Updated: Nov 30, 2020
By Jo Berridge
I know. I even have to borrow a title! I am most definitely out of my depth… I recently saw Rachel Parris' (of The Mash Report and viral video fame) “It’s Fun to Pretend” tour. She started by explaining impostor syndrome. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". I much prefer Parris’ version: “A normal feeling that 99% of people have but someone had to give it a name so we feel special.” And it is very normal!
Recent research by AXA PPP Healthcare suggests that 1 in 5 SME owners suffer from it and almost half reckon someone else could run their business better! Maya Angelou wrote eleven books and won several awards but still couldn’t escape the nagging doubt that she hadn’t really earned her accomplishments.
The more I looked into impostor syndrome the more it resonated with me. Christoph Schon described how his perfectionism is a type of impostor syndrome. His inability to start writing without the perfect opening sentence is exactly how I have felt recently writing an assignment.
Another article I read had the example of someone being offered a promotion and thinking it was a joke. It reminded me of the time a senior manager announced he was leaving and when the MD asked me how I felt about it I launched into a rant about how hard he would be to replace. “No” said the MD. “How do you feel about the role? Are you interested?”. I started the job 2 weeks later.
I’m by no means an expert. A quick search on LinkedIn will tell you there are a LOT of experts out there. There is even an “Impostor Syndrome Support Group”! But as someone who has been the new girl at work twice this year (yay redundancy) I have felt like an impostor for most of 2018! Here’s my tips on how to survive it:
Network internally. Find your internal support network so you know who to go to when you have questions and also who can advise on any office politics. The latter has been one of the biggest surprises for me; you forget how different the culture of every company and every office is until you have to learn multiple ones in a short space of time!
But don’t forget your external network too. They’re the people that know you and your knowledge and skills. They can also help you form cohesive thoughts before you start making suggestions internally which will help you feel confident and sound confident.
Say yes. To meetings, training, projects…anything. The more you do the more confident you will feel in your expertise. A breakthrough moment for me was explaining WTO/EU procurement/Brexit. If you had asked me 5 minutes earlier if I knew about it I probably would have said no! But when it came up in conversation I just started talking and before I knew it I’d impressed us both! It helped to remind me that I DO know what I’m doing.
Say no. I know! So confusing. For me there are 2 sides to this: knowing your worth and knowing your workload. Can I get X done by Friday? No, because I have prioritised Y but I will get X to you by COP Monday. Don’t undermine the work you do by suggesting it can be rushed; know your worth!
Remember that no one knows how you feel. And actually they may well feel the same! You wouldn’t have been offered the job/project if they didn’t think you were capable. The only person who needs convincing is you!
Look at how mistakes and questions are treated. Unless you work in a truly toxic environment it is likely that they aren’t shamed. Trust your abilities but also know that it is OK to ask questions, and if you do make a mistake then learn from it.
Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons! That person has more/less projects, more/less meetings with management, or seems more/less busy or stressed. Everyone is different and even if you do the exact same job as someone else you will likely have different ways of doing things and different strengths. Find positives: that person is better at X than me, what can I learn from them that might help me improve?
Record your success. Focus on the positives, especially the breakthrough moments. That could be a successful result or a moment of feeling confident in what you’re doing; it all matters!
Embrace it. My impostor syndrome has me checking everything multiple times, and attending every webinar and event to improve my knowledge. I have learnt a huge amount this year as a result and while the impostor feeling is fading I am definitely going to be holding on to some of the characteristics.
I’ve often used the expression “Fake it til you make it”. I’m not saying you should be false but in order for someone to have confidence in your abilities you need to come across as confident, and of course when other people have confidence in you then it gives you a boost. So it might not always be fun to pretend, but it can help. Believe you can do it and you will!
Oh, and for anyone else who has seen Rachel Parris’s tour…I went to the gym this morning!*
*That’s a lie. But I did think about it and it’s the thought that counts!