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This Looks Like… Not Imposter Syndrome

My experience with almost feeling like an imposter at work

A girl standing in a park with a cardboard box over her head.
Photo by Ryanniel Masucol from Pexels

Imagine…

Rays of light are gleaming through the white vintage windows in whimsical patterns brightening up the entire office. They render artsy shadows on the walls, floors, and tables energising the space and your productivity. Your teammates are brainstorming compelling problems and turn to you for your thoughts. There’s a healthy banter of ideas flowing around, and you feel invigorated by the stimulating exchange. It’s your turn to present your work for review, and your peers embolden you with helpful feedback. On the way back to your desk, you meander through the kitchen for a snack and wave hello at other colleagues on your route. The snacks are aplenty and the choices are enticing. You’re on a diet, so you pick the “oven-baked” chips. Back at your table, you start doodling ideas in your book and glance out the window in deep rumination.

So… this is not a short story. It’s not a commercial for oven-baked chips. This is your life at your excellent job as { insert job title }. Well, technically it’s my life ( as a product designer ) but I’ll lend it to you for the sake of this article.

A great job like that feels amazing to have bagged. But if you’re a young professional like me only a few years into your career, it can also feel mind-boggling. You feel lucky for the opportunity, yet a little doubtful if you can live up to the expectations. You’re euphoric going into work every day and excited to be learning so much, but you feel those uncomfortable pangs of stress to prove your mettle. You’ve been waiting for a chance like this and now that you have finally succeeded, you’re not sure why you feel this way. Many have called feelings similar to these, imposter syndrome.

Feel the difference

A lot of people I talked to or the content I consumed, almost had me convinced that I had imposter syndrome. The restlessness around the pandemic almost exacerbated my belief.

Imposter syndrome is extreme doubt and feeling like a fraud at work. It can often lead to depression and anxiety.

But I was conscious not to let others diagnose my mental health. I gave it good thought and effort. Maybe all of these feelings are simply healthy nervousness? Feeling unsure doesn’t make you an imposter. I for one, don’t feel like a fraud because I worked hard to be here.

*Moment of revelation*. Oh maybe, these feelings are imposters in the garb of imposter syndrome. ( wink wink )

All bad jokes aside, mental health is serious. Maybe you do have imposter syndrome, and if you do I hope you’re finding ways to deal with it.

But it’s important to know the difference. This article in the Harvard Business Review talks about how quickly and without consideration, the label of imposter syndrome is thrown around. What may start as just doubt or stress, can quickly turn into deep-seated anxiety and uncertainty of your successes and skills if you’re not careful of what you believe. While it’s refreshing to talk to people about your emotions, exercise awareness on who you talk to and how you take their advice.

It’s like those times when you google about having a headache and end up with an online “diagnosis” for dementia. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole when you’re already worried about your mental health. And I almost fell into it.

So peeps, STOP throwing around the label of imposter syndrome. It’s common to have questions like;

Is my team impressed with me?

Am I doing enough?

Am I really good at this job?

Will my colleagues like me?

Will I fit in?

And yes, this all sounds awfully similar to imposter syndrome. But observe yourself to fathom the difference between your feelings. Healthy nervousness when you’ve got a great opportunity or have just had some success is more natural than you think. The nervousness is most likely rooted in a desire to succeed. Nevertheless, it can be difficult feeling that way. I’m by no means an expert, but I find that personal stories can be healing in their own way. So I share mine here.

Here’s what I did

When you’re riddled with such doubts, ask yourself;

Do I feel like a fraud?

If the answer is no, then it’s just all that uncomfortable adrenaline that comes from encountering a great opportunity. The excitement of a challenge can almost feel scary, but remember, nervousness is different from anxiety.

If the answer is yes, then this article may not be the reassurance you need. But don’t fret, even superstars like Michelle Obama have confessed to feeling imposter syndrome at one point.

Next, ask yourself again;

Do I feel like I deserve the success I have received?

If the answer is yes, then YESSSS! Keep going after your goals!

And when you do feel those pangs of nervousness, remember it will pass in time. You just need to work towards gaining more confidence in yourself and your abilities. Ask your peers for feedback on your work, and ask for their honesty. It will help you grow.

Reflect on your success or opportunity, and recall what led you here. You will see that they were all tangible actions that you can repeat and improve upon. You keep doing that, and your doubts may slowly morph into confidence. This has certainly helped me.

Most recently, I started maintaining a digital journal of my progress at work. While I always focus on areas I have to improve upon, I have also begun documenting things I did well and matching them to outcomes. Not only does it help me recognise my strengths, but it also reminds me that I am here because I am good at what I do.

Lastly, a cliché that really shouldn't be one because it always works. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and believe in you. When I became mindful of my company, I started sensing the doubts wash away in the sand and grasp the true nature of my disposition.

Take my story with a pinch of salt. What works for me, may not work for you. Make this discovery and path to self-confidence your own.

I work as a human-centered designer, and if there’s one thing I have learned in my career, it is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. What gave me the most solace was realising that I’m just simply nervous. I don’t have imposter syndrome.

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