Ever uttered the words “I feel like any minute someone is going to tell me they made a mistake. That I don’t actually belong here.” Chances are that you have thought or said these exact words or something similar to them because you suffer from imposter syndrome. While imposter syndrome can surface in many ways, it has been my experience that most often it comes in the shape of not feeling good enough/ qualified enough for the job at hand. And while there is a reasonable set of doubts that come with not feeling adequate, imposter syndrome runs deeper.
Imposter syndrome, the feeling of being a fraud or the feeling that you don’t deserve the success that you have achieved, extends beyond the reasonable set of doubts. Those who experience it feel that their achievements were as a result of luck or because someone made a mistake by recognizing something in them that they don’t possess. Imposter syndrome has been linked to perfectionism and the failure of failing or simply because of the way that we are programmed.
If you were raised to believe that only hard work gets you ahead, and you accomplish a challenging task without putting in all of your blood, sweat, and tears, then you may feel like you don’t deserve the recognition. Or if you were ever told that the reason why you achieved something extraordinary is because you were “lucky” or “in the right place at the right time,” then you’d be likely to chalk your success up to sheer luck and worry that you won’t succeed because it’s only chance and not actually your work that got you where you are.
Recognizing, understanding, and managing our own emotions is the first part of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and falls under self-awareness and self-management. Recent research indicates that EI greatly determines success in our professional lives. When it comes to dealing with imposter syndrome there are some principles of EI that you can follow regularly and in the moment to manage the emotions.
Use your EI to recognize that what you’re feeling is inadequacy, but then go one step further as to determine why you feel this way? Don’t say I just got lucky, or it’s a fluke - those aren’t valid reasons. Why do you feel inadequacy? Is it because there’s a challenge up ahead and you’re feeling overwhelmed about it? Or, do you truly think you cannot handle the job?
If it’s that you feel overwhelmed, then remind yourself that it’s natural to feel this way at the start of a task. Think back to other larger achievements that you have undertaken, and try to recall how overwhelming it felt at the start but then as you got into it, the doubts eased away until you accomplished what needed to be done. Remind yourself that some self-doubt and discomfort at the start of something new is perfectly normal and is not indicative of failure or the fact that you can’t do the job.
If it’s the second feeling of, I can’t handle this… I’m not qualified enough… People are mistaken when they think I can do this... Pause and ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. If it’s an unexpected promotion, do you not trust the person who gave it to you? Do you not trust the company to make decisions that make the company more successful? Or if you can’t handle it, why can’t you handle it? Will the job require more hours? Does it require knowledge in a subject matter that is not your expertise? Ask yourself these questions, and if you don’t know how to do this, then ask someone who you know will be honest with you. Ask that person whether they think you can hack it. Chances are they will be able to illustrate why you’re in the right space because of your own accomplishments.
We are our own worst critics. So before you let your inner critic take over and derail your sense of self, remember you’re worth the empathy and compassion that you give to others. Be kind to yourself and remember you’re here because of many different factors not the least of which is that you earned this!