Let's start with Imposter Syndrome
Learning to remove the mask
6 min read
Setting the Scene
Imagine you have just landed your dream role at Acme Ltd. and you've just had your first week. You've had the chance to introduce yourself to most of the key people in your team and wider stakeholder group and get to grips with some of the business domain you will ultimately own.
Stop for a moment...how do you feel? Do you feel like the challenge ahead of you seems daunting? Do you feel like you're not cut for the job?
This is just initial nerves at starting right? Probably, so let's move on a little bit
You're now six months into your tenure and those feelings haven't subsided, in fact you feel pretty confident that you've been "winging it" ever since, but on the flip-side you haven't been fired for being inadequate - why? Chances are you are suffering from what is effectively known as Imposter Syndrome and you are in fact pretty awesome at your role, hence why Acme still employs you!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
In short, Imposter Syndrome is the continual sensation that a person feels when they are in a particular position/job/role/relationship and ultimately feels like a fraud. They can never feel confident in their own abilities and often shy away from the fact that they are indeed capable, something which is often externally visible and evidenced through lots of experience, yet they continue to deny it.
People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome (myself included...) will pretty much always feel like they're simply getting by purely by chance, or have inadvertently convinced people they're much smarter than they actually are.
There are arguments that Imposter Syndrome is just another name for anxiety, which in a way may be true. With that said, I think it is the anxiety surrounding self-belief in one's ability to perform a certain role or function.
How can I spot it?
From personal experience, there are a number of things which can show signs of experiencing Imposter Syndrome:
- A continued self-doubt in your own ability
- Feeling like you don't know enough to contribute to certain discussions
- Feeling like you don't know enough altogether
- Putting success down to luck, rather than actual good work
- Living in fear that your going to live a Scooby Doo when your co-workers will unmask you as a fake
How can I overcome it?
This is the difficult part, but there are techniques you can employ to help change your mindset now that you've actually spotted the signs.
Opportunity to learn
One of my own greatest emotions when experiencing Imposter Syndrome is feeling like I don't know enough.
If you take the opportunity to step back and appreciate that you can't know everything, things become a little easier to comprehend. We work in teams for a reason, and more often than not, they're made up of individuals who have their own unique experiences which as a collective bring empowerment to the wider effort (synergy).
Embrace the opportunity to acknowledge your lack of understanding and seize the moment to learn something new. You will come out on the other side feeling refreshed, clearer in your thought and give your colleagues the confidence you know what is happening.
I appreciate that if you're in a managerial/leadership position then this appears a lot more difficult. We train ourselves to believe that leaders should know it all and make all the decisions, when in fact (actually, probably more my own opinion) leaders are much more effective when they bring the right minds together to solve a problem rather than trying to do it all themselves. Even leaders need to learn - maybe not to the same level as the true system experts, but enough to be able to help make they key decisions or signpost individuals. Being honest about lack of understanding also helps promote the value of honesty and fostering a culture where people aren't afraid to ask questions and seek support.
Speak about it
Okay, so this one takes a bit of courage.
Talking about being a supposed imposter can actually go a long way in helping you overcome it. You'll probably be surprised at the number of people who suffer from the same emotions.
As an example, during one of my roles I had several developers of varying experience working alongside me, including a senior developer who (in my opinion) was really on-the-ball and knew his game. I'd very often seek advice from him and witness the quality of the work he was producing.
During a 1:1 session I mentioned my own feelings of Imposter Syndrome, to which he was very surprised. This immediately triggered a separate conversation which came from him, speaking up about his own self-doubt and lack of confidence around his quality of work. Hearing this from someone who always appeared so confident in his abilities really stood out to me. This made me realise that from the other side, people can make their roles look easy and full of continued success, yet unduly punish themselves with a barrage of self-degrading thoughts.
Speaking breaks down the barrier, allows you to open up more and realise your true potential. It also goes a long way to reducing the chances of mental health problems which can stem from harbouring negative thoughts.
Track your success
Instead of living with a feeling of constant failure to do your role, take some time to really reflect on your journey.
It is very easy in the imposter mindset to forget all of your successes as you go. Without looking back on your own journey, it is almost impossible to acknowledge all of the challenges, lessons and amazing things you have accomplished along the way. I think the following meme sums up what most people's journeys are like, so look back and see where you have come from!
There are many different ways you can reflect on things. Some of my personal favourite methods/models include:
Create a working diary
This doesn't have to be done to the nth degree, however, keeping a small log of challenges you face each week, your thought process and how you overcame them can really help you track improvement over time.
I've used this with my reports in the past who struggle to identify how they have improved. A simple spreadsheet/document with the following columns is enough to get started:
- Experience / task undertaken
- Insight / thoughts
- Action taken
This approach creates focus around key challenges an individual might face, and over time help evidence how thought processes change and ultimately impact the decisions taken.
Gibbs' Reflective Cycle
The Gibbs' reflection cycle is a model which has been around for quite some time (1980s). In a similar way to the diary I proposed above, It has some key areas to help an individual really dig into all aspects of reflection to truly understand the emotion and key decision making around situations faced.
- Action Plan
If you want to learn more, here is an in-depth article by the University of Edinburgh:
Gibbs' Reflective Cycle: A Guide
So with all of the above said, it's now time to sit back and reflect on what triggers Imposter Syndrome for you / others.
Hopefully you get to use some of the methods described in the post and alleviate the pressure that you face. Feel free to let me know if you found this article useful and even share you own thoughts and methods to overcoming Imposter Syndrome