Dealing With Imposter Syndrome In The Workplace

You finally have your dream job. All your hard work is paying off or is it? What if you got this job out of pity? Maybe you just got lucky and you are actually no good at all?

Well, say hello to Imposter Syndrome.

I’ve been there. Each time I won at something, I would look for the plug like I wasn’t good enough to win. I wondered why certain people liked me and I questioned compliments and successes. Maybe I just got lucky. Until I heard of Imposter Syndrome.

Many ‘accomplished’ people deal with Imposter Syndrome everyday.  Even Maya Angelou has been quoted saying how she sometimes feels like an Imposter.*

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the consistent and persistent inability to believe that you deserve the success you are getting. You find it hard to believe that all these good things coming your way are here because you deserve them.

This is a bad thing because it plays on your intelligence and in turn, affects your productivity. At some point, you just stop believing that you deserve anything good.

Sometimes it starts with humility and then it graduates to false humility. Before you know it, you have an excuse for every success in your life. An excuse that has nothing to do with you or your hard work. You completely forget how to take responsibility for your successes.

When I was working as an assistant to one of my professors, someone called me ‘Prof’s heartbeat’. That’s a literal translation of what he said in Yoruba. What he was saying was that I kept Prof’s ‘heart’ (her work and schedules) beating.

For days, I laughed at the compliment. Clumsy, forgetful me. I didn’t believe I was good enough to receive such a compliment. I was good at my job but definitely not that good. 

Imposter Syndrome comes in different forms and some have even attempted to sort the different traits of Imposter Syndrome into types. Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, has a whole website dedicated to her research and findings on Imposter’s Syndrome.

What are the types of Imposter Syndrome?

According to Dr. Young, there are 5 types of Imposter Syndrome.

The Natural Genius wants to be able to do everything with ease and speed. That’s the basis for their performance. If they are learning a skill, they have to learn it fast and easily. Sometimes this stems from being told repeatedly that they are smart. They think they should be ‘naturals’ at anything and so when they try something different and it’s not catching on fast, bells go off.

Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not smart enough.

So they avoid anything they can’t grasp quickly because it wears down their shield of self-confidence. They would probably shy away from mentors too because it implies that they aren’t good enough to handle it all by themselves.

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The Perfectionist sets impossibly high goals and panics when they can’t meet it. They expect 100% all the time. Each time the result is less than perfect, they beat themselves up and begin to doubt their skills and abilities all over again. They even begin to question past successes.

Maybe I was just lucky that last time. If I was so good, why can’t I repeat the performance?

Perfectionists would delay in taking actions because the perfect time hasn’t come. This is not to downplay in any way the importance of bidding time. The perfectionist would see a great opportunity and might let it pass if it is not perfect.

The Soloist begins to feel like an Imposter when they need to ask for help. Similar to the Natural Genius in a way, they feel like they should be able to do it all. Also known as Rugged Individualists, they think asking for help would expose them for the fraud that they are and show how much of a failure they are. They blame everything but themselves to avoid looking like they don’t have it all together. Everything has to be achieved by their might or it’s not good enough.

Then we have Superman Imposters who feel that being idle is not only the devil’s workshop, it is a valid sign of their failure in life. They would freak out about holidays or downtime of any sort.  Also known as Imposter workaholics, they get validation from having work to do not necessarily from doing the work.

Do you know people that stay late at work for no good reason? Most of them might have an Imposter feeling from trying to measure up to their mentors or ‘work goals’. If they think Mr A is the real deal and he works weekends, then they want to work weekends too.

Finally, the Expert as the name implies, believes they should know about certain things and if something is missing, bells go off. They fear being exposed as inexperienced and empty of any true knowledge.

Ironically, they ignore offers because they feel insufficient. They would constantly be looking to get certifications they don’t need because they seek validation and yet, they would cringe if you call them an expert because that might mean that you are about to call on them for knowledge they don’t even believe they have. It’s a never ending circle of not knowing and wanting to know, then knowing and being afraid that you would flop if called upon to share that knowledge.

How do you know you have Imposter’s Syndrome? Any signs? Symptoms?

The most glaring sign is usually a voice in your head telling you that you don’t deserve success even when you’ve worked for that good job, that pay raise, that appointment, that excellent result.

  • Always dwelling on past mistakes. One way this works is that we don’t usually take note of, is believing that only us can be so stupid to make the kind of mistakes we make. Only an idiot will make this kind of mistake! I must be the most stupid person on earth, who else will do something so foolish? Everyone! Everyone on earth makes mistakes. It is not a sign of stupidity or that something is wrong with you.
  • Constant negative self-talk. Oh, I’m not good enough. I’m not smart (or insert any other quality) enough. 
  • The fraud feeling! That feeling that you are just pretending and that you and your fraudulent impersonation will soon be found out is something to check.
  • Doubting all good things about yourself and believing that it all came by chance and pure good luck is another sign that you are dealing with Imposter’s Syndrome.
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So how do we deal with Imposter Syndrome? Can it be cured?

Well, note how I said deal not beat, cure or any other word that implies we can eradicate Imposter’s Syndrome completely. It’s not a disease we can cure. It’s just a feeling that will want to rear its ugly head every once in a while.

For me, the first step was acknowledging the Imposter’s Syndrome. Embrace it! I had to acknowledge that there might be a problem. Face the problem. Call out that voice of doubt in your head. According to Dr. Young, the journey to recovery requires self-knowledge because “you can’t share your way out of impostor syndrome.” When that is done-

  • For the Natural Genius, See yourself as a work in progress: Everything takes time. Beginning to see yourself as a work in progress would help you calm down when it seems like you are not learning fast enough.
  • For the Perfectionist, Acknowledge each step: Celebrate every success and be very aware of all the work you put into it. Realize that life isn’t perfect and stop waiting for perfect opportunities before you act. You might fail once in a while but carpe diem!
  • For the Soloist, no man is an island: There is no shame in asking for help. It doesn’t mean that you are a failure. It just shows that you are a living and evolving human being who wants to know more. That is a sign of progress and not failure.
  • For the Superman/ Imposter workaholic, validate yourself: Taking a break is not a sin and you don’t become a fraud just by resting. 
  • For the Expert, Act with what you have: Don’t hoard knowledge for false comfort. Volunteering and mentoring others in your field can give you the opportunity to prove to yourself that you are good at what you do. Learn what you need to help you slow down and stop using skill acquisition and a dozen classes to procrastinate!
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Other general ways you can deal with Imposter Syndrome include;

  • Look at yourself in the mirror and say good things to yourself. The idea is to speak positively to yourself everyday, out loud. Tell yourself you are good enough. Others believe it, it’s time for you to start believing it.
  • Understand that everyone is basically going through what you are going through. The phrase, fake it till you make it didn’t come up for nothing. We are all going through life one day at a time, learning on the job. Yea, even your MCMs and WCWs at the office with their sleek suits.
  • Stop making comparisons. From the point above, you already know that none of your workplace crushes are perfect. It is OK to keep a record of all your achievements. Look at them, remind yourself that you are making progress everyday.
  • Be humble but be proud. There is a very thin line between humility and pride. Find the balance. False humility can drag you into an Imposter state of mind. Know your worth, embrace it. 
  • Provide value. It helps you recognize your self-worth and see how good you actually are. Organize classes or skill share sessions. Volunteer. Mentor. Take that new recruit in your office under your wings and share your knowledge.
  • When you finally realize your self-worth, take responsibility for your own progress. They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Next time a voice in your head wants to tell you that you just got lucky, agree. It means that you were ready when the opportunity came! Give yourself a blue ribbon for everything!
  • Finally, get you a support system of ‘fireful ginger’ that you can always talk to when the voice of doubt starts speaking. They will encourage you, reminding you of your achievements until you start to see the good in yourself.

Now, every time you start to feel like a fraud, you know why and you what to do. Here’s hoping you start to have a more productive time in your workplace.

Sources

  1. “Are you suffering from impostor syndrome?” https://cdn.resume.io/assets/specials/are_you_suffering_from_impostor_syndrome
  2. Gopal, S. 2018. There Are 5 Types Of Imposter Syndrome, So Which One Are You? whimn.com.au
  3. Jakarta Post. 2018. Feel like you don’t deserve success? How to overcome impostor syndrome. thejakartapost.com
  4. Kalinosky, E. 2010. Feeling Like A Fraud: Living With Impostor Syndrome. forbes.com
  5. Leonard, J. 2018. How to Handle Impostor Syndrome. medicalnewstoday.com
  6. Wilding, M. 2017. 9 Telltale Signs You Have Impostor Syndrome inc.com
  7. Young, V. The 5 Types of Impostors impostorsyndrome.com
  8. Revuluri, S. 2018. How to Overcome Impostor. Syndrome chronicle.com
  9. * Quote by Maya Angelou may be found at impostersyndrome.com

Images gotten from 

  1. resume.io
  2. http://www.practicallysalad.com/news/real-life-imposter/
  3. https://www.gwn.govt.nz/learning-events/event-summaries/impostor-syndrome-with-bex-hemmingson/
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