Imposter Syndrome and Five Steps on How to Overcome It

Imposter Syndrome is debilitating

A little while ago I wrote a post about Imposter Syndrome. I said back then ‘I don’t know a single freelancer who hasn’t been hit with it at some point’.

That was two years ago. If anything, I’ve seen more freelancers lately sharing that they feel inadequate, a phoney, a fraud or they just have no confidence in their abilities.

What is it that makes competent, trained freelancers turn into individuals full of self-doubt?

What is it that makes intelligent men and women look at other people in the same situation then think that the other people are better than they are?

To be honest it really pisses me off!

angry human

I’m a freelance copy-editor and copywriter living in Caithness, a remote part of Scotland. Most of my training and my work has been done remotely. Since I wrote that last article I’ve gained Advanced Professional Membership of the CIEP. This is the highest grade of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. You can only reach this ‘deliberately tough’ level if you’ve proven to be well trained and highly experienced. Yet, I still get the Imposter Monster sitting on my shoulder at times. Boy, is he heavy.


I’ve worked on some brilliant books and written some excellent copy. Yet I still occasionally think no one is ever going to hire me again.


Seriously, why?

I’ve written relatively few articles on this website since the New Year. Can you guess why? I ran out of things to say that I thought might be useful or worth reading. Seriously. I thought no one would care.

And I’m not alone.

A quick search on Twitter shows SO many people struggling with the feeling of being inadequate.

Look, if Neil Gaiman and Neil Armstrong have suffered with Imposter Syndrome, then what hope do the rest of us have?


Kill the negative inner dialogue

My original five steps towards killing the monster still hold true. But first you have to realise when you’re feeling inadequate for no reason, and when (dare I say it) you really do need to take stock.

If you find your inner dialogue telling you the following:

  • you just got lucky,
  • you’re not good enough,
  • you should be doing more.
  • your clients couldn’t tell you if you were wrong anyway,
  • you should feel guilty for succeeding
  • it was a one-time thing
  • you should be doing more training
  • you should be charging less
  • you should let the fear take over, because you’re not worthy

ask yourself: can I prove that I AM an imposter?


  • Did you really get lucky?

Did you honestly put in no work, training or have no knowledge? Prove it.

  • Why aren’t you good enough?

Have you done the work to the best of your ability? Have you trained in your chosen sector? Are your clients happy?

  • Why should you be doing more?

Have you done enough to be competent at your craft? Have you trained and gained experience? Is there really something else you need to do right now? Prove it.

  • What if your clients couldn’t tell you if you were wrong anyway?

Your clients are relying upon your expertise. DO you know what you are doing? Have you trained, can you give reasons for what you do? Are your clients happy with your work? Do you really need to take stock and do more training? Look at your training and what you’ve done. Prove it.

  • Why should you feel guilty for succeeding?

That’s what you’re aiming for – success. Why should you be frightened or guilty for success? Enjoy your success, you earned it!

  • Was it a one-time thing?

Why do you feel like this? Have you never done this successfully before? If you’ve failed before what did you do differently this time? Will you do it again? It was only a one-time thing if you don’t do it again.

  • Why should you be doing more training?

What training have you completed so far? Is there more you need to do? Why? Do you need to do it or are you just addicted to training? Are you competent at what you do now? Why do you think you need more training? Are you keeping up with your CPD?

  • Why should you be charging less?

Are you charging more than the market will stand? Do you not have enough experience to charge a higher price? Remember that more experience and training commands a higher fee – are you charging similar to other freelancers in your position with your background? If you think you should be charging less – prove it.

  • Why should you let the fear take over, why do you think you’re not worthy?

What is the worst that can happen if you fight the fear? If you’re not worthy, prove it.


By now, hopefully, you’ve realised that you’re not an imposter.

You may have also highlighted areas where more training would be beneficial. This can be a positive step – take that training.

take the training

Five steps to destroy Imposter Syndrome

With your head held high, use these five steps to move away from Imposter Syndrome and kill that monster. It’s all about emotional intelligence, understanding what’s happening and taking positive steps to take back control.

Step 1.

Realise that this monster will attack you when you’re vulnerable.

Step 2.

If you feel the first niggle, take stock, understand the situation and realise that the monster is trying to feed. This may be enough to kill the monster dead – accept what it is and let it go.

Step 3.

If the monster does take hold understand this:

  • Just because you find something easy, or something comes naturally to you, don’t discount it.
  • Remember that not everyone knows what you know and not everyone deals with things the same way.
  • You don’t necessarily need the same pathway to a career as everyone else.
  • If you think you are a fraud, most other people you know think the same thing about themselves.

Step 4.

To keep the monster at bay, realise your self-worth. It is not a dirty word.

  • Print out and keep emails that praise your work, or even just say thank you for a job well done. Pin them to your board, keep them in a jar, put them in a folder. Imposter syndrome thrives on the lack of outside validation – keep these positive messages and believe them. You didn’t ask for them to be written, did you?
  • If you did ask for testimonials, believe them … those clients would not react favourably to a job badly done.
  • When you have good days keep a note, put them in a jar and go back to them when you feel the monster growing beside you.
  • Talk to someone. If the monster has grown huge and won’t let you go, take a realistic view of your work. If you really feel a fraud, ask someone you can trust for an honest opinion.
  • Keep a book of training, accomplishments and successes. Prove to yourself that you are not a fraud. Be a Vulcan, leave emotion behind and concentrate on the cold, hard facts of your working life.
  • Laugh it off. If it gets bad, take the day off if you can, do something fun and remove the stress for a short while. Stress to the Imposter Monster is like a fine dining experience.

Step 5.

Kill the monster. By believing in yourself, and understanding the nature of the beast, you may eventually kill it. If you do you are one of the lucky ones.

imposter monster

Imposter Syndrome is a real problem. It can be debilitating. It sucks the life out of you, stops you moving forward and eventually, if you give in to it, can destroy you and your business.

Don’t let it win. You can do this!

8 Comments on “Imposter Syndrome and Five Steps on How to Overcome It

  1. And thanxxx. Excellent post, as always. Please discover more topics to write about! Or ask your readers for suggestions?

    This column arrived just after I used the words “imposter syndrome” in an email to a friend and colleague who has asked me to write 1,500 words to mark 15 years since the last update of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, for the Literary Review of Canada. Yipes!

    I write well, but I dread writing for assignments. The words flow easily in an email, yet as a lifelong editor who confidently recasts language in my daily work, I choke on writer’s block when asked to write for a fee.

    I’ll keep your post handy during the process.

    Cheers, P@MELA

    Sent from my iPhone.


  2. Thanks for this! I just posted this in a group for academic women on Facebook (with over 10,000 members) where impostor syndrome gets discussed a lot. It’s rife in academia as well!

  3. Great post, thank you! I was reminded, while reading the first point of Step 3 (re. what comes easily), of the stages to do with learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence & unconscious competence. With training, we’re aiming for the last of these, going through the rest on the way – it’s unconscious competence we want: that’s the great prize. However… if we do not keep some consciousness, i.e. the awareness that we have attained unconscious competence, we could well find this mastery actually feeds the Imposter Syndrome Monster – things feel easy, no longer having to consciously work at them, and so we start to doubt the value, actually because we have become good at what we do!

    I love the idea of keeping visible achievements and positive feedback – was doing this for a while: must start again! I do have reviews & recommendations on my site, and I continue have a wee read now and then to remind myself. 😀

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