We all feel out of our depth from time to time, anxious about a presentation or an important meeting, or feel momentarily overshadowed by an overly ambitious colleague – all of which is perfectly normal.
The odd bout of nerves keeps us on our toes: it helps us to up our game and to perform at our very best. For some people, though, these occasional wobbles in confidence can tip into something altogether less healthy – the chronic condition that experts are now calling imposter syndrome (IS).
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are a few classic red flags: a constant feeling of not being good enough at your job, that others are more qualified, that you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out.
While these negative thought patterns are corrosive enough to your self-esteem, the need to constantly prove yourself worthy in the workplace can also lead to certain unhealthy behaviours – working long hours to overcompensate for not believing you’re good enough at your job, or not recognising your achievements to date. Sufferers of IS believe that any success is merely down to luck, rather than ability or hard work. There is also the constant stress and anxiety that comes with living a lie – or at least feeling like you are.
All of which can make life pretty miserable, not to mention hamper any chance of career progression. People with IS are less likely to put themselves forward for new job opportunities for fear of not being good enough, or they find it hard to stay in the same job because of the pressure they put on themselves. The one thing all these people have in common is their distressing sense of isolation.
The problem is compounded by the fact that those who feel they are struggling at work are less likely to ask for help for fear it will expose them as the incompetent employee they believe themselves to be – a devastating vicious circle if ever there was one!
Challenging your demons is the key to ridding yourself of IS – it’s important to open up to someone you can trust, whether it’s a close friend or a loved one. So often, voicing your fears takes away their power and allows for greater objectivity. Seeing a therapist can also be extremely helpful as it allows you to explore the underlying issues at play. There is no one cause of imposter syndrome, though some studies suggest that the way you were parented could play a role, while personality traits such as perfectionism and introversion may also contribute.
Finding a mentor is an excellent way to deal with low confidence and, in the short term, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also an option. Challenging negative thinking and countering it with more objective thoughts has shown to make a significant difference……and remember, you’re not alone – even Maya Angelou and Sheryl Sandberg have felt like frauds at time, so you’re in excellent company, if you feel it, too! If anything, it’s probably a sign that you’re more conscientious that most!
So, speak up now, or forever hold your peace – be true to yourself and, with the right support, you’ll soon discover that you really are great at what you do!