If you feel like a fraud at work – not good enough to be there and expecting to be ‘found out’ at any moment – you may be affected by Imposter Syndrome.
If so, do not worry. Not only do you now have something in common with Michelle Obama, but also there are plenty of strategies and exercises available to you that can help you to feel better.
The mantra for the journey to overcoming Imposter Syndrome is ‘gradual and steady’. It takes focus and effort, and it can take time to notice the very real progress being made.
It can therefore be useful to additionally adopt some ‘quick win’ strategies. These not only help you to feel better now (albeit temporarily) and so keep you motivated to persevere on your journey, but when practised consistently they can in themselves also contribute to overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the longer-term.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
(Note: If you are experiencing acute levels of anxiety, stress and/or depression, you should seek specialist therapeutic support.)
1. Get rational
Those with Imposter Syndrome tend to doubt their abilities. We can evaluate ideas in our minds more rationally when we look at them on paper. So, get a pen and some paper and gather evidence of your strengths and why you are so great.
Start by brainstorming your objective accomplishments, including CV items. Now think of subjective moments, such as things you are personally proud of, times you defied the odds, and instances when you received standout feedback.
Have fun with this. Some people find researching statistics helpful (for example, what percentage of people attended certain institutions or received certain grades). Some go into luxurious detail for each achievement, really owning them.
Look at the evidence, what does it tell you? On balance, it is probably pointing to someone who is fairly capable. Now consider accepting what the evidence is saying.
2. Confidence boosts
When you sense your Imposter Syndrome related feelings flare up, perhaps before an important meeting, make some changes to what you are doing physically and observe how this temporarily boosts your confidence internally.
This is about consciously encouraging yourself to take up more physical space and acting in the same vein.
For example, adjust your posture and notice how you feel better by simply standing or sitting straighter and keeping your head up. Also try breathing more slowly and deeply, feeling your body expand as you do so.
When it is your turn to speak in a meeting, deliberately slow down your speech and communicate everything you want to say without skipping parts. Remember to make eye contact.
This may feel counter-intuitive, which is exactly why doing it can help.
3. Lift your mood
Imposter Syndrome can make you feel anxious at work. You can combat this by raising your energy levels to put you in a more positive frame of mind.
‘Power anthems’ are a fun way to do this. Try listening to songs that positively charge your mood and notice how this shift then affects the way you work. Whether it is ‘Eye of The Tiger’ or ‘Titanium’ (or something far less classy), pick your poison and keep your headphones handy.
If music does not appeal to you, choose something else that lifts your mood (maybe a short walk or run). Whatever it is, incorporate it as often as possible into your working day and enjoy the boosts to your outlook at work.
4. Remember the bigger picture
It is easy to assume that you are the only one feeling out of place and doubting your abilities, but this is simply not true. We forget that everyone has an external bravado.
People are often surprised to hear that just as many men are affected by Imposter Syndrome as women. Why? Because men are (generally) better at hiding their self-doubt.
You may even recall moments when you have noticed someone speaking, with absolute conviction, but you know for a fact that what they are saying is incorrect.
It can be liberating to realise that no one really has it all figured out so the next time you feel inferior at work, remember that everyone else is just muddling their way through too.
Unfortunately there is no known quick fix to magic away the effects of Imposter Syndrome in an instant. It takes sustained attention and action and it is possible that, at some point, you will also have to take a deeper look inwards.
However, doing small actions such as these regularly can help you to feel much better generally while also nudging you forward on your way to overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the long-run. Best of luck!
Nazish Bhaiwala, Founder and Career coach at Red Arbre, is a former employment lawyer who coaches lawyers and other professionals on being happier at work.
In 2018 Nazish carried out a series of interviews of female international human rights lawyers from all over the world about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome. Combining this global scale learning with her own coaching experience means she has an in-depth and unique understanding of Imposter Syndrome and the coaching tools and strategies that can help to overcome it.
As well as career coaching, Red Arbre holds evening seminars in London. Details of the next seminar, ‘Women in Law: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’, are at impostersyndrome_law.eventbrite.co.uk.