We’ve all looked around a room and been struck by the thought that we don’t deserve to be there. That wobble of self-doubt, the white-hot dread in the pit of your stomach. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t have the necessary knowledge or experience to do your job, or you’re in over your head and one day soon you’re going to be found out – that’s impostor syndrome.
According to a 2019 study by Access Commercial Finance, imposter syndrome has impacted 62% of people at work. The survey of over 3000 adults in the UK shows over two-thirds of women (66%) have suffered from imposter syndrome, compared to over half of men (56%). Unsurprisingly, it seems women are more likely to experience a sense of inadequacy in the workplace.
Impostor syndrome is real and it’s overwhelming, scary and isolating. Here are some tips for managing and overcoming it when it strikes…
Talk to people! If you ask your friends, family and colleagues if they’ve ever felt the same, you will be comforted by how common the feelings are. People you consider at the top of their game, hardworking and successful will be able to relate to you. Remember everyone has felt this way before. The most confident person you know has had to take a moment in an unfamiliar toilet cubicle to breathe and work out how to act like they know what they’re doing. I guarantee it.
This sounds very simple, but in practice it is one of the hardest things in the world to accept. I struggle with anxiety, and often I feel as if something awful is going to happen. A large part of learning to manage this was learning to check the facts. If you are fleeing a zombie army, or standing on the edge of a high platform, or about to perform at the Albert Hall, nerves make sense. If you’re going to the shop, or sitting quietly at your desk, there isn’t really anything to be scared of. I’m not saying the feelings aren’t real, they absolutely are, and they can be debilitating; I’m saying they aren’t grounded in fact, and you’re allowed to remind yourself of that.
I’m sure you have a To-Do list filled with endlessly stacking tasks, but do you have an ‘Already Done’ list? The usual practice is to cross off a task once it’s completed – but this can lead to a sense of inadequacy, when all you’re seeing is what you still need to do. Try keeping a word document or scrap of paper, even a note on your phone, that is a list of the tasks you have completed. Soon you will have pages of evidence of your success and competence! A nice one to look through when things feel overwhelming and you’re doubting your abilities.
Are you expecting perfection? Are you holding yourself to a standard you wouldn’t hold anyone else to? Getting something wrong doesn’t mean all the progress you’ve made so far is erased, or that you aren’t good at what you do. In the eternal words of Hannah Montana – everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days.
Although you absolutely deserve to be where you are, it is true that the environment you are working in will influence how you feel. If there are people who look and sound like you in your office, you will feel less out of place. If there is no-one else like you there, it makes sense that you might feel more like you don’t belong. This is why women in executive roles often experience imposter syndrome more intensely than their male counterparts – they are surrounded by men! Remember that it is the responsibility of your employer to make you feel comfortable, welcome and a like valued member of the team.
Ok – for the sake of argument let’s say you are an imposter. You seem to be doing it very well. Maybe you’re undercover. Maybe you’re a SPY. The amount of work it takes to successfully falsify qualifications, experience, skills and hold down a job you don’t know how to do without being spotted is genuinely quite impressive. If you genuinely have cheated your way into your job – hats off. Nobody’s sniffed you out yet. A successful mission, agent.
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