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Imposter syndrome - what is it and what can we do about it?

Woman hiding behind a pile of books, which shields the bottom half of her face.
Image by Silvia from Pixabay

Imposter syndrome - what is it?

Many people experience the feeling of being a "fraud" where they feel scared of being caught out and exposed because they don't believe that their skills, talents, and experiences are adequate, despite success and proof that states otherwise. It's known as "Imposter Syndrome" which is a term that has been around for a while now, and is often aimed at high-achieving women.

It is believed that up to 70-80% of adults will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lifetime (Leonard, 2020; Psychology Today, 2021).

Whilst the name would suggest otherwise, Imposter Syndrome, isn't something you are diagnosed with in a therapist's office. It's one of those phrases that has been given to denote something isn't quite right with your thinking that leads you to believe that you don't belong and shouldn't be where you are in life because somehow you've fluked it. But what if this thinking didn't come from you, what if other people have either inadvertently or intentionally planted the seed of doubt in your mind, to begin with?

Tulshyan and Burey (2021) discuss Imposter Syndrome with the view of society needing to focus on fixing biases, not women, and that Imposter Syndrome comes from bullying where bias and racism within the system can see individuals up against impossible standards for them to achieve. Tulshyan and Burey (2021) highlight if there aren't role models that you can relate to within the workplace, or supportive people around you, then you can find yourself working in an organisation culture that is biased and toxic; which can leave you doubting your abilities and talents. They believe the notion of Imposter Syndrome is being used when the wider picture needs to be observed, and dealt with, rather than putting another label on women, that sees them at fault.

Imposter syndrome - what can we do about it?

We live in a world where we constantly compare ourselves against one another making it easier to think in a certain way towards ourselves. People share parts of their life they wish to share on social media, and this snapshot is often predetermined and planned to give an insight into the "best parts" which can leave people questioning their own life choices, against those of others.

When we enter the world of work, we often find ourselves working up the career ladder which can find us competing against colleagues. If we take a step back further, we can also see that Schools, Colleges and Universities are all based upon testing our abilities and competing against one another through assessments! So, is it any wonder that we can walk through life with a cloud of doubt that can fill our minds once in a while?

Below are some tips to help you feel a sense of peace with where you are at in life, and to help you recognise your achievements as something to be celebrated.

Tip 1: Talk to yourself like you would your best friend. If it was them doubting themselves, believing they shouldn't be where they are now, what would you tell them? Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would your best friend.

Tip 2: Acknowledge and remember the positives. We can find our brain takes us to the flaws we see, the places where we want to try and get better at, but there are so many other areas that we ignore or forget to acknowledge. Make a conscious effort to remind yourself or jot down the positives. A compliment, an achievement, the effort you gave for trying something new, the act of putting yourself out of your comfort zone, and the commitment you made to try.

Tip 3: Remember that we are all on different paths. One person will follow one direction whilst you will follow another. Your path will be different to theirs. This means that you will experience life, and life aspirations in a different way. There is no right or wrong way.

Tip 4: Surround yourself with positive role models - whether that's friends, family, a mentor or a coach. Someone who has your back and is ready to listen and support you with your goals and journey.

Tip 5: Be proud of your individuality and uniqueness - because you are loved and special, just for being you!

What can you/your organisation do?

Tip 6: Come from a place of openness - openness to listen, to learn, to discuss, to grow and to understand from each other. We all have a wealth of background experience that we have gained from our lived experiences. This provides us with insight, passion, knowledge, experience, advice, and perspective, which can differ from others in the team. Working together to understand each other can bring many rewards both for you personally and for the organisation as a whole, as you open your understanding and awareness to new opportunities. There is a place for us all.

Tip 7: View conflict as something to learn from. Heated emotions can bring tension but the underlying message being delivered is that this person cares enough to show it. If you unpick this, you're likely to find information that can be problem solved to bring positive solutions to the table.

Tip 8: Don't be afraid to question the norm. If you feel you can't discuss this with your boss or team directly, find someone you trust that you can confide in to share your viewpoint to brainstorm ideas of how to bring other alternatives as options. Back up your ideas with facts/data to help build a perspective and insight.

Tip 9: Remember you are on the same team - workplace culture doesn't change overnight and requires a team effort. What can you do to support positive change within the organisation?

Tip 10: Educate yourself. Learn more about equity, inclusion, diversity and unconscious bias.

Tip 11: Speak up and stand up for one another. A strategy known with bullying is to isolate individuals from a group to avoid them speaking out and getting support from others. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Support one another and find ways to help stamp out bullying and bad behaviour.

We are all on our own journey; experiencing our individual way in the world. So let's live life unapologetically fearless, because who you are should be celebrated and the world is lucky to have you!


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