Has Imposter Syndrome Got the Best of You?

Does your fear of failure hold you back? Are you worried you’re not good enough to be successful in a completely different career? Don’t feel confident in your ability to take the actions to make the shift? Want everything to be perfect before you take your next step? YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

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But it’s time to ditch the doubt and own your life experiences. You are the sum of all your experiences – the good, bad and ugly. And each one has given you something. A skill, a self-awareness learning, knowledge on a topic or an insight to what you want or don’t want. Your life experiences are a fantastic foundation for your next career step.

As a coach, I know we often get in our own way. Our own limited thinking, lack of confidence and self-belief can really hinder us from reaching our goals and leading a full and joyful life. And prevent us from becoming all we are meant to be.

What is imposter syndrome?
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud."

It was discovered by American psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes back in the 1970s. It has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. Both men and women.

What does imposter syndrome look like?
You don’t apply for a job unless you meet all the criteria.
You constantly worry you are not meeting expectations.
You don’t hear the positive feedback received.
You are a perfectionist who sets personal high standards.
You beat yourself up when you fail.

And the list could go on.

How to deal with imposter syndrome
I miss my carefree attitude and self-belief I had in my 20s. I believed I could do anything I wanted and felt the world was at my feet. I found myself in numerous scary situations but always managed - with a bit of adrenalin and self-talk - to just get on with it. It was in my 20s that I became comfortable ‘on the stage’ and in front of an audience. On leaving University, I taught English in Switzerland, India and Australia. Travelling and living abroad gave me confidence too. I learnt to navigate new cultures and languages, and became comfortable with not knowing everything, figuring things out along the way. I still use self-talk as a strategy today to support me through scary things.

There’s a lot more involved when facing career transition. It’s a journey which involves exploring on many different levels – internally and externally. A journey where imposter syndrome is ready to get the better of you.

If you live an authentic life, you will hopefully be following your true path. Whatever that means for you. You may find yourself retraining at a mature age and trying something completely different. If imposter syndrome has joined you, there is something you can do about it.

Dr Valerie Young, a leading expert on the subject, claims that imposter syndrome manifests itself in five types:

  • The Expert
  • The Perfectionist
  • The Soloist
  • The Natural Genius
  • The Superwoman

She’s created a fun infographic which helps you discover which type you are and gives tips on how to deal with it.

How do you deal with imposter syndrome during career transition?
It’s become a trend to start a side gig or turn a hobby into a second income while paying your bills from a 9 to 5 source. Today it’s all possible. With a bit of time management, dedication and external support.

Meet two professionals who overcame imposter syndrome during career transition. It didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams of becoming a massage therapist and yoga teacher respectively.

From Civil Servant to Massage Therapist
Louise started training as a massage therapist in her free time while working for the Civil Service. And went all in when motherhood prevented her from pursuing her former career.

‘Once I’d made the decision to change career, I undertook extensive specialist training to increase my knowledge and build my skills and confidence.’

Coaching helped her initially get over her inhibition of calling herself a massage therapist. It took time and practice. She would tell everyone she knew or met about her new business. A couple of brilliant cheerleaders and early clients told their friends, so she didn't have to sell herself. Others did it for her!

Her advice to others?

‘Be passionate and committed about what you do. It shows. Recruit a couple of trusted people in your corner to help you sell yourself/your business. If you lack the skills or experience, then get training, volunteer and take every opportunity you can create or find.’

Louise is a massage therapist based in South London, UK.

From PR to Yoga Teacher
Priya has a background in healthcare PR and had moved to freelance life when she had her children. And found herself following her heart and immersing herself more into yogic life.

’I was already practicing regularly, but I then made it my mission to try out as many different yoga classes, styles and teachers as possible. I also did a lot of background research and reading on the history and philosophy of yoga. In a way, I went on my own journey, a kind of path of discovery to work out what I did and didn't like, helping me to work out what kind of teacher I wanted to be.’

Learning with and from others was essential during her transition. Priya found inspiration in an older guru / role model who lived her yogic values on and off the mat. And found herself training with her. Her yogi classmates on her teacher training course were also a source of inspiration and support. Her best advice is to go out of your way to find a mentor(s).

Priya is a yoga teacher based in South London, UK

Other advice they share for those undertaking career transition which can help you deal with imposter syndrome:

  • Start small - slowly and surely. Every step counts.
  • Keep going and be patient, even when you feel like a fraud.
  • Be open to volunteer and pro bono sessions. This can lead to paid opportunities later and does wonders for your confidence levels.
  • Never stop reading, learning or training.
  • Take every opportunity to practice, for example skill swap.
  • Set intentional mini goals which lead you in the right direction.

Remember expertise is the gradual accumulation of many baby steps, learnings and failures. One step at a time is extremely powerful.

My tips to manage your imposter syndrome everyday
The pressure to achieve usually comes from ourselves. One advantage you have during career transition, is a set of skills tried and tested, as well as knowledge of at least some of your strengths. If you find yourself feeling uncertain in new territory, it can be easier to ask for help, when you know and acknowledge your current skillset.

When you know and acknowledge your current expertise, it becomes easier to ask for help when you find yourself in new territory.

Lower your perfection levels to 90%. I have read three professional newsletters in 24 hours and all of them had typos in them. It didn’t make me think any less of the experts who sent them. In fact, I smiled and respected them more. They are human too.

Be authentic and be realistic when you wear BIG shoes. And dare to share how you feel with others – a friend, colleague, boss or mentor. They might surprise you and share an inspiring personal story.

Stop worrying about what other people think. You can’t see or hear other people’s thoughts. So why spend time (and energy) worrying about them?

How have you overcome imposter syndrome? Any tips to share?

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Karin Weiser

International Business Coach (ICF-ACC) and Writer, www.karinweiser.com

Transition Specialist who supports ambitious professionals in transition in their career and life with conversations that matter. I help ambitious professionals to write the next chapter of their career story. To own it, walk it and talk it. I have rewritten my story many times - moved countries, climbed the corporate ladder, zigzagged in my career. I stand for diversity, well-being and lifelong learning. In 2019 I took a life leap to self-employment. Proud to be a Psychologies Ambassador and ICF Barefoot certified coach (ACC). My WHY is to have a positive impact on people - in person, virtually and through words. British by birth, global by choice. I am based in Copenhagen and work globally. My personal recipe for a balanced life includes a splash of optimism, yoga and dark chocolate.