Last week on the Kick Start Your Career Change Mastermind we took a deep dive into the concept of Imposter Syndrome and it got me thinking why haven’t I written about this before in a blog?  Is it because it’s something I suffer with and admitting it would make me vulnerable or is that I’m of the generation that you fake it until you make it! 

With over 70% of people believed to have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point and to varying degrees, it’s clear that I am not alone.  (J. Sakulku – The Imposter Phenomenon, International Journal of Behavioural Science 6, no. 1, 2011).  In fact over the last few years more and more public figures are openly sharing their experience; Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Cheryl Sandberg, helping us to understand this is a common experience.

What do we mean by Imposter Syndrome?  At the heart of the concept is that sufferers of Imposter Syndrome will doubt their skills, talents, and/or accomplishments and have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud".  Any external evidence of their competence they attribute to luck or that they have managed to convince others that they are more capable than they are. 

Feeling a little familiar?  Perhaps you believe you only got the job because there was a shortage of candidates, or that your success is due to being in the right place at the right time.  And when you’ve received positive feedback you don’t feel you really deserve it and find yourself attributing it to others or putting it down to good fortune.

Such thoughts can cause individuals to hold themselves back from career opportunities, preferring the safety of the familiar.  And for those that are in positions that no longer fulfil them, it can cause them to stay trapped with thoughts such as  “I couldn’t do anything else… no one else would employ me”

Imposter Syndrome tends to impact women harder than men.  According to The Hub in their research in 2019, they found that 90% of UK women admitted to feeling inadequate or incompetent at work.  Culturally we have been socialised to self-deprecate and downplay our abilities, talking about achievements is regarded as boastful and arrogant but in actual fact internalizing these thoughts is impacting our own self-esteem and self-sabotaging our career fulfilment.

My feelings of Imposter Syndrome are more prevalent when I am taking on something new, whether that is a project in a new area or a new career.  I can remember when I first started coaching, comparing myself to experienced coaches, being worried about positioning myself as a coach even though I had the qualifications and had informally been coaching people for years.  During my own career transition, I became qualified as a Pilates Instructor and this was my main income generator while I built up my coaching business.  I can remember standing at the front of the class, thinking they will find out how bad I am at this.  Despite the evidence contradicting this with people returning and being asked to take on more classes.  And even this weekend is another example, I am off to train in another aspect of fitness more for fun but already I can feel the Imposter Syndrome raising its head and starting to wonder why I am putting myself through this.

However, for me, I know that over time the power and frequency of these thoughts reduce as I gain more experience, but this isn’t the case for some.

How do we deal with Imposter Syndrome?  The key is to focus on our thoughts because thoughts come first, they drive our feelings.  The key difference between someone who struggles with Imposter Syndrome and a person who doesn’t are the thoughts they will have about their own ability.  A non -sufferer is likely to focus on doing the best that they can, while a sufferer will focus on reasons why they aren’t good enough.

So how do we start to change our thoughts when it comes to a career change or a promotion?

1.         Normalise it.

The first step is to remember you are in the majority as 70% of people will suffer from it, it is common and that you’re not a freak and you don’t have to keep these thoughts of shame to yourself. 

‘Shame shrivels when you share it’ – Marie Forleo.

Start by having a conversation with your supporters about the thoughts you have, firstly you may be surprised when they share their own not too dissimilar thoughts but then ask them to help remind you why these thoughts aren’t correct, get them to help you see why you can do this.  You are likely to find they offer a different perspective. 

2.         Catch your compliments.

This is about readdressing the balance.  A key characteristic of Imposter Syndrome is that we will focus more on events that haven’t gone so well, than times in our life when we have been successful.  Yes, we can shrug these off as luck or being in the right place at the right time, but the more and more common they are then we have to start admitting that it may actually be more about our abilities.  A great way to do this is to build a bank of compliments, feedback, thank you notes, accolades any contradictory evidence that helps us to feel stronger in our view of ourselves and to review this when needed.  Remember the old saying – what you focus on expands, well if we proactively work on readdressing the balance then this can help us improve our self-esteem.  It also is good preparation for writing the achievements section of your CV and gives you materials to draw on when in interviews and asked about your achievements and strengths.

3.         Reframe your thought.

Instead of saying why we aren’t good enough, look at what you do bring to the situation, this may be different to others but it can also offer a unique perspective. 

“I can do this, my experience will bring a fresh and different perspective which can really make a difference and my passion and enthusiasm will help me with any traditional gaps I may come across.”

When I started career coaching I would struggle with these thoughts and still do some days.  However, I reframe this and use the following statement in moments of doubt:

“I have been through my own career change so I understand the questions, the fears and moments of self-doubt.  I have walked in the shoes of my clients and can talk their talk.  In addition, my 20 Years of HR experience means I understand how organisations work and the employment relationship and can support clients with the challenges they may be navigating in their existing workplace providing a more rounded approach.”

Now it’s your turn to reframe your critical voice.  Even though you may be considering a new career or a new position, and don't regard yourself as the ideal candidate because of experience and abilities, you will have something to offer.  Your past experience even if it is in a different field will give you experiences to draw on, you are not starting from zero.  Perhaps it's dealing with difficult people, working on projects, being able to clearly communicate and impart information.  Instead of focusing on what you don't have, focus on what you do have and what you are able to offer.

Imposter Syndrome will impact the majority of us at some point in our careers, however, you don’t have to suffer alone, talking about it and sharing your concerns, addressing the imbalance between the lows and the highs in your career and reframing your thoughts are all steps we can take to help us.

Imposter syndrome is just one of a number of ways we can get in our own way when it comes to managing our careers and why working with a career coach can accelerate your journey.  If you would like to know more about career coaching, why not book yourself in for a free introductory call.

If you found this blog interesting take a look at the following which are all in relation to emotional challenges that could be relevant to you.