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Imposter Syndrome and Self Doubt in the Workplace

By: Destinee Alderete, VP of Operations, TensorIoT

“Talent? What’s talent but the ability to get away with something?” — Tennessee Williams.

How many times have you sat down at your workspace only to face that intrusive little thought that you actually have no idea what you’re doing and everyone will eventually find out you were a fraud? More than an estimated 70% of people in the workforce experience what is called imposter syndrome, or self doubt, at some point in their career. So what exactly is imposter syndrome, and how can we fight the effects?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern characterized by several different recurring thoughts: people doubt their accomplishments, dismiss success and chalk it up to luck or being in the right place at the right time, have a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, or have extreme self doubt. Imposter syndrome is becoming more prevalent and recognizable across many industries, with the tech industry showing some of the highest rates. Employees in the tech industry are constantly asked to adapt to changes in technology, their environments, cloud computing and infrastructure, and working with new technologies that no one or minimal people have ever worked with before. People who experience imposter syndrome exhibit higher rates of burnout, job dissatisfaction, and stagnancy, but they also frequently achieve high levels of success. According to researcher Valerie Young, this success could be due to the fact that those battling imposter syndrome are driven to disprove their own self doubt. There are four key identifiable forms of imposter syndrome; reluctance to seize opportunities, perfectionism, workaholism, and individualism. Let’s explore these forms and then I’ll share some tools for coping with imposter syndrome with the hope that you can overcome each one of them.

Reluctance to seize opportunities

If you experience this type of self doubt you likely are reluctant to take initiative, turn down promotions or assignments unless you feel 100% certain you will succeed, constantly feel unready or unprepared, and are slow to highlight your own accomplishments. This form of imposter syndrome often leads to self sabotaging behavior. In some cases this reluctance has led people to leave industries of work they originally loved.

Perfectionism

Calling yourself a “perfectionist” is much different than suffering from imposter syndrome perfectionism. If you suffer from Imposter syndrome perfectionism, you set unrealistic or unhealthy goals and expectations for yourself. You also often fear that you will never measure up to the unattainable standards and concept of ‘perfection’ you have set for yourself. This type of imposter syndrome can lead to severe compulsive behaviors, anxiety, procrastination, and self loathing.

Workaholism

Working late hours to meet a deadline or due to being behind schedule on a project is not the type of workaholism we are referring to here. Workaholism from an imposter syndrome standpoint is motivated by the belief that you are not skilled enough and cannot put your work down or you will fall behind and won’t measure up. Work life balance is the key to a healthy work relationship with yourself, co-workers, and family. If you suffer from workaholism you may not be able to relax when you are not working, skip family events to work, and burn yourself out at a rapid rate.

Individualism

Imposter syndrome individualism occurs when you are unable to accept or ask for help because it makes you feel as though you are an imposter who is unable to perform the task at hand. In management or senior positions, individualism is also characterized by the inability to delegate tasks to others. Individualism is driven by a need to complete tasks alone to prove your worth. Signs of individualism include consistently declining offered help towards completing tasks, reluctance to delegate tasks or work in teams, and framing requests as requirements rather than as support that would benefit the individual.

If any of these imposter syndrome identifying characteristics matched your behavior patterns, the first important thing to acknowledge is that you are not alone. Many successful individuals, world leaders, business CEO’s, and celebrities have come forward to discuss their bouts with imposter syndrome during their careers.

Tom Hanks admitted in an interview that he suffered from imposter syndrome at various times throughout his career: “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover than I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”

Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and former CEO, has also admitted to having self doubt: “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.

I, myself, have worked through moments of imposter syndrome like so many others. When confronted with my own self-doubt, I find that I tend to argue with my own inner critic that is telling me I am not good enough, when I know I am. There are many ways to identify and address imposter syndrome both in and outside of the workplace.

Mentorship

One way to work through imposter syndrome is through mentorship, finding a trusted mentor and talking to them when you are having feelings of self-doubt. Your mentor can offer advice, support, or possibly even tell you how they overcame a similar situation. Another way to use mentorship to work through imposter syndrome is through mentoring others. Mentoring other peers can help you find empowerment through reinforcing your own strengths and capabilities while helping others.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation can be a mantra you say to yourself daily, a few words you remind yourself of during hard times, or small phrases that you tell yourself before meetings. Coming up with words of affirmation such as “I can do it”, “ I am doing my best”, “I am where I am supposed to be right now in my life”, and “I deserve this”, can help reaffirm your capabilities to yourself. Another way to use affirmations is writing down three things you are grateful for everyday. Some practices recommend writing three gratitudes at the beginning and ending of your day. Taking the time to identify areas of your life that you appreciate or are grateful for is a great reminder that you are doing well and have positivity in your life.

Practice

Practicing identifying your imposter syndrome identifiers is easier said than done. Start off slow and steady making milestones to counteract your specific symptoms of imposter syndrome. For example, if you are suffering from workaholism, make a conscious effort to eat dinner with your family every night, instead of in front of your computer or staying late at the office. This could also easily be something as simple as setting 30 minutes of time aside for yourself on a daily basis to read, exercise, or even mindlessly watch an episode of your favorite guilty pleasure show. Finally, for someone who is working through perfectionism it may mean sending the first draft of this blog post to our editing team without doing five re-writes first.

Wheel of Wellness

Try using a wheel of wellness to set goals for yourself. Set up your quadrant of goals and each time you complete a goal, select a piece from the corresponding quadrant and delete the gray filter, continue until your wheel of wellness is as colorful as you! You can make the quadrants relative to goals related to overcoming imposter syndrome identifiers, as well as, personal or professional goals

No matter which route you take towards battling imposter syndrome, it’s likely that despite your efforts you’ll still have those feelings such as the itching desire to work, complete one more draft, finish the whole project on your own or feel skeptical about taking the next step in your career. What is important is taking the first steps of identifying the feeling and doing your best to make small changes that will eventually help you work your way through imposter syndrome. Remember that you’re not alone, the majority of people out there suffer through imposter syndrome at various stages of their life and career. The quicker you are able to acknowledge and understand what you are going through, the quicker you can work through the problem. Don’t be afraid to seek help or ask questions about resources available to you. Find your outlet and you will overcome it!

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