Work, Careers and muddling through

Impostor Syndrome at work

I know a lot of women like myself suffer from Impostor Syndrome, that constant nagging doubt about our skills, knowledge and abilities which affects various areas of life. This can be to a moderate, significant or debilitating degree depending on the scenario, how we happen to feel that day, or what comment someone might have made about us in passing. Sometimes it is just our own devilish thoughts about ourselves which get blown out of all context and proportion due to raging hormones, the pressure of societal expectations or an unexpected problem we can’t seem to solve.

For me, my Impostor Syndrome manifests mostly at work, rather than at home as a mum or wife. I think it is most keenly felt for all of us in the areas of life where we feel most challenged or perhaps which we feel define us most significantly. Now that’s not to say I don’t find parenting challenging; you’ll know this is definitely the case if you’ve read about my experiences of being told off by the teacher or watching my son suffer febrile seizures. And I certainly feel that being a parent is an incredibly significant role. But for me I think I feel most judged at work, and most bereft if my competence or knowledge is called into question there.

Is this a woman thing?

I’ve read that Impostor Syndrome affects women more than men, and that seems feasible given how much harder we have had to work to get recognised and attain the opportunities to be deemed competent at anything other than motherhood and wifedom. But I do think it affects men as well as women, perhaps just in different ways and in different spheres of life; it is perhaps a natural consequence of traditionally female and male roles now merging and in some cases reversing.

I have days at work when I feel really on top of my game, where I am confident in every answer I give to a colleague’s question, talk and stand confidently, and get my views across in an assertive manner. And then there are days when I can only mumble quietly, uncertain of everything I’m saying, and ensuring to double and triple check any piece of information I give out. There are also days that fall in between these two extremes; one minute I might write an email without hesitation in the surety of my knowledge, but the next minute I am stumbling over my words on the phone or conducting unnecessarily detailed research on some unimportant topic I might need to know a little bit about at some point.

Impostor Syndrome at work

I think my wavering levels of confidence at work stem from the fact that I have always, for whatever reason, imbued my career with a significance unrivalled by other areas of my life. It is also the area of my life where I have to go it alone, as we all do. I’m lucky to have great parents, siblings and a husband who form a constant support structure when trying to parent adequately (note not perfectly) or get my words out into the world. But with work we all go out there alone, unable to hold our parents’ hands or ask a member of our support group what to do in a number of daily predicaments.

What work means to me

For me, work means everything. I am not madly in love with my career in Higher Education; it doesn’t quite live up to the astronautic imaginings of my youth. But as I once thought I could do absolutely anything, I think I now feel that I have to do everything and know everything, and if I don’t I am somehow lacking. So, after taking a step back in my career in my current role, I’ve now decided I want to step back up again. Impostor Syndrome played a part in my recession and now I’m determined that it won’t do the same again. I’ve cheekily managed to secure quite a few steps up the staircase in one go in my new role, which I start next month. This time I’m adamant that I will not only use all of my previous skills and experiences in this new role, but most importantly acknowledge them and be confident in letting them inform future decisions and actions.

I’d love to hear from others who suffer from Impostor Syndrome as much as I do; it just helps to know it’s not just you. I look at seemingly confident women with admiration (and a bit of envy I’ll admit). But I wonder if they do secretly have bad days where they question themselves on everything, and if so how they push through it. And if you have any tips or advice about that, please share!

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  • Karen

    I remember reading that when you feel overwhelmed with imposter syndrome it can help to list your actual achievements. Try and do it dispassionately. More like a laundry list than a resume or bio. Most of us have so many accomplishments that we never give ourselves credit for. We tend to focus on what we haven’t done rather than what we have.

  • Inna

    These things can happen and that to anyone. It is just a matter of self perspective. You see yourself differently and other people see you differently.

  • Elizabeth

    I agree with David, Sarah. Imposter Syndrom does manifest itself in different ways, and sometimes, in different areas of an idividual’s life. For example, I’ve encountered it as a mother and as a wife, as well as in my business. The key for me has been establishing the foundation from which, and the standards by which, I operate in each of those areas. But the biggest thing, to which you alluded in this post, is being confident in the fact that I don’t know everything, and I don’t need to know everything. Ingorance is not shameful. Only willful ignorance, which is really rejection of truth or information, is inexcusable. So I hope you will be able to boldly accept where you are in your ecucation and training, as pertains to your work, and then confidently present yourself to others from that place, while at the same time, moving toward the ‘next’ you. Blessings!!

  • Sarah Bones

    Thanks for your insightful comment, it’s good to know I’m not alone in this! Like you say I guess it shows up in different ways. I just have to learn to push through it!

  • David Mumford

    I think Sarah that many men suffer with this but perhaps are more likely to blag their way through careers. I don’t ever recall applying for promotions in my last two careers because I thought I was perfect for the job. It was more to do with just wanting that promotion and the kudos that came with them along with the financial reward. It was also to do with never appearing satisfied with a specific rank or level. I did well in both careers but there is still that nagging voice asking me ‘what if’? And yes there have been many occasions when I’ve sat there at work thinking, how did I manage to get this job? Followed by thinking, because I deserved it. Goodness knows why, so perhaps imposter syndrome can manifest itself in different ways.

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