of imposter syndrome.

Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Also, imposter syndrome can spiral into anxiety and depression, and hold you back in both your personal and professional life. Here are a few simple tips to help combat this condition: 

1. Stop the social media shame game. When you scale back from social media, you have room to focus on developing yourself.  You become more confident in your own right, rather than making unhealthy, disillusioned comparisons. The person you should be competing against is the one staring back at you in the mirror. Reflect on how far you’ve come since college, your first job, or last week. When you frame in that perspective, it’s clear how much incredible growth has occurred.

2. Record your accomplishments. Keep track of the victories, small and large, that reflect your competence. Look back on those emails of praise or projects that make you feel proud when you’re feeling low. You can store them all in one Google Doc for easy access and a reminder that you’ve succeeded again and again and will continue to do so. 

3. When people compliment your work, don’t deflect or deny the achievement. Practice saying, “Thank you!”

4. Provide value to others. “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” This centuries-old quote certainly rings true for us today. Focusing on genuinely helping others is an incredibly effective way to get outside yourself and halt imposter syndrome in its tracks.

5. Focus on continued growth. No matter how high up the ladder you are, you have to accept that you don’t know everything. That realization can be incredibly freeing. 

6. Reading the industry news or signing up for a class to learn a new skill can strengthen your confidence. Reframe the fact that you’ll never achieve perfection as an exciting opportunity for continual growth. You’ll never be bored that way!

7. Develop a support system within your industry. Pretending as if you have it together, 100% doesn’t make imposter syndrome go awayit can exacerbate the issue. Make sure you have friends (and ideally, a trusted mentor) that you can turn to in your industry for support, guidance, and wisdom. 

8. Don’t forget about your non-professional support system! Sometimes it can be tough to untangle what we do from who we are. It’s hugely helpful to disconnect from work and remember that you have unique qualities, talents, and capabilities entirely outside the realm of your day job. You’re loved first and foremost for your one-of-a-kind personality, not your title.


Most of us will experience imposter syndrome to one degree or another. Don’t beat yourself up when those feelings of inadequacy arise. Instead, embrace the coping mechanisms above and remember that each day is a learning experience for all of us. We all have doubts, and we all must move forward anyway.  

It’s impossible to be an imposter when you’re authentically you. Believe in yourself and embrace your gifts and be there for those who need you.  Remember to encourage others to shine their light as well!

Karen McCullough

Karen McCullough

Karen McCullough is a nationally known keynote speaker and virtual presenter. She speaks to credit unions across the country on change, generational opportunities and workforce trends.  Karen helps organizations cut ... Web: Details