We’ve all either experienced or heard of someone who has suffered from imposter syndrome. Its that debilitating fear that you’ll be caught out by your boss or colleagues – that they’ll find out you’re actually not a right fit for the job or that you don’t know what you’re doing.
This phrase, first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, is indicative of people who doubt their accomplishments, no matter how many other people don’t. The first time I experienced this fear of being a ‘fraud’ was when I entered the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) field of work – I felt as though I was in over my head even though I was qualified for the job and had gone through the necessary processes to bag the job. I mean, can you believe it?
A month into the job, my boss said I should start client facing by myself and I thought, ‘he’s going to catch me out’. Friends whom I shared this with at the time told me I’m being silly because I had a qualification, had interned for a year (so I had some experience) and that I had no reason to stress.
Give That Imposter Syndrome The Boot With These 3 Steps
But here’s the thing about imposter syndrome; someone could say something, or you could be tasked with presenting at a meeting or your manager might ask that you come up with a strategy for the sales and marketing team and all of a sudden the anxiety sets in.
Firstly, its okay to feel this way. It is okay to want to ace everything you do at first go, however, you need to be kind to yourself as well. I know this is easier said than done, especially in this world that constantly sends messages to you about how your peers are excelling and you’re still on phase one of the so-called 10 phase plan to success.
There are a number of ways that imposter syndrome can manifest in people’s lives. The idea that imposter syndrome can only be experienced in one way is limited idea of the syndrome. Research has shown that there are differences in the type of imposter syndrome such as:
The expert: You expect to know everything about a particular topic and you are ashamed when you do not know.
The perfectionist: You set incredibly high standards for your standards and feel terrible if you fall short on them.
The soloist: You want to achieve everything on your own. If you get help – you feel as though you do not deserve the credit.
The superwoman: You feel as though you need to be exceptionally good at every role you take on.
The natural genius: You assume that everything needs to be achieved with ease otherwise this proves that you are ‘unable’ to perform the task.
Take some time to lean in:
This is where you need to drown the other voices out and allow yourself to figure things out at your own pace. Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Leaning In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ really helped me own my greatness without constantly questioning it (I mean, lets be honest, sometimes I still need to come back to this and remind myself that I am exactly where I should be. It’s a journey after all.)
Sandberg’s argument on the internal obstacles which hold women back, speaks to how we sometimes downplay our achievements and the capacity we have to advance ourselves in our careers or through entrepreneurship.
Women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are most susceptible to imposter syndrome because of how male-dominated these industries are. However, this issue is not unique to the STEM environment, it spans across disciplines and industries. It’s that crippling fear that stops us from asking for that promotion, or that little voice that says you don’t deserve to be sitting at the ‘grown-up’ table… Or when the remuneration cycle comes up you don’t dare ask for a raise…
Bottom line is that you’re not alone. There are many of us who sometimes feel a little uncertain of ourselves, and sometimes need more than a little motivation to rev ourselves back into gear. Whether you’re ‘faithing it until you make it’ or you’re ‘faking your way to the top’… Roll with the punches and fail upwards, here are a few tips to get you started.
- ‘Lean In’: Take up that opportunity you’ve been given by management and don’t shy away from challenges.
- Own it: Don’t keep quiet, seek guidance from someone else who’s had to do what you’re tasked with doing and take charge of your own story.
- Show up: Honour your commitments and see a task through, don’t sleep on yourself.
It’s a journey so pace yourself, it won’t all be smooth sailing but courage comes from taking the first step. This means recognising when you need help and knowing when to take agency and own your greatness.
Read more: Real Talk