What impostor syndrome feels like: “Congratulations! You got the job and we are so happy to have you on the team.”
What you hear: “Yeah, there was no one else, so we gave it to you and we really hope you don’t mess it up, but if you do, don’t worry because we will fire you. See you on Monday!”
“Congratulations! You got accepted into your Masters program and we look forward to seeing you in the fall.”
What you read: “You were our last resort, but we needed a certain number of admissions, so we decided to let you in. You will not be as smart as your peers and will really struggle the entire time, if you even make it past the first semester.”
“Can we chat later?”
What you hear: “Can we chat later? I want to fire/dump/leave you.”
Completely ridiculous, I know, but impostor syndrome is not ridiculous when it is running rampant in your brain. Impostor syndrome takes up your time, energy and focus, when it is at its strongest and it sucks to deal with.
I was introduced to impostor syndrome two years ago; three women, all on the same day, asked me if I was struggling with it: my academic advisor, a colleague and a mentor. They were all correct because I was in a giant pool of impostor syndrome and had no life lines.
Impostor syndrome is a heavy cloak to wear. It is draining and you feel like you are the only one dealing with the issue, even though so many people are.
Here are some simple techniques to overcome impostor syndrome:
- Positive self talk
- Quit talking crap about yourself. You should be your own biggest cheerleader.
- Make it a habit to only speak about yourself the way you speak about others; we tend to be meanest to ourselves.
- Rational assessment of the situation. Are you actually going to get fired? Have you received a serious conversation from your supervisor that if a certain behaviour or task is not completed you will be terminated? Do you have any indication that they are unhappy with your work? If the answer to these questions is ‘no,’ then there is no validity to your fears. Do not make work more stressful than it already is.
- Take what people say at face value, so if your supervisor is not saying anything negative, then things are going well. Check in with your supervisor every season (not every week), but three or four times a year, if formal check-ins are rare in your workplace. Schedule a coffee with your supervisor and tell them you would like some feedback on your performance.
- Talk it out. Letting someone know how you feel will help you realize how invalid your feelings have become. When you start walking through the situation, you will realize that there is no validity to the way you feel because there is no actual proof of a problem.
- Do not make a bad thought into a real situation. Sometimes when we feel we are unworthy or undeserving of a situation we can self sabotage; really try to avoid doing this. Speak with a loved one, a counselor or therapist and let them know your fears and ask them for assistance or support through your situation, rather than (consciously or subconsciously) acting out on your negative feelings.
- Do the best you can do. As a lifelong learner, I have felt ‘dumb’ a lot. Being in school, surrounded by brilliant people can be really intimidating, but how I have learnt to overcome this is by focusing on my own situation, no more, no less. I do my work, I do not compare myself to my colleagues and I have been doing really well.
- Trust that you deserve what you have received. It is really easy to think that a promotion, acceptance into a program, a great relationship or a wonderful life are things you are not worthy of, but you need to dig deeper and realize why you think you are not worthy of these things. What else is going on that makes you think that you deserve less than the best? Trust that people typically do not hand out greatness to people who do not deserve it; you earned where you are, so quit being so apologetic or fearful of your worth.
- Start each day with gratefulness and reflection. Spend time each morning thinking about three things or people you are grateful for and how they better your life. Think about how great your life is and reflect on how far you have come in the past year, five years or decade. Congratulate yourself on your success and stop questioning it.
- Make priorities and be positive about them. Each morning, spend time planning what you want to accomplish in your day and frame it in a positive way. Instead of lamenting about a paper you have to write and how much you hate the topic, find a way to spin it into something positive. If you have a meeting you feel nervous about, visualize the meeting going really well and being confident; fake it until you make it actually can work.
Life is hard. Being an adult can be tough and it can feel that everything in your life is in the control of others, but it is not. Own your life. Own your success. Work at what you want to improve about yourself, but do not waste energy on invalid fears.
Understand what impostor syndrome is all about and realize when you are falling into its treacherous trap.