Navigating imposter syndrome

Your supervisor calls you into their office. This is it. The jig is up. After all this time they’ve finally figured out that you don’t know what you’re doing.

It was good while it lasted… you think as you cross the threshold between employment and unpaid rent.

You find your way to a chair and notice the tone of the room is quite positive. You take a moment to stand outside of your own assumptions and realise that they’re commending your hard work.

Pushing through your haze of confusion, you realise all your ambition, potential, and determination have not gone unnoticed, and you’ve been offered a promotion.

You accept, of course, because it’s what you’ve been working toward since the beginning of your career.

Something is off though.

Do you really deserve this success? You didn’t really contribute that much. Others did the brunt of the project; you’re just accepting the praise. Your work was flawed, and they just haven’t noticed yet; but they will. You’ll be exposed for what you are: a fraud. Faking it until you make it, but we all know there’s no making it for someone like you.

If these feelings of inadequacy ring true for you, then you might be experiencing imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the experience of believing you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. First identified by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s, imposter syndrome has since become widely felt in our society by people of varying demographics.

Characteristics attributed to imposter syndrome often manifest themselves in social anxiety. Some of the most common include the inability to realistically assess your competence, attributing success to external factors, berating your own performance, fear of failing expectations, overachieving, self-sabotage, self-doubt, and setting unrealistic goals for yourself.

There are six main types of imposter syndrome that people commonly experience.

  • The perfectionist. Satisfaction is unattainable for perfectionists. They are always questioning their own work and struggle to see past their mistakes and flaws.
  • The superhero. Feelings of inadequacy are often what push superheros to work as hard as they possibly can, often to their own detriment.
  • The expert. Members of this type are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Despite constantly trying to learn more, they often underrate their own expertise.
  • The natural genius. Geniuses tend to set extremely high goals for themselves and are then devastated when they fail to achieve them.
  • The soloist. Self-worth for members of this type usually comes from productivity. This leads soloists to be very individualistic, often rejecting offers of assistance as to not look weak or incompetent.

While research suggests that family upbringing can contribute to the development of imposter syndrome, it is usually the commencement of a new work opportunity that fosters these feelings. Pressure, either internal or external, to succeed in a new role, paired with a lack of experience is usually the most common trigger of imposter syndrome.

To truly address this, one is required to ask themselves some difficult and deeply personal questions:

Do I believe I am worthy of love?

Must I be perfect for others to accept me?

What are my core beliefs?

While such as daunting task can take some time, there have been several techniques identified to assist coping with imposter syndrome.

  • Open up to others. Share your feelings with those around you. When left unsaid, irrational beliefs will thrive.  Seeking honest feedback from those around you that back you can quickly illuminate these irrational beliefs for what they are: illogical.
  • Assess yourself. Taking time to objectively assess your abilities is a good way to ground yourself back in reality. By writing down your achievements, and the skills used to reach them, you can begin to form a more realistic picture of where you are at.
  • Confront your thoughts. After you have developed a more realistic image of your abilities, you should find it easier to question your negative and irrational thoughts. These thoughts must be unjustified as you now have evidence to the contrary in front of you.
  • Forget perfection. Perfection is unattainable, so forget about achieving it. This is not to suggest you should stop working hard, but rather not be judgemental of your mistakes; everybody makes them. Learn and move on.
  • Avoid comparisons. Everybody has different skills, traits, and experiences. Comparing yourself to others does nothing but amplify your own feelings of inadequacy. You are on your own journey, they are on theirs, and while these may overlap sometimes, it’s important to remember your uniquity is your superpower.

If you feel like you have, or are currently, experiencing imposter syndrome, try implementing the aforementioned techniques into your thought processes and see if they help.

If you still struggle with feelings associated with imposter syndrome, then it is important to talk to a professional counsellor or psychologist.

In either case, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Imposter syndrome is common among a wide variety of people and, hopefully, if we become more aware of how to overcome it, then we can all enjoy the success we’ve worked for.

Adrienne from RD Consulting working on a laptop

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