So this is a question I have asked myself countless times… am I just lucky? Have I always just managed to ‘fall on my feet’, am I faking it until I make it? Or am I actually good at what I do?
I anticipate if you ask a person, their boss and their co-workers the same question about what they perceive the individual’s work ethic, ability etc.. is – you would get a different answer from each of them!
As an example, when I was considering moving to my new role as a Site Manager I was asked the question by someone in Senior Management (SM) “Do you think you are a good valuer?” This stumped me. I sat there across the table, hesitated and answered “I think so?” SM: “You think so? Do you think you are capable of taking on this role?”.
This question put me into another spin. “Am I good enough to do this role and do it well?” “What if I screw it up?” “What if I don’t meet their expectations?”
I was ticking every single box in The Imposter Syndrome checklist! So Queens I think this is a topic that warrants a good discussion.
What is the Imposter Syndrome?
The term was first described in the 1970’s by psychologist Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance (1). They originally identified the phenomenon in high achieving women, though has since been found to have a wider application.
The syndrome effectively relates to an individual believing they are not as competent, high achieving or as good as the rest of the world perceives them to be. They feel like they are playing a role and have to ‘work harder’ to ensure no one finds out they are a ‘phony’.
Interestingly, it is estimated over 70% of people will feel this way at least once in their respective careers (2). Scary hey!
Another stat which I think slots in well here really well is “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list” (3). I am sure you have all heard the discussion around this in relation to job applications and women only applying if they meet every single item in the advertisement.
I think the above really highlights that we, as females, are doubting ourselves before we even have the position, let alone once we are actually there!
So what the heck can we do about this?
According to research Imposter Syndrome, like many other psychological things, can present itself in a variety of ways (joy am I right?). So how can we identify if we are falling into the trap of feeling like we are faking it?
Online research and discussions with our career kicking queen of a psychologist have identified some of the main characteristics of the Imposter Syndrome;
- Self Doubt
- Fear we are not living up to expectations (even though most of these we place on ourselves)
- Our inability to accurately assess our skill and competency levels
Writing the above I can 100% say I have felt every single one of the above before and more than once too!
So how can we overcome feeling like a phony?
I am going to start off by saying this is a journey that will be different for everyone and things that work for one person may not work for another. And that is completely okay – we are all different people and need to figure out what works for us.
This section is going to talk about the techniques which I found to be useful.
- Talking about it – this had a massive impact for me. Once I had shared my feelings with my close friends and some co-workers, I came to realise the thoughts I had been holding onto in my brain were quite irrational and really didn’t hold much weight.
- Try to accurately assess your abilities – this one was a lot harder. I mean the literal definition of the imposter syndrome is that we don’t believe our abilities are in line with the role we have. So I cracked out the good old notepad/pen, wrote a list of what I believe I am good at before cross referencing it with my position description. Anyone else surprised they lined up really well…?
- Challenging my thoughts – this is one I make myself continuously use. When I am given a new job and my first thought is “I don’t think I can do this?” I now challenge the thought in my brain the second it comes up ‘Why don’t you think you can do this?’ ‘Is it a fear of failure?’ Most of the time (for me) it is a fear of failure so I have to say to myself “‘Well saddle up cowgirl, take a cup of concrete and get on with it”. Nine times out of ten I smash it and in the times I don’t, I have learnt a valuable lesson in the process.
I think it is important to remember everything happens in baby steps and we generally, are unable to shift our mindsets overnight. So when it comes to tackling feeling like we are an imposter we need to cut ourselves some slack and be the tortoise (not the hare).
“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it”
I think the above quote by Amy Cuddy from her Ted Talk sums it up perfectly. The more we do something (even if it’s nerve racking) the more confident we become in our ability to do the task and the closer we get to feeling like we belong.
If SM asked me the same question again now, ‘Do you think you are a good Valuer?’ I would look them straight in the eyes and say “Damn straight!” #kidding but I can (now) say full of confidence “Yes, I am a good Valuer”.
- Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Group Dyn. 1978;15(3):241-247. doi:10.1037/h0086006
- Sakulku J, Alexander J. The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science. 2011;6(1):73-92.