Do you ever feel like your intelligence or experience is a façade and you might get found out at any minute? Then you’re probably experiencing a phenomenon called imposter syndrome – a discomforting thought process that robs you of your confidence.
Realise you’re not alone
Imposter syndrome – a feeling that your success is fraudulent – impacts people from all walks of life. Notable sufferers include, actress Emma Watson, marketing expert Seth Godin, poet Maya Angelou, and even astronaut, Neil Armstrong.
It’s something most of us will experience at some critical juncture, such as heading to university the first time or landing a job in a competitive field. It’s common for students and recent graduates to feel too young to be taken seriously or under-qualified. This is because workforce newcomers are often asked to work at a level they don’t yet feel prepared for.
Understand the triggers
Invariably, imposter syndrome kicks in when entering a high-pressure environment. Rather than feel motivated or hungry for a challenge, sufferers feel inadequate and anxious.
There are lots of situations that can trigger these feelings. Differing in some way from your peers – by race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion – can fuel a sense of being a fraud. It’s also exacerbated when being measured or evaluated. Whatever the trigger, these feelings can lead to damaging habits.
Is perfectionism holding you back?
While perfectionism is a weakness many of us harbour, for some it’s crippling, and imposter syndrome is linked this bad habit. Such people may endlessly procrastinate, for instance, putting off a tough assignment for fear it won’t be completed to their exacting standards. Or they might over-prepare, spending too much time on a task than necessary. For some this self-perpetuating cycle is so paralysing, it hinders them from achieving their goals.
Take back control
By recognising your triggers it will empower you to stop and think rationally about your situation.
Manage negative thought patterns
Negative thoughts tend to surface when we’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed. But it’s important not to take your negative thoughts at face value. Thoughts are not facts, yet when we’re feeling down they can seem more believable. If your internal monologue is doing its best to bring you down, take it as a sign that you need to take care of yourself.
Own your accomplishments
Learning to enjoy your successes is a worthwhile skill to learn. Even if you don’t feel deserving, you have to remember that you are your own best advocate. Next time someone congratulates you, try acknowledging their statement and expressing gratitude for the support networks that help you achieve your goals.
Learn to communicate your value
Even if you know your worth, your language and demeanour have to reflect that you believe in yourself too. Start by asking yourself some value-based questions. What unique skills do you bring the table? What problems do you solve for the organisation? Who else relies on your expertise?
Once you can connect with what excites you about your job, and the unique skills you bring to a team, articulating your value will come naturally.
Focus on learning not performing
If you can mentally commit to engaging a more flexible mindset and fostering a sense of ‘continuous learning’, then you’ll come to see any mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process. Try to accept feedback as constructive, rather than a criticism.
Recognise the benefits of being a novice
There are many benefits to being new in your field – what you can offer is a fresh perspective. You can use this opportunity in the workplace or lectures to approach problems in ways others haven’t thought of. Find your voice and people will respect your initiative.
Share your secret
One thing that isolates people from support is that they can’t admit their feelings to a mentor or manager for fear that their incompetencies will be exposed. Realise you’re not alone; chances are others in your situation feel exactly the same. As Tina Fey once quipped, ‘I’ve realised that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.’
If you’re not comfortable sharing your anxieties with someone in your field, reach out to a professional.
Time for perspective
Impostor syndrome comes from a natural sense of humility about our work. That’s healthy, but you can’t let it cross the line into paralysing fear. Keep reminding yourself that most of us feel self-doubt at times — and never let it stop you from striving for the things you want.
Make contact with a La Trobe Career Ready advisor who can help you identify and own your strengths.