Updated: May 6
Congratulations - you’ve got a new job, promotion or joined a new and exciting company. You’ve put in hours of preparation with your application, attended numerous interviews and completed psychometric tests galore, and it has all paid off. You haven’t had chance to celebrate your success before you're already starting to doubt yourself. Thoughts such as ‘I’ll be found out’ and I’m a fraud’ seep into your head. You question how you got there, if you’ll make it through your probation and simply put it all down to luck. You may even think that the other applicants must have been really bad if YOU managed to get the job. Yes, imposter syndrome strikes.
‘Imposter syndrome’, a widely known and talked about phenomena, was coined by psychologists Clance and Imes (1978). They described the syndrome as a pattern of thinking found, particularly, in high performing women who put their success or achievements down to ‘luck’, and continue to believe that they would soon be ‘found out’. The number of achievements or levels of success the women experienced did not manage to change their thought patterns. If anything, increased levels of success compounded their thoughts, thinking that they were even more likely to be found out, and as a result worked relentlessly to maintain the ‘pretence’.
You aren’t alone - it is documented that over 70% of people, both men and women, experience these thoughts at some point. Starting a new job, or achieving a promotion is one time when imposter syndrome gets magnified. You find yourself questioning your abilities, and working harder and harder, for longer hours so that you don’t ‘give the game away’. You tie yourself in knots, second guessing what others think and trying to make up for the fact that this promotion is down to luck.
If you experience these thoughts and feelings early on in your new job, chances are you may also experience them elsewhere in life. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to shifting them, you need to work on it. It takes time and practice and a few tools to help you ‘quieten’ those thoughts down.
If we look at the science, it is no wonder so many of us experience these thoughts. According to the National Science Foundation, we all have between 12,000-60,000 thoughts every day! That in itself takes some thinking about. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts that we play over and over. If that’s the case, there is some serious work to do in overturning our 'imposter' thought processes. It does go someway to explaining as to why we default to imposter but also means we need to put in the effort to overcome what has become very natural thought cycles. When challenging any habit, it takes discipline, hard work, honesty (with ourselves) and consistency. Try some of these when you notice imposter syndrome setting in.
1. Look at the facts
Remove yourself from the situation for a minute and look objectively at what is going on. Can you rationalise to see that it is not purely luck which led you to get the job? Look at the facts - did you take part in a fair process? Could the hiring team, who are skilled in finding the right applicants and who put time, effort and money into the process, have secured the best person? List your experience, and skills that makes you right for the job. Review your personal attributes that got you the job.
2. Positive talk
As we know, much of our self-talk is repetitively negative. You need to make a conscious effort to overwrite that talk with positivity. Notice when you’re talking negatively to yourself and find the positive in the statement. Challenge yourself. Ask yourself, ‘how true is that?’. Repeating positive affirmations such as ‘I am worthy’, ‘I deserve this’, ‘I am where I should be right now’ are great ways to start the day and get you into a positive mindset.
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but the thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking." Eckhart Tolle
3. Raise yourself up
All of your work experience has led you to this point but sometimes skills and strengths are hard to recall. Go back over your work history and look at all the amazing things you’ve done, the challenges you’ve overcome, the results you’ve achieved. Keep a list of these and continue to add to it. Review it when you feel like those imposter thoughts are creeping back in. Plus, don’t be afraid to shout about your successes or be proud of them.
4. Accept praise
Accepting praise when you’ve started a new job can be hard to take. You feel awkward, you want to dampen it with a negative comment. When you notice this, stop and take a breath. Smile and say ‘thank you’. The more you do it the easier it becomes.
5. Share with others
It’s likely that others around you will experience similar feelings to you. Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust. When we have common experiences with others, we don’t feel so alone or so alien. It may or may not be someone at work, but either way, they may share how they are feeling with you. This could be a great way to develop relationships with new colleagues.
6. Question what’s going on behind the scenes
Importantly, when we go behind the scenes, rather than focus on the surface, we often find more information as to why we may be acting/feeling/thinking like we do. This isn’t an easy thing to do (especially by yourself) and takes a patient, honest approach. Journalling is a great way to start to collate thoughts and notice patterns.
It can be daunting starting a new role, and one which may lead you to feel out of place. Imposter syndrome is real, but you can take control before it controls you. With practice and consistency, you can challenge the impact it has on you when starting out on new paths, such as a new job. When you recognise those thoughts and feelings, you can begin to re-programme your thinking and reduce the imposter ‘noise’ in your head. But give it time and be kind to yourself, it won't happen over night.
Gemma Brown is a certified coach who works with successful women, 1-2-1 and in groups, to identify their strengths and build confidence which enables them to have the self-belief to fearlessly bring their whole being into all areas of life. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as 1-2-1 coaching via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page or contact her directly.