How to Kick Impostor Syndrome to the Curb for Good

Despite the fact I’ve been developing websites for the past 15 years and writing professionally about WordPress for three years, I’m a total fake.

Yes, I pretend I’m great at WordPress development.

Can you tell?

Yet I know that I’m not really a fake. After all, I’ve got years of experience to back up what I do.

Yes, impostor syndrome has a way of creeping into your thoughts, making you question what you think you know and, for me, feeding me thoughts that I’m a fraud and about to be exposed for what I don’t know.

Unfortunately, the lies we tell ourselves are a debilitating and widespread problem and can seriously impede your day-to-day work, productivity, and success.

There are so many people in the WordPress community who suffer from the impostor syndrome: Chris Lema, Jeff Chandler, myself and many, many others. We all pretend we’re great at what we do until one day (we hope!) it becomes true.

So today, I’m going to share with you the 17 tips I use to push past impostor syndrome.

Here, There and Everywhere: Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome typically affects high-achieving people, but it can also affect anyone who has a belief that they aren’t good enough.

There are three ways impostor syndrome can appear in a person’s life:

  • Thinking you’re a fraud and that it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out
  • Not being able to internalize accomplishments and successes and attributing them to luck
  • Minimizing successes and internalizing failures instead

There are many ways to manage your impostor syndrome, but there are five main steps you should take that are the most helpful. They’re the foundation of a successful coping strategy and implementing them with other tips should help further your progress and build your confidence.

Tip #1: Commit to Changing Your Habits

There’s a reason this is the first tip. If you want to move past impostor syndrome, you need to commit to making it happen since no one else can do this for you. You need to acknowledge you are affected by impostor syndrome and make a commitment to yourself to get over it.

Because the truth is, you’re knowledgeable in your field and your work so after you make a commitment to yourself, it can be helpful to press on with your work and continue to pretend you’re a great WordPress professional and ignore those niggling, negative thoughts. You’re already doing the work, right? So you must know what you’re doing; you’re more capable than you may think.

This tip will help increase your chances of experiencing more accomplishments that you can work on internalizing.

Tip #2: Make a note of Your Supporters

While you’re working on ridding yourself of impostor syndrome, it’s helpful to remember and make a note of the people around you who you can trust to support you.

Sometimes you may need to vent, or maybe you just need some encouragement and a reminder that you’re capable. You can have different people for each kind of support you need, such as a friend, family member, co-worker, colleague or even your supervisor.

For example, your friends or family can listen to you vent when you need it, and your co-workers, colleagues or supervisors can give you some gentle encouragement when you’re feeling the most like a fraud.

Tip #3: Get to the Core of Your Impostor Syndrome

There could be many underlying reasons why you believe you’re a fraud (when you’re anything but!). Identifying the core belief that’s fueling your impostor syndrome and then fixing it is the one thing that’s going to make the syndrome pack its bags and leave for good.

If your car is running poorly and there’s a problem with the engine, you can wash the windows and change the oil all you want, but the engine is going to be still broken. It’s the same thing with your impostor syndrome.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been used consistently in the field of psychology to help people cope with negative beliefs that they have about themselves. It focuses on getting to the core of your beliefs so you can minimize the effects of impostor syndrome to the point where you barely notice it.

For details, check out these resources:

Tip #4: Catch Impostor Syndrome in the Act

It’s important to start becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions. The next time you think, say or do something out of habit because of impostor syndrome, become aware of it. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just be aware it’s happening.

Then, stop yourself in that moment by clapping your hands, snapping your fingers, visualizing a stop sign in your mind or anything else that reminds you to stop your impostor syndrome-fueled habits.

Whatever you choose, just be sure not to hurt yourself in the process by clapping too hard, for example!

Tip #5: Set Realistic Goals for Your Recovery

Setting realistic goals that you hope to achieve to squash impostor syndrome and can help you stay committed and on track so you can get there.

For example, you could set a goal to try one tip a week or month. Alternatively, you could set a goal to implement these tips in your life by the 12-week mark.

We Can Work It Out… With These Top Tips

The tips below are great for giving you a jump start and are most effective when used in conjunction with the five steps mentioned above. Try one of them or try them all, but the more you implement into your life the better. Be sure to choose the tips that work best for you.

Tip #6: Make Time to Stay in the Loop

Make time to stay up-to-date with the WordPress community. This will help remind you and solidify that you actually are knowledgeable and less of a fraud than you think, especially when you’re up-to-date with all the latest advancements. The easiest way to do this is to subscribe to The WhiP for weekly WordPress-related news.

While you’re at it, why not make time to brush up on your skills as well. Subscribe to blogs that post regularly about WordPress such as the WPMU DEV Blog. Sure, you’re probably going to know about most of what’s posted, but it serves to remind you further that you do know what you’re talking about.

Tip #7: Keep a Compliments Folder or Site

Whenever you receive a compliment about your work, copy it into a folder on your computer or, better yet, make a local install of WordPress and record everything there.

Every time you feel like a fraud, look through all the compliments you saved. Just don’t let the ego boost get to your head too much!

Tip #8: Remember Why You Started

Remembering your passions and reasons for working professionally with WordPress can help you keep going when impostor syndrome makes working tougher.

Tip #9: Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People

Everyone has their struggles that you may not be aware of and assuming that someone has their life together when you don’t actually know their situation only makes the impostor syndrome become more severe.

Besides, no one is perfect or knows everything. You wouldn’t expect your mechanic to perform open heart surgery so why would you set that impossible standard for yourself? It’s just not realistic.

Tip #10: Create Reminders of Your Goals

Keep track of your goals and helpful phrases that help you feel more confident in your skills. You could set a daily alarm on your phone with your reminders, paint a canvas, create a desktop screensaver or install WordPress on a live server or locally.

Phrases that you can use could be tips nine, eleven, twelve and fourteen. Add whatever helps you.

Tip #11: You Can Control Yourself and Your Choices

You can’t control other people or your environment, but you can control yourself and your choices. You have a choice in everything you do. Reminding yourself of this fact can help you remember that you have control over your life and you can choose not to let the impostor syndrome control you.

Instead, you can take your control back and choose to do things that help you feel like less of a fraud. Whenever you feel like you’re overwhelmed and a fraud, stop yourself in that thought and ask yourself what steps you can take now to change things for the better.

It may help to start small and go from there.

Tip #12: Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

Pobody’s nerfect—I mean, nobody’s perfect. Perfection is an unrealistic standard. You’re not a fraud if you fail because it’s a part of the learning process. Don’t glorify it, but don’t let failure define you.

Remind yourself that you should focus on making progress, not being perfect.

If you receive constructive feedback, it’s natural to get defensive since it may remind you that you believe you’re a fraud. Remind yourself to focus on progress and take the opportunity to become better. If you do, you’re likely to go farther and stick around as a WordPress professional.

Tip #13: Keep a Record of Your Progress

Personally, I despise the suggestion of keeping a journal of your progress, accomplishments, and successes, but the fact is, it works. When you have impostor syndrome, you’re probably going to dislike this suggestion as well because it’s difficult to challenge your longstanding belief that you’re a fraud.

If you can blow past the initial discomfort, it’s worth it. You can refer to your journal every time you feel like a fraud or a failure, and it should help you internalize your successes and accomplishments.

Better yet, create a local WordPress install and record it all there!

Make a habit to record your successes and progress on a regular basis. It’s normal not to be able to record much at first, but as your confidence grows, it’s a task that gets easier.

Also, make a daily habit of checking it out before you start work or at least when you feel you need a boost. Don’t quickly skim through the content. Instead, be as thorough as you can since it increases the likelihood of internalizing your accomplishments.

You can also expand your records to include your goals, reminders, and sources of inspiration and motivation.

Tip #14: Remember You Are Good Enough

You may not believe you’re good enough, but you are and you need to remind yourself of this fact whenever the thought pops into your head that you’re a fraud. Notice when it happens, stop the thought right away and remind yourself that you are talented and know your stuff.

Then, remind yourself of all the reasons why you are good enough, including your accomplishments.

Tip #15: Work on Your “Good” Days

Impostor syndrome can be a roller coaster. Some days you feel pretty good and other days getting out of bed is just plain hard.

If you can, try to work on your “good” days and focus on feeling better on your “bad” days. If you can’t schedule your work that way, then focus on getting as much work as is reasonable on your good days so you don’t have as much pressure to complete work on days that are tougher for you.

Tip #16: Increase Your Productivity

When you believe you’re a fraud, this thought can be compounded by work that stacks up on your to-do list.

That backlog of work ends up being a reminder that you aren’t good enough or capable and that you must be a fraud because if it weren’t true, you would be able to handle your workload.

If you find ways to make working more efficient and productive, it helps you feel more accomplished and capable.

Check out these posts for some tools you can use to help you work productively: 35 Time-Saving Productivity Apps for Busy WordPress People and 20 Free Chrome Extensions for WordPress You Need Now.

Tip #17: Refer to Outside Resources

When you try out these tips, and you’re able to make significant gains over time, it can be helpful to begin looking for other resources to help you progress even further.

You can check out these great WordCamp talks for more tips:

If you find your situation doesn’t improve and that it’s particularly excruciating, it may be time to search for a professional that can help you sort it out such as a life coach or counselor. Asking for help can be difficult, and it was for me, but I reached a point where I realized something: why suffer alone when you don’t have to – it’s not worth it.

Nobody’s perfect and you can’t know everything. At some point, everyone’s going to need to ask for help for one thing or another.

For example, if your arm got cut off, would you try repairing it yourself even though you don’t have the training, or would you go to the hospital and have a doctor help you?

Getting assistance from other resources or professionals can be your fast track toward improving your life and squashing impostor syndrome once and for all.

Hello, Goodbye Impostor Syndrome!

It won’t happen overnight, but these tips should help you cope with impostor syndrome to the point where it’s not really a problem anymore.

I have tried them all, and they work. These days, I’m feeling less like a fraud, and I’m able to recognize when I do great work. These tips should help you do the same.

Jenni McKinnon
Do you have the impostor syndrome? If so, how has it affected your work or life? What tips do you want to try? What tips have you heard of that would be remiss if you didn't mention them? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below. If nothing else, we can commiserate together.

26 Responses

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Wow – this one strikes close to home! I get a lot of these feelings, and I know a lot of it comes from being self taught – when I was in school, there were no web design or development courses, and by the time education in these fields was a thing, I was doing it professionally. I had to learn a lot on the fly, as well as split my attention between building my knowledge and attempting to build my tiny business (or at least sustain it). Because what I do is based on knowledge I’m pretty much cobbling together based on the needs of the moment, and not based on professional training, I constantly question its legitimacy. Now that I’m with a professional agency, no matter how much my colleagues pump my tires, I feel even more pressure because I’m a department of one, and I worry that my company’s entire suite of web offerings is a virtual house of cards.

    Thank you for writing an article like this. It’s a great starting point for taking positive action. I can get out of my own way and not only realize the kind of expert I really am, but become the kind of expert I really want to be :)

    P.S. Is it “impostor”, or “imposter”? ;)

  • New Recruit

    I have mixed feelings about this article. I know it was intended for people who are trying to legitimately make it in this field, but I have cleaned up the messes of a lot of people “faking it” as web developers. I would add to the list “Know your limits. If you don’t feel you can adequately do something, contract it out to someone who can. Your client will thank you. After the job is over, spend some time learning that skill so you will have the expertise next time around. Don’t leave your client or their future web developer with your half-ass attempt at something.” Other than that, this is all good advice.

      • New Recruit

        Also, knowing that it’s ok to say “I don’t know” can be very empowering. I used to be so afraid someone would ask me to do something and I wouldn’t know how. But then I saw one of my colleagues whose skills I admired say to someone else, “hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever run into such a situation. I’ll have to think about how to do that.” I was amazed and awakened. His being able to admit, without embarrassment, that he didn’t already know everything actually made him seem even more confident and competent. Realizing that it’s ok to not know everything greatly reduced my own fear of being caught not knowing something.

  • The Incredible Code Injector

    What has worked for me the most is tip #13 keeping track of my progress and analyzing the impact of my projects.

    Working as a freelancer, sometimes I don’t know how skillful I am on a specific topic because I don’t have a way to compare skills with others.

    Anyway when I analyze the impact of what I have done in a specific project keeps me focused on what I do well and in which topics I need help. It is a constant learning.

    • Staff

      Hallo Camilo.

      #13 is so important. You have got to measure yourself. I have lots of books on different projects, that I make notes in. I put anything in there. I also ask myself questions about what I did right or what I did wrong. Why I did it in a certain way and how I can improve on something. We learn and improve ourselves by evaluating our progress with questions. It is not as easy to measure yourself against someone as we all have our own strengths and unique way of doing things. I personally think this is what makes WordPress so successful. It allows us to be ourselves. To work with what we have or can give and improve on what we don’t.

      :-) Michelle

  • Tim
    New Recruit

    Great article! Hi, my name is Tim, and I am an imposter, too.

    OK, it isn’t that I’m not trying. I work a lot of hours, I work really hard and have (so far) managed to get nothing but 5-star reviews (dozens of them) from my clients.

    Here’s what makes me feel like I’m an imposter. No matter how much I read, no matter how many articles, help tips, support pages, tutorials and blog posts I consume, WordPress and the Internet are always a step ahead of me. And the gap seems to be ever-widening. I can’t know it all, and there is more to learn every day, since EVERYTHING is always changing… Google, WordPress, all the plugins, my host provider, it never stops.

    I can be absolutely proficient at something today, and tomorrow I may feel like a babe in the woods yet again.

    I am smart, hardworking, resourceful and determined.

    And yet…

    I feel like an imposter–because I cannot and will not ever “master” this profession. The beast cannot be tamed.

    Your article hit home. Thanks for speaking to my soul! :-)

    • Staff

      :-) Hey Mr. Impostor.

      I am happy our article hit home. For one, I am glad that cyberspace is like a never ending evolution. Yeah! Just think, you will never get bored. There is always something to learn. I don’t think that you are being fair to yourself. Stopping being so hard on yourself and just enjoy every little new tidbit of info thrown at you.
      Working hard is good. Improving yourself even better, but not enjoying how much you have grown makes me :-( very sad.
      From what I have read in your post, you have come a long way. Just think, you know more today than you did 10 years ago. You should be very proud of how much you have achieved up until now.
      It is not about how much we know, but about what we do with what we know. We should never let anyone or anything determine how we feel about ourselves. We are more than what we think or can imagine. We were born with infinite possibilities, it is just sad that we let society determine our worth.
      So next time you feel like an impostor, just remind yourself of how far you have come.

      :-) Michelle

    • New Recruit

      I can identify with that feeling, but I have to keep reminding myself the aim isn’t always to know everything, the aim is to be able to produce something. The coding course I did used Google as a legitimate resource in answer to “how do you…” because that’s the way the very successful, knowledgable and skilled tutor works, and that’s the way the profession works, I think. If you can create and maintain great websites, follow the main developments to a reasonable degree, and look into stuff in more detail when time, interest or needs suggest you should, you’re an excellent developer.

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    This article is exactly what I needed 😳 I’ve taught myself everything over 3 years and although I know what im doing and can do it well, I always feel like a fraud! Its good to know that I’m not the only one who has the same feelings!
    The hardest part for me is taking my skills to the next level… i would love to sell my services but the feeling that im somehow ‘cheating’ stops me from doing so! Ive built several website but always for free!
    I’ll be working from your tips! Great article!

  • New Recruit

    Great post. Strikes very close to home. Thanks for making me feel like I have a “club”.

    IT professional for over 30 years teaching myself graphic and web design (including Adobe CC suite) plus HTML/CSS/php/JavaScript/mySQL, etc. plus a bit of SEO.

    And I still feel like I should stop pretending and stick to my day job… *sigh*

    Admittedly less so every day as I keep pushing my own envelope being the “old dog” learning even more “new tricks.”

    One other I would add though, which applies to me is, trust your experience. Everyhting you have done, even if it isn’t building websites, adds something to the character that makes you and made you kick this off in the first place. It takes balls, commitment, perseverance, a desire to solve problems, build things, help people and it takes a certain creative and coding gene.

    A term I learned in leadership training is contextual intelligence. Being able to apply yourself to new things and draw on the experience already gained to understand athe how and why it works. I think that applies here.

    The next step for me is making it into my day job, not just a paid hobby. That’s where the “fraud” factor kicks in and says if I am found out I’m gonna fail, so stick to the day job. Or, the day job will always pay me more so why waste my time…

    Anyway, thanks for the article. :-)

    • Staff

      Hey David.

      Great post. I think that you have so much experience, it is just the unknown that is stopping you from taking your dream by the horns. I like the term contextual intelligence. It is something I haven’t heard of before. You see. We are learning something new everyday.

      Ps: You are already doing it as a hobby. Why don’t you take the plunge and make it your day job. You have the skills, you have experience. All you need to do now is make the transition.

      :-) Michelle

  • New Recruit

    I remind myself that I don’t need to apologise beforehand, ‘in case I’m found out,’ as that weakens others’ trust in my abilities, when I actually am competent. The knowledge that others are more talented or experienced doesn’t mean my own abilities and experience count for nothing, and even the experts don’t usually know everything, because the field is so vast. I’m learning to state my case confidently, admit when something’s outside of my field of expertise, but without apology, i.e. as if that’s completely acceptable, since it is. It boosts my confidence when people I look up to in the field agree with my ideas, reminds me I’m not pretending afrer all!

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Hmm… I get were you’re going with this – and I’m sure there are fair share of people who *do* know most of what they are doing but either feel overwhelmed by the endless list of technical areas involved in delivering a professional web presence for clients, or they feel not “up to scratch” because they don’t have the paper on the wall to say they’re experts.

    The internet is just too big for most people to be expert at a wide range of disciplines. The best coders are generally those who stick to what they learned 10 years ago, or only slowly move to another platform after years of learning. Running a small business teaches one to become a jack of all trades but you still have to master certain aspects of your business before you succeed – it’s the same in Web.

    It is necessary to specialise to some degree and to know your strengths and sell those, or build a company around you to be able to appropriately meet the level of expectation that the client rightly has.

    I too, taught myself (largely because there was no-one to teach me when I was starting), and I too promised delivery to clients when I was ‘faking it while I was making it’ (ie. had minimal competency at what I had promised to deliver) but whether building a website, or an ISP, or a hosting company, a web design agency or learning coding, I researched what was needed, understood the complexity and knew what I could achieve in the time allowed and always delivered what was promised.

    Like another commenter, my concern is about those who will read this article who oversell themselves (either through ignorance or through being cowboys) and don’t deliver what they are selling. Being involved on a number of forums, particularly WP forums, I regularly see people whose obvious lack of knowledge belies the titles that sit beside their name. I fear for their clients.

    Over the many years, we have picked up many clients left in the lurch by cowboys who over promise and under deliver. We are the beneficiary of this, however the clients are the unwitting prey.

    I think there are plenty of people in the WP world who may be considered experts but suffer from your impostor feelings, but from where I sit, that seems to be more a sense of not living up to external expectation than actually being an impostor or faker. I’m sure you and those that you mention don’t oversell yourselves, you know your limits, and even when what you take on is going to stretch you, yu have a pretty good bead on what exactly is going to be required to execute.

    Personally I don’t see that as being an impostor. That’s just being competent enough to move nimbly and grow quickly.

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