At some point in your career, you may have a bit of a wobble that can really affect the way you think about yourself and your abilities. The wobble, also known as Imposter Syndrome, is something that can come out of nowhere, and is often a complete figment of your imagination.
The good news is, this happens to almost everyone and is entirely normal. I wanted to share my recent experience of losing my mojo and how I am overcoming it, in the hope that this can help others who are doubting themselves.
So let’s see how familiar this sounds…
Your alarm goes off and you wake up. You roll over and check your phone. Two emails already sitting in your notifications. Great. You take a quick look and start to fill with dread and send your brain into overload. ‘Why haven’t I done this work already?’ ‘It’s all your fault.’ You jump in the shower and try to mindlessly wash, but the thoughts inch their way back in. ‘Why didn’t I do that yesterday?’ ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ ‘What will they say when I get in?’ ‘How will that project ever get done?’ You start your commute and try to drown your thoughts out, but a few still make it through. You are questioning everything and everyone. ‘They will never trust me again’ ‘I wonder what they’ve said about me’ ‘Why can’t I just…’ ‘Why didn’t I just…’
By the time you get to work, you are already mentally exhausted and you’ve started the day off in a negative place. No matter what happens now, you will only see failures and you will only blame yourself.
Woah, woah woah. Brain. Stop. Stop being so hard on yourself. Stop listening to the negative thoughts. And stop catastrophising every situation.
This is exactly where my mind has been recently. I had beaten myself up over a small situation at work, and I had blown it out of proportion in my mind. I’ve had blips in the past where I’ve questioned myself, but this experience and feeling was different. I felt like I couldn’t trust my abilities, or that anyone trusted me at all, and the thoughts spiralled out of control and broke down my confidence.
I started looking around for some explanation as to why I was feeling the way I was. I started talking to colleagues and bosses, and opened up about how I was feeling, and it soon became apparent that I was suffering with a case of the Imposter Syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
“A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their accomplishments.”
Coined back in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter Syndrome is a mind-trap that prevents people from believing in themselves, and makes people over-work and people-please.
Ironically, Impostor Syndrome can be difficult to recognise in yourself, but the typical symptoms can be easy to identify with;
- Feelings of inadequacy and frequent self-doubt.
- Thoughts of “I’m not worthy,” or “I don’t deserve this.”
- Worrying that you can’t live up to others’ expectations.
- Focusing on your mistakes rather than on your achievements.
- Exhibiting perfectionist tendencies.
- Thinking that your job is so easy that anyone could do it.
- Thinking that your talents and strengths are common or unremarkable.
- Believing that what you do is never enough.
- Believing that if you were to start over, you wouldn’t have the luck, talent or skills to replicate your current success.
In the past month, I can relate to every single symptom outlined above – and it has really helped me to actually see it all written down. After all, the first step to overcoming this feeling, is to acknowledge it…
How can you overcome Imposter Syndrome?
As this is such a common feeling, there are tonnes of articles and information out there to help you through. Time.com, The Guardian, Mindtools.com, and articles on Medium have really helped, and they all outline the following coping mechanisms;
#1 Acknowledge your feelings
When you start doubting yourself and feeling low, write it down and explain why you are feeling this way. Be as specific as possible, as the chances are, as soon as you see it all written down you will realise you shouldn’t worry.
#2 Talk to people about how you are feeling
Talk to people you trust. You might be surprised by how many of your friends and colleagues can relate to how you feel. Listen to the people in your life and let them reassure you that your fears are irrational.
#3 Understand your strengths and weaknesses
Confidence is all about trusting and understanding your abilities. Conduct a personal SWOT analysis and ask for 360 feedback from colleagues. Once you have a deep understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, you won’t have to spend so much time worrying that you’re not “qualified” for a particular task, project or role.
#4 Own your successes
The biggest part of the Imposter Syndrome feeling is forgetting your accomplishments. It is so easy for people to focus on negatives, blame themselves when things go wrong, and credit successes to external factors. Take responsibility for your successes and write them down. Learn to appreciate praise and positive feedback, and learn to balance negative thoughts with all the achievments you have made.
Resources I have found useful
I have been practising the mechanisms above and am slowly pulling myself out of the hole I’ve trapped myself into. While I’m still not quite there, I have found comfort in the following resources that I could not recommend enough…
Research shows that women suffer more often from Imposter Syndrome. One woman who is determined to help women unleash their potential and stop holding themselves back, is Sheryl Sandberg. Her book Lean In, and the accompanying website are a fantastic source of self-help and wise words, created to reprogram your brain and make you think differently.
Lean In, Black Box Thinking, Start with Why, Talk like Ted. These are not necessarily ‘Imposter Syndrome’ books, but they all work well to make you think differently and approach situations with more confidence and gravitas.
Talk to people
This is the obvious one, and I’ve mentioned it already, but talking to people really does help. I started having the conversation with people in my team who encouraged me to talk to the big boss about my feelings. My team explained that if I didn’t address my feelings with my manager, they wouldn’t be able to help me. I booked in a slot and had one of the most helpful conversations. I told them exactly what was going through my head – every detail of the negative thoughts – and they helped bring me back down, rationalise my feelings, and pointed out previous success. You can’t rationalise and reach conclusions on your own. You have to talk.
I hope you have found this useful, and if you can relate to anything in this article, I hope that my tips and mechanisms can help. If you have any comments or thoughts, please get in touch on my Twitter and LinkedIn