Are you waiting to be ‘found out’ for the fraud you think you are?
I’ve written about imposter syndrome before. It’s a topic I feel extremely strongly about because it can stand in the way of someone’s success. However, getting rid of it is easier said than done.
Last year, I spoke to psychologist Gerry Hussey about what it is, why it exists, and how to manage and eradicate it.
But that was imposter syndrome in the broadest possible sense. It’s the version we as a society have become most familiar with, and most of us can relate to it on some level.
However, there is a number of different types of imposter syndrome that affect different people. Specific situations such as a promotion can also bring on feelings of self-doubt.
Knowing and properly identifying with the right kind of imposter syndrome you currently suffer from could be the key to working through it a little more easily.
Different types of imposter syndrome
Some estimates say that 70pc of the population experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, but not all experiences are the same.
Fast Company had an excellent piece last year on the five types of imposter syndrome according to imposter syndrome expert Dr Valerie Young, including perfectionists, workaholics and so-called ‘natural geniuses’.
In brief, perfectionists set ridiculously high standards for themselves and then feel like failures when they don’t reach them.
The superman or superwoman of the office always feels like they’re playing catch-up with their other colleagues and therefore resorts to overworking.
Natural geniuses are similar to perfectionists, with impossibly high standards. However, they also expect to get everything right on the first try.
The individualist feels like they are an imposter if they need to ask for help.
Finally, the expert is the one we are probably most familiar with: someone who believes they somehow tricked their employer into getting a job they have no right to because they never feel truly qualified enough.
Diversity and imposter syndrome
We should all know by now the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Aside from the societal and representational importance of having a diverse set of voices, thought processes and opinions at the table, there is another side that must be addressed.
Imposter syndrome can come into play in a very particular way for women, minorities or LGBTQ individuals. Someone who doesn’t match the majority of a group or culture can often succumb to imposter syndrome despite their qualifications and abilities.
A lack of role models or mentors can play a part in this, as those in a minority who are wondering if they even deserve to be there have no one to turn to or look up to.
Furthermore, negative stereotypes about diversity initiatives and gender quotas can lead people to believe that, despite all of their achievements, qualifications and experience, others will think they are there due to tokenism, and not based on merit.
These negative connotations can often seep into their own mind and so, imposter syndrome begins to fester. In a feature written last year for ASBMB Today, two underrepresented minority students spoke about how the notion of being part of some sort of diversity quota led to both of them suffering from imposter syndrome.
What differentiates imposter syndrome from low self-esteem is the trajectory. The more successful you become and the higher up the career ladder you climb, the more likely imposter syndrome is to present itself.
A promotion is one of the most common situations that can bring about a sudden wave of imposter syndrome, even if you hadn’t felt it up until that point.
Once new responsibilities and jobs come into the fray, so too do new doubts, worries and feelings of inadequacy for the job at hand. ‘I was comfortable in my own job, I knew what I was doing. I had a manager to ask for help. Now, I am the manager and in way over my head.’ Sound familiar? That’s because you’re not alone.
People who are promoted can often feel like they were simply in the right place at the right time, and that the promotion has nothing to do with merit. But the fact is, employers don’t promote someone simply because they’re the easiest choice. They still have to be the best choice.
If you believe in your employer’s judge of character and their ability to do their job, then you must believe that you would not be able to pull the wool over their eyes and secure a promotion that you didn’t deserve. If you find it hard to trust that you’re good at your job, at least trust that they’re good at theirs.
Talk to your boss
Whether it’s because you fall into one of the five common types of imposter syndrome sufferers listed above, or you feel your imposter syndrome is a product of a particular situation, it’s important not to let it fester.
Feeling like an imposter is not just detrimental to your own mental health – side effects such as being afraid to make a mistake, speak up about an idea or ask for help are just some of the things that can really affect your performance at work.
If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, it’s a good idea to talk to your manager about it. Ask for guidance on elements of your job that specifically make you feel intimidated. It’s OK not to know what you’re doing all of the time.
And, statistically speaking, it’s highly likely that your boss has experienced the same feeling at some point in their own career.