I have tried to write a blog on imposter syndrome for a few months now. Full disclosure, I’ve struggled. I think because I generally write about events that have happened to me (past tense), not that I’m slap, bang in the middle of! Well here is my attempt at putting on paper what so many of us know about feeling unworthy.
For those of you who don’t know…
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".“
This has been around for the ages, but is only really being discussed in the mainstream in more recent years. Initially, studies showed that it predominantly affected women, but this is no longer the case, and studies show it is growing at a faster rate amongst males. If you work in a high-performing environment, feelings of imposter syndrome can be accentuated as the company culture may see asking for help or saying no as a weakness or insubordination.
In the professional environment, signs of Imposter syndrome can present like-
- Refusing help as it shows a chink in your armor (or an inability to do your job)Taking on more work/tasks to show your worthy
- Minimizing achievements/praise-not being able to RECEIVE positive reinforcement
- Not applying to job postings unless you meet every single requirement (I 100% know some of you do this!)
So what do we do with this? How do we get past it?
Well the first step, as always, is recognizing and accepting that you have Imposter syndrome. As with any issue that affects our anxiety levels, saying it out loud takes the power away from it.
There is no shame in admitting that you suffer from this and I can guarantee you that you are not alone. A recent study from the US found that 70% of professionals have experienced Imposter syndrome at some stage of their careers.
Imposter syndrome can be categorized into 5 areas. Have a look at the infographic from sarahjanelowry.com below. Do you recognize any of the signs?
From the people I have spoken to about this, they say, Imposter syndrome is exhausting and stressful and very much feels like you are running away from yourself. The only problem is you cannot escape. So as with any problem, the obstacle becomes the way. We need to face the issue. This isn’t easy and it takes work, but it is easier than carrying the weight of Imposter syndrome for the rest of your life.
Here are some techniques that worked for me.
NAME IT TO TAME IT
You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge. It’s that simple. Saying it firstly to yourself and then saying it out loud to a trusted friend or family will help. Think of anxiety as a huge, oversized balloon, and you’re tethered to it in a small room. When you first address it to yourself, it starts to deflate, then when you mention it to someone else the balloon starts to shrink much quicker. You are, in essence, deflating the negative thoughts.
THINK, INK, LINK
When a human is in a relaxed state they have 30,000-50,000 thoughts per day. When they are in an anxious state that number is over 100,000. Our minds race and our lack of focus feeds our anxiety. Sit down with a pen and paper. Take 10 minutes to recognize the negative thoughts you are having. Get them out of your brain and onto that page. Then when they are in front of you, you can address them individually. I found that most of what I was concerned about was manageable once I could see them.
READ THE ROOM
Sometimes what feels like Imposter syndrome is in fact lack of belonging or representation. Are you the only person of color at a meeting, are you the only female, or the only person with a disability? Your lack of confidence or self-doubt could be a reaction to bias, lack of diversity and of being “the first”. So, before you panic, read the room, all trailblazers have experienced this.
REDEFINE FAILURE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
This was a big learning curve for me. I had a TERRIBLE relationship with failure and trying to constantly prove my value. I endeavored to evade failure and took on so much that my successes brought me no joy. Please remember, failure is a stepping stone to success. Take the lesson from what goes wrong and move on. As a side note, you also need to look at the company you are with. Do they encourage a growth or fixed mindset in relation to culture? If they have a fixed mindset, their relationship with employees' mistakes or efforts to improve the status quo, will only antagonize your Imposter syndrome.
AM I? I AM
This simple technique helps us quieten our inner critic and change the narrative of our own story. The questions Am I? Can I? Do I? Will I? All raise doubt about our abilities when we say them and feed into our imposter syndrome and feelings of anxiety.
- Am I qualified for this new job?
- Can I really get this project done on time?
- Do I deserve this promotion?
- Will I be able to achieve this goal?
What happens when we change the words around and make a statement instead?
- I am qualified for this new job.
- I can really get this project done on time.
- I do deserve this promotion.
- I will be able to achieve this goal.
Imposter syndrome and anxiety are different for everyone. Sometimes one feeds the other. There are thousands of people who are more experienced in these fields than I am. I only share what worked for me. If you do recognize the signs, do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional. The important thing as always is to know it’s ok not to be ok and you are not alone. Thanks for reading.