Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud. I’m there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m rubbish and everyone is going to see it. They’ve cast the wrong person.’ But I have come to realize that those nerves are all part of the process for me.
Clinical psychologist Pauline Clance and colleague Suzanne Imes coined the term “impostor phenomenon” in 1978. Now more commonly known as Impostor Syndrome, it affects nearly everyone at some stage or another. We spend so much time wondering if we’re good enough that it’s sometimes hard to value ourselves. It’s easier to listen to the voice that tells us we don’t belong among our peers. The inner critic is much louder.
I don’t belong here…I’m clever and hard–working enough to have faked them out all these years and they all think I’m great but I know better…and one of these days they’re going to catch on…they’ll ask the right question and find out that I really don’t understand…and then…and then….
As a returner, you can take heart in the fact that top industry professionals often feel exactly the same. In fact, it can get worse the more you feel you’ve achieved.
“As someone who left the corporate world to start my own business a few years ago, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with imposter syndrome, not only hearing many stories of my clients’ struggles with this as they change careers, but also (and especially), managing my own struggles with feeling like a fraud at times whenever I’ve ventured off to do something new in my own career.”
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, author Valerie Young has categorized people with IS into subgroups [via FastCompany]:
The Perfectionist – someone who sets excessively high goals for themself out of fear of being average
The Superwoman/man – someone who pushes themself to work harder and harder to prove themselves
The Natural Genius – someone who thinks that if they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it
The Rugged Individualist – someone afraid of asking for help
The Expert – someone who may feel like they somehow ‘tricked’ their employer into hiring them
In each case, the individual fears the same thing: looking vulnerable. That’s normal. Consider how many time’s you’ve been told to ‘fake it til you make it’ – look the part til you feel it – which is great advice, but what happens then? Why aren’t I feeling like an expert?
In our struggle to achieve the goals we set, we forget to recognise the milestones we hit along the way. This equals burnout and a failure to grow into our new, accomplished shoes and throw the imposter that tells us we’re “not enough” out.
That’s why it’s important to be authentic. Fitting in at work doesn’t mean creating a false persona, and you won’t be happy if you do.
When returning to work after a break, you’re probably better equipped against Imposter Syndrome than you think. You’ve had to prove yourself in the real world, and you’re more self-aware than you used to be. But if you do feel like an imposter at work, then it might also mean you’re doing the wrong thing for you.
I had a client… in this situation. The clearer she got on what she wanted, the clearer it became that her current job wasn’t it. And yet, her superiors were always praising her and telling her their big plans for her advancement in the company.
She felt like she was putting on a show of enthusiasm for their vision of her future, even though she secretly wanted out ASAP.
That’s the worst part about feeling fake — you feel like you’re constantly “performing” instead of just being. Like you’re an actor, pretending to be some warped version of yourself.
And that’s the key to fighting Impostor Syndrome – stop trying to fool yourself. It’s about riding a fine line between selling yourself “too far down the food chain” as my Mum says, and being honest with yourself about whether on opportunity is right for you.
“There’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-destruction”. – Claire Cohen, Telegraph
Don’t be afraid to shine when it’s time to, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Talk to the people around you, because they almost certainly feel the same way as you.
I once took on a big job that I felt I was way underqualified for and got myself into an absolute state about letting everyone down. I just had to fess up! I sat my team down on Day One and said “Guys, I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I will find the answers for you. Right now, I really, really need you to help me”. I bumped into one of those team members just the other day. Now she is a very successful florist, featured in House and Garden. She said “Laura, you’ve no idea how many times I’ve used that phrase with staff over the years. I was totally bought into you from that moment, because you admitted your vulnerability”.
I’ll leave you with some tongue-in-cheek coping advice from Tina Fey:
The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.
21 Proven Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome – StartupBros