If you’ve just landed a new job and feel like you’re going to be discovered as a total fraud, here’s how to own it from Day One.
This is it. Today’s the day. The day everyone’s finally going to realise you’ve been faking it this whole time. That you got to where you are by luck, or lying, or both. And man, are they going to be mad when they find out the truth.
If that could be a recording of the loop-the-loop playing inside your head, then it’s a no-brainer: you’re a human being. And more than likely, a woman – a high-achieving one at that. Because that particular strain of self-doubt has a name – “imposter syndrome” – and it’s practically endemic among smart, young women.
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“I’m not good enough”
One official definition describes “imposter syndrome” as a “collection of feelings of inadequacy that persists even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true”. In non-official terms, that means the persistent feeling of being “Not Good Enough” and an “Epic Fraud” manages to make short work of the real talent, hard work, character, or stone-solid qualifications that got you where you are, and leaves you feeling like your success so far is a fluke, with the risk of exposure lurking round the corner.
“It’s even more common than most of us realise,” says Dr Joann Lukins, a performance psychologist. “But it’s often unspoken, which can leave us with the sense that we’re the only ones who struggle with that seed of self doubt, that we’re the only ones who are inadequate and don’t measure up, even though actual evidence doesn’t support these kinds of feelings.”
Dr Lukins claims to be a sufferer herself, who, despite having a PhD and 25 years of experience, recalls being caught in mid-sentence while teaching a tertiary statistics class and “hearing myself wonder what was going to happen when they found out I didn’t know what I was talking about”.
It’s in your mind
Yep, this negative cycle of self-talk can be managed, with a little mindfulness. “You can’t do anything about it unless you notice when it’s happening,” says Dr Lukins. “The first step is recognising that, hey, I’m telling myself things that are really unhelpful.”
Once you start to actively notice the messages you’re sending yourself, you will naturally begin to challenge them.
“It’s like when you get into a car and there’s a song on the radio you hate,” says life coach and motivational expert Immik Kerr, who’s helped scores of young, high-achieving women manage their feelings of faking it. “The majority of people are going to turn it down or change the station, and we need to do the same with our thinking.”
Only… err, how? “When we hear ourselves on a track we don’t like, slow the thought down,” says Immik. “Take some time on your own to ask, ‘Is that really what I think, or is that just an emotional trigger to a particular situation?’ You don’t have to subscribe to every thought you have. Our thoughts may all feel true, but they aren’t necessarily so.”
Break the cycle
The thoughts we’re most familiar with – the recurring, “I’m too shy/dumb/young” – are the ones that tend to result in repeated patterns of behaviour, so aim to decouple such thoughts from your actions.
“When you feel the accusations coming, do something to physically shift out of the environment you’re in,” says Immik. “A physical change usually generates a new feeling, and reinforces the sense that you’re in control of your life.” So, that means if you’re prone to firing knee-jerk emails to the supervisor who has a way of bringing out your inner imposter, take a tea break before you hit “send”. When you sit back down, a calmer and more rational “you” might have taken over.
A step back, mentally and physically, also gives you a chance to weigh what you’re thinking and feeling against your initial trepidations. It would make a cheesy bumper sticker for sure, but think of FEAR as an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real”.
“So often we say things to ourselves that just aren’t true,” says Dr Lukins. “When you’re thinking, ‘Oh, that friend hasn’t called me back because she hates me’, consider an alternative explanation. Could it be that she’s just too busy?”
No one is perfect
Downgrading your desire for perfection (in every aspect of life, from work to relationships) to a quest for excellence or even plain, old, good enough, also helps. And although the fear of being “found out” that goes hand-in-hand with this mindset will often drive you to keep quiet – especially in the workplace – articulating your anxieties to the right people can remind you that you’re not alone, and that actually, you kinda do know what you’re doing.
“Get your fans around you,” says Immik. “I don’t mean people who think you’re pretty or great or dateable, but the people who are really invested in your success. They know who you really are and will help you become your authentic self.”
As recovering imposters ourselves, we know one thing for sure: no matter how calm and confident other people look on the outside, every single one of them is making it up as they go along.
Looking for some seriously good life inspirations? Click here to meet the CLEO Change Makers!
The CLEO Change Makers 2017 is presented by SK-II.
Text: Meg Mason