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7 ways you can overcome imposter syndrome

Don’t let imposter syndrome trip you up. Use these few tips to manage self-doubt.

Low self-confidence, excessive self-criticism, and performance anxiety are telltale signs of imposter syndrome. Coined by two clinical psychologists, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance, the term imposter syndrome describes an irrational and persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Imposter syndrome convinces people from all walks of life, including accounting and finance professionals, that their achievements came about through chance rather than skill and hard work.

Questioning your abilities and fearing humiliation are more widespread feelings than you may think. Studies suggest that up to 80% of Americans experience symptoms typical of imposter syndrome.

If you are thinking about working toward the certified public accountant (CPA) license, coming to grips with a new role or looking to find a job in an accounting firm or business, imposter syndrome can dupe you into stifling your potential.

Don’t let imposter syndrome trip you up. Here are seven ways you can manage self-doubt:

1. Keep a day planner.

Recording your to-dos plus notes of your daily successes allows you to focus on what went well, your achievements, thought processes, and the strategies propping up your positive momentum.

On the days imposter syndrome drives you to question your abilities, consult your day planner to remind you of the progress you’ve already made on the road to becoming a CPA.

2. Know diverse representation is increasing.

Imposter syndrome can arise when you sense you do not fit in, which you could experience if you can’t see your community equitably represented in the profession.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not just workplace buzzwords. As seen in the AICPA 2021 Trends Report, U.S. accounting firms are taking tangible action to increase their rates of diverse hiring.

For example, accounting firms reporting data shows an almost equal split of male-to-female hires among recent college graduates.

While the profession has a way to go, it is encouraging to note that the 2021 Trends Report indicates an improvement in racially diverse hiring at accounting firms — a five-percentage point change from 30% diverse hires in 2018 to 35% in 2020.

The accounting profession actively supports and promotes diversity in the workplace. Different people, cultures and perspectives help enhance the profession. Your unique background is an advantage and can help you become part of innovatively solving the challenges and complex issues facing clients and the public interest.

3. Become an intern.

If you are still in school, gaining work experience as an intern and getting the chance to add to and apply your knowledge can be a great step to take against imposter syndrome. Securing an internship in a firm or organization may give you enough momentum to glide past self-doubt and work toward the CPA license.

4. Reroute negative feelings.

Take affirmative action and build a playbook for CPA success by channeling low self-confidence into productivity. As a student, you could hone your knowledge in a particular area by pursuing an extracurricular online course over the summer.

5. Commit to continuous learning.

CPA Evolution, an AICPA and NASBA joint initiative, reshapes the licensure model to ensure future CPAs, such as you, have the skills and knowledge needed to navigate a technology-driven marketplace.

But learning never stops, not even after your studies. To safeguard your self-confidence, improve the quality of your work and stay ahead of regulatory and legislative updates, CPAs recommend you adopt a lifelong learning approach.

6. Reduce the need for perfectionism.

According to business magazine Inc., imposter syndrome has been observed among high-performing individuals. Traits identified in high achievers can give rise to perfectionism and, in some conditions, feeling as though they were an imposter.

When perfectionism sows the seed for symptoms of imposter syndrome, aiming a notch lower could mitigate the opportunity for negative self-talk.

Rather than striving for and accepting subpar work, recognize that success doesn’t require perfection — it is natural for both students and experienced CPAs to have room to grow and make mistakes.

7. Know the business culture.

Immerse yourself in the business culture to calm self-doubt in new or confusing environments.

You don’t need to give up your identity to adapt and fit in. As you do in class, aim to scope the social environment and norms of your team and the wider company. Understanding that the business culture can help you build a behavioral framework you can fall back on when experiencing imposter syndrome.

Becoming a CPA is a journey, not just a destination. Managing imposter syndrome and obtaining a CPA license can open opportunities for a stable and fulfilling future with endless growth opportunities.

Learn more about the profession and what it means to be a CPA, and access resources to help you grow professionally. Join the AICPA as a Student Affiliate Member for free today!

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