career development / Mental health

You are not a fraud: how you can beat ‘imposter syndrome’

So, here you are at a university you getting high grades, you should be feeling on top of the world and ringing with confidence and determination. Instead you feel like your achievements aren’t true, you don’t deserve them. You are an imposter, and you await for someone to reveal you and the ridicule that will follow. You aren’t alone. Many people have the feeling that they are some kind of ‘fraud’ and that they will be ‘found out’. Imposter syndrome is rife and effects people from the start of their career and can turn up at any time. Even the great Dr Maya Angelou doubted herself:   “I have written 11 books but each time I think, uh oh they’re going to find out now’…”

What is imposter syndrome? It is when an individual feels they are not good enough to deserve the praise they receive. They doubt their own abilities and question their own success. The term comes from the work of Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 work who defined it as “The Imposter Phenomenon”. It is social anxiety disorder that plays to concepts of perfectionism that are impossible to satisfy. Self-doubt is something everyone feels but it won’t help you to be better, it will only disrupt you. There is a need for self-belief in all our lives. If we believe in ourselves, we can do so much more. Yet self-doubt grows much more easily than self-confidence.

Comparing yourself to others is not going to help you. Everyone is different and at different stages in their personal and professional development. Comparison is pointless. You don’t know what the other person is feeling. Everyone has self doubt and those you expect to be super confident aren’t. The Cadburys and Princes Trust are launching the ‘Give a doubt’ campaign, which sets out to smash through the assumption you are the only one doubting yourself. By showing the successful disclosing their doubts this is a powerful way to start talking about our anxiety and see we are not alone in having them.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

  • Accept your true self and your abilities and your weakness. It isn’t about creating a false persona, it is about accepting that you have knowledge and skills that are valuable. Don’t create vicious cycles of behaviour. When you feel yourself asking ‘why should I be here?‘ consider the work you have put in to reach where you are. The skills that you have developed and the time you have taken to achieve your goals. First years at university often go from being the brightest in their class at school or college to being in a room with all the other brightest ones. That suddenly makes you feel less special and the doubts begin. But you are still one of the brightest and you can and will continue to grow and develop.
  • Perfectionism is just a stick to beat yourself with. It cannot be achieved. You need to try hard and work hard but you cannot be perfect and you have to accept this or you will be driving yourself to achieve the impossible. Instead embrace self-acceptance. Know who you are, your values and your skills. Develop those skills. Listen to feedback and accept that feedback – all of the positive comments and the areas where you can develop. See it in those terms and not good and bad praise. See your skills as constantly being developed and growing. We are always in development and can always grow.
  • Keep a record of what you are achieving and your personal development. Self-reflection is key. But try not to wallow in your failures. Accept it happened and think why it did and what you can do to make it a success. Don’t listen only to the critical voice in your mind – let the positive voices sound on your achievement and allow them to show you that you are good at what you do. You are allowing yourself to develop and to grow.
  • We are often taught to be modest and not to ‘brag’. Yet we need to accept our successes and understand the work that we put in to achieve them. Knowing your own value is important. This is not bragging, it is accepting that you know what you bring to a task and your own capabilities. You need to learn to treat yourself as you would talk to a friend. Often we will be quite harsh on ourselves and this does nothing to help, only to further demotivate. Learn to accept yourself and whilst you work on how you can develop accept that you need to encourage yourself to achieve more
  • You need to get rid of the notion that you were just ‘lucky’. It wasn’t luck that got you to where you are now it was hard work and skill. People claim they were lucky – luck is an amazing thing that often only turns up when things are going well and the work has already been done! The golfer Gary Player once said “The harder you work the luckier you get” and that is true. If you believe that luck gets you your successes and then you are simply creating more failure. Self-awareness, discipline and consistency are always going to reap rewards
  • Not tackling Imposter syndrome isn’t an option if you want to deal with life.  This is something that cannot be ignored. You have to tackle your insecurities in order for you to continue to develop personally and professionally. Remember that you are a work in process and this work needs constant attention. You can feed your insecurities or your development and only one will bring you comfort. Don’t be your biggest critic.

If you still feel you are struggling you can keep a journal of how you feel and ask yourself if you are being harder on yourself than you would be a friend. If you feel you are being swallowed by the imposter syndrome reach out to the Wellbeing team or to your GP. Don’t suffer in silence. And listen to those who tell you that you are good at what you do. You can also check out the new Cadburys campaign ‘Give a Doubt’

Remember even John Steinbeck experienced imposter syndrome, “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” Good luck!

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