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Burnout and Imposter Syndrome

A recent study by Deloitte found that 53% of women are suffering higher stress levels than they were a year ago, and 40% are suffering from burnout and will likely be looking for a new job or career. Burnout happens when we get stuck in a place of chronic stress. Our brain yells, "RUN!" and we keep on running long after the meeting or the encounter with an unpleasant coworker or the message from our children's school is past. It's clear that most of us are feeling this stress. My guess is that Deloitte’s numbers are a bit low and burnout rates will be even higher next year unless we start dealing with the stress and stopping the stress cycle before it becomes a spinning hamster wheel.

Burnout can have many different factors, but one issue that we don’t connect to burnout very often is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome causes several types of responses which lead to burnout. This post will explore two of them, striving and hiding.

The first is what I call the striving response. Imposter syndrome makes people feel like they aren’t good enough or aren’t doing enough. The striver faces their imposter syndrome by working harder or faster. They work through weekends. They work late nights. They hustle to try to keep up. They work so hard that eventually, they are completely burned out and have no fuel to keep going. Many times, a striver looks for a new job as a solution to slow their pace.

I have coached many strivers who are caught in the hamster wheel of not doing “enough”. Enough is one of those vague terms that can’t really be measured. If you find yourself striving, remember that doable goals are always measurable goals. If you don’t believe you are doing enough, sit down and define what “enough” looks like. Then plan for it. Don’t allow your brain to spin in enough-ness. You’ll never get to the finish line with that kind of thinking.

The second imposter syndrome response that leads to burnout is the hiding response. A hider meets the “not good enough” feeling by hiding behind high-energy emotions. The hider is often defensive or sarcastic. They expect those around them to figure it all out and see them for the fraud they are. Hiders are constantly on guard and when confronted with what they believe is someone challenging them, they often respond aggressively. This constant fear of being discovered as a fraud also leads to burnout. Fear slow-burns the hider’s energy until they have nothing left in the tank.

I realized I was in a hiding response when I lashed out at a student I thought had been challenging me all semester. Although I don’t remember the exact words I said, they were dripping with sarcasm. I remember the other students looking at me with surprise. It happened more than 5 years ago, but I can still feel the shame of the moment. It was a low point in my imposter syndrome and my teaching career.

My self-awareness now leads me to recognize imposter syndrome before I get to the sarcasm stage. If I feel challenged by someone, I examine my own thoughts. What is making me feel not good enough in this moment? Why am I trying to redirect my fear into defensiveness with someone else? Rather than allowing imposter syndrome to slow-burn my energy, I can redirect it to curiosity and finding answers, a response that actually creates energy instead of burning it.

If you want to know more about how imposter syndrome sabotages our lives, I’m working on a couple of different ways to share it more widely in the coming months. Subscribe to my blog at to make sure you are on my mailing list. I will never send spam! If you know someone who might benefit from this information, please share this blog post with them!


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