Check out Holly O’Mahony’s excellent article on ditching those self-doubts!
“You’ve landed your dream job. Whether you applied and interviewed for it, were headhunted by the company, or recommended for the role by a contact, you were selected as the right candidate for the role. But as you go about your day-to-day tasks, there’s a niggle in the back of your mind that tells you there has been a mistake; that if your manager or the organisation as a whole really knew you, they wouldn’t have offered you the job. You start to believe you’re out of your depth, not really capable, and it’s only a matter of time before they suss you out and ask you to step down.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you might be suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. The term – also known as ‘impostor phenomenon’ and ‘fraud syndrome’ – as explained by psychotherapist Rachel Buchan – is used to describe a condition where individuals feel unable to acknowledge their accomplishments, skills and talents, and consequently feel as though they’ve arrived in their current situation by accident. “This leaves the individual with the feeling that they are a ‘fraud’, taking credit for something they don’t deserve, and an anxiety that they will one day be ‘found out’ or ‘exposed’.”
“People who feel like impostors believe they have somehow managed to fool others into thinking they are more capable, intelligent or talented than they ‘know’ themselves to be,” adds Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally-recognised expert on impostor syndrome and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. “They chalk their success up to outside factors like luck, timing, connections [and] personality … despite evidence of their abilities [such as] good grades, degrees, promotions, awards and status.”
If you’re currently experiencing impostor syndrome, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s thought that up to 70% of people experience these feelings at some point. While there are arguments to suggest impostor syndrome affects more women than men, Buchan has worked with an equal number of men and women experiencing the condition, and believes there is no singular reason someone suffers from it. While Young points out that having an unrealistic, unsustainable definition of what it means to be competent is a commonality between everyone who feels like an impostor.
Andy was working as a digital designer when he was approached by a company wanting to recruit him as an interface designer. The role was a step down in seniority, but a step up in pay and would open doors to future prospects, so Andy accepted the role. Once on the job, however, he found himself with little work, but berated by his manager for completing the work so quickly, and constantly reminded he was paid a higher salary than others in the team.
“I increasingly felt out of place there … and the feeling that my manager thought I was a fraud grew and grew,” explains Andy. “My anxiety started to get the better of me; I was losing sleep and dreading coming into work, so I decided that for the benefit of my health I should hand in my notice.”
Andy’s story is not uncommon, and when your workplace turns out to be an unhealthy environment, it can often be beneficial to leave and pursue something new. However, if you are happy in your job but struggling to accept you deserve your position, here is some advice on how to overcome impostor syndrome.
1. Get to the root cause of your impostor syndrome
In order to understand why you’re not currently capable of acknowledging your skills and talents, you’ll need to explore where these feelings stem from. According to Young, feelings of low self-worth could relate to family expectations, but they could just as easily arise from studying in a competitive environment or working in certain fields – particularly creative ones.
2. Talk about your experience with someone you trust
You’re probably familiar with the notion that voicing worries or fears out loud will lessen the power they hold over you. “I would encourage anyone feeling that they may be experiencing imposter syndrome to talk about it with someone they trust; whether that be a professional or someone from their own circle of family and friends,” suggests Buchan.
3. Reframe your thoughts with positive self-talk
The aim of practicing positive self-talk is to learn how to manage your thoughts when an impostor moment strikes. “If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like one,” advises Young. “We need to become consciously aware of the impostor thoughts running through our head so that we can reframe them the way a non-impostor would,” she says.
Remember, feeling like an impostor does not make you any less intelligent, talented or capable than anyone else, the difference is in how you react to situations. While a new situation might currently make you worry about the fact you don’t know what you’re doing, try reframing these thoughts to focus on how much you might learn from this new experience.
If you find yourself caught up in thoughts of ‘how’ and ‘why’ you got the job in the first place, Young recommends putting a positive spin on any external factors that have propelled you towards your current situation. “It helps to understand the legitimate role that things like luck, timing, connections, and personality play in all of our success,” she says. “ It’s what you do with these external factors that matter.”
4. Learn to believe in your self-worth
“What we want is to feel confident 24/7, but that’s not how it works,” says Young. Instead she suggests learning how to act with confidence, even when you’re feeling insecure, as a way of gradually changing how you feel internally.
Taking back control of a situation can also help you rediscover your self-worth. In Andy’s case, resigning from the job he was overqualified for set him on the right path to pursue the areas of design he was most passionate about. “I’m now refocusing on illustration which is what made me decide on design as a career choice in the first place,” he explains.
“Impostor syndrome is the symptom, not the cause,” reminds Buchan. So rather than letting your feelings of self-doubt get the better of you, focus on developing your self-worth and remember: you’re worthy of the job you’re in. ”