CASE STUDY > Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
Luke had worked at his company for over 10 years, and on the surface, was flying high. But he'd wake up every Monday and feel that familiar dread of "I just need to get through the day". He was a top performer, but in danger of burnout as he constantly pushed himself in fear of being made redundant and loosing everything.
Insecurity and self-doubt - being showing up as 'a fraud'
Luke regularly woke up at night replaying scenes in his mind from recent meetings or conversations, fixating on relatively small mistakes, and potential issues that could de-rail his project. Luke was exhausted managing his external performance at work which he felt was always under scrutiny. An iminent HR meeting to discuss promotion to a more demanding role was the crunch point when he knew he had to seek outside help.
The fear of failure
Luke was effectively being his own worse boss and task master. He was fair and understanding to his team, and was regularly sought out to run workshops on team management, becoming known for his relationship skills and putting employees first.
And yet he didn't apply this same psychological safety to himself. When asked why he didn't allow himself to make mistakes, he was unable to vocalise his thoughts. He was caught up completely in his internalised, false belief that anything less than perfect revealed him as not up to the job.
Finding work enjoyable again
Luke worked through recognising and working with his imposter syndrome using a mix of psychological assessments and exercises. He built up a profile of his strengths, his skills and looked at his success objectively. Achieving exellence was still the goal, but without sabotaging his health. Imposter syndrome was beginning to feel less of a hindrance and more of a way to recognise stress was getting out of hand, and how to balance his working patterns.
Am I suffering from imposter syndrome?
You, or someone you care about could be experiencing:
Self-doubt or or anxiety
An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
Attributing your success to external factors or luck
Believing that "I can't afford to make any mistake in my job" but others can
Focusing only the negative parts of your performance
Fear that you won't live up to expectations
Ashamed when people point out a mistake
Overachieving but feeling underfulfilled
Sabotaging your own success
Belief that you will get 'found out'
Irritability with people who manage work effortlessly
Something you said that really hit home actually, about that feeling of utter dread and constant fear I'm going to get exposed or fired.
Irrespective of whether it's my perception, or work itself,
I still need to address it"
Try this at home:
Do you dismiss the 99% great job you did and obsess on the thing you could have done better?
Are you constantly training and getting certificates as you feel you're "not quite there yet"?
Do you talk about how "the project" needs support rather than you?
Do you avoid new challenges because you hate being "rubbish at something " at the start?
Get stressed when you're not working and see spare time as wasting time?
Perfectionist: Learn to appreciate your successes, and accept that you've done your best to avoid burnout.
Expert: Know when enough is ok, to feel secure in your identity at work. Mentoring others can really boost your self-esteem.
Soloist: There is no shame in asking for help. Admitting you don't know something is a great way to collaborate at work.
Natural Genius: Accept that you can learn how to get better at something rather than avoid it totally, and see yourself as a work-in-progress rather than fixed as 'not good at xyz'.
Superhero: Learn to feel good about yourself intrinsically, for yourself, rather than proving your worth to others by superhuman efforts at work.
This is just one of models, tools and approaches that can be used in the coaching sessions. Some are from neuro linguistic programming, cognitive behavioural techniques, career coach framework or positive psychology. All are evidence-based and tailored to fit each client.