Imposter syndrome and how to deal with it

To feel insecure every now and again is natural. But as these feelings worsen, colleagues may end up feeling useless, and the worry and self-doubt creeps in about whether they are talented or qualified enough. This is true in every walk of life. 

As former Number 10 director of communications Alastair Campbell eloquently put it, “to lack self-doubt is to lack humanity”. 

When somebody gets a promotion or starts a new job, they are likely to feel overwhelmed by the new processes or lack experience with a particular application or software. They then learn to assimilate by practice and repetition. Anything they are asked to do, which is new to them, will create some insecurities. 84% of CEOs or similar roles experience such feelings at some point in their life.

Some people have healthy remedies to deal with these difficulties. They are confident in their capacity to adapt and learn quickly, and use self-doubt as a source of energy and creativity. Others struggle immensely with this, and instead of trusting their abilities, they overthink all aspects of their working life, and end up feeling that their achievements were based on luck instead of merit, and gravitate towards unhealthy mechanisms to compensate for their perceived deficiencies. This is known as imposter syndrome.

Seeking perfection in the workplace

Dr. Valerie Young, an expert in the topic, said that imposter syndrome manifests itself in different ways. Some look for perfection, but they say that if you go looking for it, you will never find it and you’ll never be content. Perfection is often something that is idealised but cannot be sustained in the physical world. By setting your bar that high, is setting yourself up for failure.

Others look for their inner natural genius. Dr Young argued that people with this complex tend to believe they have a higher innate capacity to learn and develop new skills, and so they judge their competence based on ease and speed, as opposed to effort required, and they can feel demotivated to pick up new skills if they fail on the first try.

Another common response for those of us suffering from imposterism is to try and overcompensate our perceived flaws with extra hours and hard work. The superhero wants to be the first one to get to the office and the last one to leave. The problem is that quantity does not always equate to quality and if your input fails to translate into a productive output you might be overworking and setting yourself up for a burnout.

Some respond to these flaws by taking on extra training and education. They measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know, but they have this inner need to keep compensating for their perceived lack of expertise, which can be counterproductive.

Collaborate and focus on mental health

Last but not least, Dr Young talks about the soloists. Those who believe that asking for help will reveal their imposterism and thus avoid reaching out for guidance and support. Whilst being independent is a good thing, lacking the will to learn from those who know more than you about a certain topic can be a detrimental mistake. Collaboration is a great way for a team to come together and contribute their expertise within a new project.

Stress awareness month has been celebrated every April since 1992, and College Green Group will be focusing on mental health within the workplace. If you feel like you suffer from self-doubt at times, use it as a fuel instead of allowing it to consume you. If you know that you have areas you need to improve, College Green Group offers guidance and support to help rectify any gaps in your knowledge. If you are experiencing lack of confidence, or wish to discuss things in a more private setting, then our experienced coaches can help you  develop the best mechanisms to overcome your challenges.

Please find below links you will find useful:

Keys to personal success

Executive Coaching

In-company training

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