SITTING IN COPENHAGEN airport, sipping a €7 cappuccino and eating a Danish pastry (of course), I browsed through my copy of Marie-Claire, stopping on an article about “Impostor Syndrome”.
Just the week before, I had been explaining the term to a friend who hadn’t heard of it. Many people haven’t: it’s essentially the fear of being found out.
Worrying that you’re in the wrong job, that you’ve been promoted above your abilities, that you’re a fraud, and that sooner or later, an authoritative hand will land on your shoulder, and a voice will say “We’ve just realised, you have no idea what you’re doing”.
I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. So does the friend to whom I explained it. So do many others with whom I’ve had this conversation since then. My husband doesn’t, however. I suspect it’s largely the domain of the female of the species.
Why was I doubting myself?
On that day in Copenhagen, I was on my way back to Dublin after a nerve-wrecking but ultimately successful two day presentation. I had put huge work into it during the weeks leading up to the trip. I had pored over my presentation in the airport on the way to the workshop. I had stayed up late in my hotel room reading my notes, over and over. It had gone very well.
I had been successful at hiding my nerves and sounded far more confident than I’d dared to hope when answering the follow-up questions. The client was happy. My boss was very happy. So on my return trip, I was rewarding myself with an expensive coffee, an amazing pastry and some time-out reading Marie-Claire instead of e-mail.
A good moment in my career, one to savour.
Yet half way through that magazine article, I was thinking… “I get that this writer is saying that Impostor Syndrome is all in my mind, but what if she’s wrong and I really am crap at my job?”
That kind of self-belief dearth is hard to combat.
The rational part of me knows that working in – and progressing in – a typical private sector meritocracy for the last 15 years means that I am probably not, in fact, crap at my job. But that doesn’t stop the irrational self-doubt creeping in every now and then.
I’m not sure what the solution is, and I’m not sure I even need a solution, but it did help me to know that this is a real “thing”, an experience shared by many others. Sometimes that’s enough.
Some signs indicating that you have Impostor Syndrome*:
- Do you put your success down to luck or timing, for example thinking “well yes I was promoted, but it’s probably because there were no other candidates”?
- Do you worry about even small imperfections in your work?
- Do you find it difficult to listen to criticism even when it’s constructive, sometimes analysing and over-analysing comments to decipher if negative criticism was intended?
- When you are successful with a project or deliverable at work, do you feel like you “got away with it” or got lucky?
- Do you feel like it’s only a matter of time before that metaphorical hand lands on your shoulder and you’re “found out”?
If you have Impostor Syndrome, don’t worry! This just means that you now have a name to put on a particular lack of confidence that you experience from time to time. If it’s creeping in a little too often, check out some tips (here, here and here) to help combat it, or the summary I’ve included here:
The short version is to learn to accept compliments, to write down your achievements and to be aware of Impostor Syndrome as a first step – talk about it and read about it (see, you’ve started already by reading this article). So stop under-valuing your ability – you’re great! Now I just need to convince myself of same….
One final note: ‘impostor’ can be ‘imposter’ but the former is more correct. This bothered me so I had to check. Now you don’t have to!
Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at OfficeMum.ie about being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets@office_mum or on Facebook.