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The Imposter Experience: What To Do When You Feel Like A Fraud

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

By Tanesha Blackman

Many people who achieve great things, often experience feelings of inadequacy. Researchers have found that nearly 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career.

I have recently finished a postgraduate degree in Early Years Teaching. Of course, upon finishing the next step was to begin searching for jobs. I would read job descriptions and I knew I fit them, but I felt highly incompetent. It was an internal battle. Unlike many of my peers on the course I completed, I didn’t have as much experience.

I never entered the course with the knowledge and practice many of them had. This stuck with me throughout the course so when it came to interviews for jobs, I would tremble. I thought they would be able to see right through me and see my lack of ability to be an early years teacher. I mean, I surprised myself by even completing the degree. Yes, I was happy, but did I truly feel like I deserved it? No. Not at all. If I felt this way, surely the interviewers would feel this way too.

This feeling goes a little beyond self-doubt. In fact, it even has a name: ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A term coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 70’s. It is where an individual believes that they do not deserve the things they have accomplished. They develop the idea that they are incapable of their job or other tasks and fear others seeing them as a ‘fraud’.

The problem with Imposter Syndrome is that it can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. It can cause you to miss out on opportunities and hinder yourself. If we take the principle of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): what we think affects our behaviours and emotions we can see how this can be damaging. If someone has doubts about their capabilities and achievements overtime this will feed into how they behave. This past month during my job search, I refused to apply to so many jobs simply because I feared I wouldn’t be good enough. I constantly told myself that I didn’t have any ideas that would be useful or engaging in a learning environment. I imagined people thinking I was incapable of working with children. I kept myself in a position of joblessness because of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a fixed mindset.

Once you begin to tackle and reframe your thoughts it can most certainly be defeated. This starts with noticing what thoughts you have and why. The why stems from your imposter type.

The 5 Imposter types are:

1. The perfectionist

2. The Expert

3. The Soloist

4. The Superwoman/Man

5. The Natural Genius

1. The Perfectionist

A person under this imposter type:

· Needs everything to be perfect at all times

· Feels as though they need to be in constant control

· Has difficulty recognising their achievements or accepting congratulations as they always think they could do more/better

· Puts themselves down if something hasn’t reached a particular standard they have set for themselves

· Consistently strives for high and sometimes impractical goals

2. The Expert

A person under this imposter type:

· Avoids topics, jobs or activities that they feel they don’t know enough about

· May have experience carrying out a job or may have learnt about a topic and still fears that they don’t have sufficient knowledge

· Feels as if they have to know it all and tick every box on the list of criteria before they go for something

3. The Soloist

A person under this imposter type:

· Feels as though they must accomplish everything on their own

· They don’t feel the need to ask anyone’s help even if it’s necessary

· Feels as though asking for help highlights some form of incapability and lack of worth thus making them out to be a fraud

4. The Superwoman/Man

A person under this imposter type:

· Feels as though they have to work longer and harder to measure up to others

· Gets anxious/ restless when not working

· Feels the constant need to prove their capability and worth to others around them

5. The Natural Genius

A person under this imposter type:

· Believes that skills should come naturally and instantly to them

· When put in situations that are challenging or uncomfortable may feel defeated

· May avoid situations where they know they lack knowledge due to fear of being called out as a phoney

The attributes attached to each imposter type are by no means an exhaustive list. However, they are the main thinking patterns of each type. Another thing to note is that you may feel several of these things from different imposter types. The main thing is identifying your thinking patterns and how they make you feel.

Now to challenge them by remembering these things:

  1. You are worthy of the space that you occupy

  2. Every experience, whether failure or success, is an opportunity to learn, grow and develop

  3. You are not less than by asking for help. By admitting you need help, you are strong and can go onto achieve even more than on your own

  4. Every milestone must be embraced. Every achievement is a big win and should be acknowledged not dismissed

  5. The greatest things in life do not come instantly. The path of learning and practicing makes the end goal all the more worthwhile

  6. You are enough as you are. There is no need to prove that to others

  7. In uncertainty there is room for opportunity

  8. When you escape the comfort zone, you escape your fixed mindset

Another thing that can help is setting SMART goals. This is really just the icing on the cake. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. By setting smart goals you ensure that your goal is clearly laid out. You set ways in which you can measure your progress. You give yourself a specific time frame. It is not impractical and thus achievable. SMART goals allow you to be honest and real with yourself. They give you the chance to live in the moment and embrace learning. Gain opportunities to grow. Acknowledge failures and imperfections. To celebrate those small achievements that lead to the greater picture as every moment counts.

Finally (let’s end on a high note) …

I was able to defeat my fixed mindset and begin applying for jobs. After many disappointments from rejected applications, companies never calling back after an interview or applications being accepted but not making it through to the interview stage; I finally landed an early years teaching job. I finally have the chance to put my newfound knowledge to use. I may not have as much experience as others but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the chance to do my best and make a difference.

Throughout it all I’ve learnt so much about myself but the biggest thing I’ve come to understand is rejection is not a reflection of me.

It doesn’t define my worth. Neither does me having a job equate to me being worthy. I am enough as I am whether others see that or not. What’s most important is that I see that. That you realise that for yourself. By doing so, you will continue to learn and evolve and be the best version of you at every stage in life.

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