17 September 2019
Back in November 2017, my previous boss Jacinda Ardern was interviewed by Forbes about being a woman in a leadership role. It wasn’t the only interview she had done on that topic – there were plenty – but it struck a particular chord with me because in it, she revealed she had impostor syndrome.
It wasn’t just the fact she had it, although that’s already a pretty big revelation from someone with her level of success. It was also the mere fact she owned up to it. For so long, leaders, especially women, have had to prove they are strong, powerful, and in control. In the cut-and-thrust world of politics, saying otherwise almost seems like a revolutionary act. But when people like Jacinda speak out, it helps the rest of us immensely.
So here’s my confession: I have impostor syndrome too. I remember being a pretty confident kid at school, so I’m sure it didn’t affect me until I was much older. The first time I remember it kicking in when I was accepted to do a master’s degree. I suddenly felt really out of place, like I wasn’t intelligent enough to be there.
For me, that became a recurring theme throughout the following years. And when I eventually landed my dream job, it felt like luck and circumstance; rather than believing I was the best candidate, I saw myself as someone who just got lucky. I doubted myself in that job for a very long time.
If you have it too – and loads of us do – then you know how much it sucks! So I want to share my strategies for pushing it to the back of your mind. Think about what you bring to your workplace as equally important as all the stuff on the job description – like being a nice person, or making a cup of tea for the people around you if they’re having a bad day, or being good at knowing where apostrophes do (and don’t!) go.
These might not be things you’d mention in your cover letter, and you might not list them on the achievements section of your CV, but actually they’re more important than some of the things we’ve been taught to care about in a professional setting, like being ambitious (read: cut-throat) or enthusiastic (read: talking a lot in meetings). Employers are becoming increasingly aware of ‘soft skills’ like a positive attitude, good phone manner, and ability to be part of a team.
If you’re managing or mentoring people, or even if you’re just sitting next to someone who’s anxious or in their first role, a little validation goes a long way. I’m not saying you need to point out every single thing they do well, or constantly tell them they’re doing a great job, but do celebrate the wins and let them know they are appreciated now and again. And remember: you don’t know what people are going through in their head or at home, so be gentle with them.
I’m obviously not an expert on the subject, and if someone is suffering to the point where it is affecting their daily work, it’s probably time to speak with a professional who’s really equipped to help. But this is more of a gentle reminder that you’re not alone: there are a whole host of people going about their business every day who have gone through the moments of self-doubt you may be experiencing right now, and as one of them, I know there is a way to rise above it.