After the colossal disaster that was my first job out of university, I’ve often found myself feeling like an imposter…
Back in 2006, with the sort of swagger you can only achieve after getting a 2:1 and discovering you like olives, I entered the job market feeling like a god amongst insects.
That’s probably what led me to take on the role of Art Director at a small TV advertising company in Bedford – a role I barely had to interview for and (looking back) definitely didn’t deserve. My time at the company was short. Not, ironically, because of the owners finding out I was in no way qualified for the role, but because it was a terrible company that dished out rubber pay checks. Giving me a job of such grandeur should have been my first clue that management didn’t know what they were doing. But, as mentioned, I was sporting an un-earned sense of entitlement that has since effed off. In many ways I wish I still had it – I think it’d make my days much easier.
As with a lot of things, it was my mum who first introduced me to the concept of imposter syndrome. I can remember being on the phone, moaning to her about my day, and she, being a very switched-on sort of a woman, breezily attributed my feeling of self-doubt and anxiety to it. The words, though incredibly negative (the synonyms being disease and disorder), did seem to hit the nail on the head.
Though not necessarily the sort of condition you’d brag about to your manager, a little research on the subject suggests that it affects around 70% of people throughout their careers, so the chances are reasonably high that your manager would recognise many of the traits in themselves. The Imposter Phenomenon (as it was initially termed) was conceived in 1978, by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, and research into the theory originally focused solely on high-achieving women. Well, when these feelings first started to bubble up, I was neither a woman nor particularly high-achieving – and more recent findings suggest that gender, ethnicity, age, or job title play no part in these moments of self-doubt or fear that you’re not living up to your employer’s (or own) expectations.
Delving a little deeper, it becomes apparent that what may seem a harmless bout of low self-esteem, can cause big problems for a company. Investors In People note that organisations could see an overall reduction of wellbeing amongst employees affected. Increasing the chances of acute mental health issues further down the line; it can isolate the people affected, and negatively impact interpersonal relationships; and, due to the fear of failure, it can reduce the desire to innovate.
There are some tell-tail signs that employers can look out for, all of which (I’m slightly ashamed to say) ring true:
performance–driven creative and advancedIf you’re anything like me, you’ll have mentioned this as a humble brag during the interview process, when asked if you’ve got any weaknesses. But it’s also a tell-tale sign of imposter syndrome. The pressure perfectionists put on themselves can lead to anxiety and compulsive behaviour, whilst their immense fear of failing can lead to procrastination and an incapacity to seek help from others.
Some people struggling with Imposter Syndrome either feel uncomfortable with or incapable of delegating work to others, through fear that the work will not live up to the ridiculously high standards they set themselves. Additionally, they don’t want others’ potentially poor output to reflect badly on them as a leader.
performance–driven creative and advanced
Those who work longer hours than contracted, avoid breaks and workplace social events to continue working, are potentially experiencing imposter syndrome, and trying desperately to prove their worth to their employer.
Ignoring poor mental health, relationship breakdowns and burnout for the time being, the impact this could have on a business is potentially huge: long-term absenteeism, reduced output, and departments unwilling to take risks to name a few. So naturally it’s something companies should look to mediate.
Here are a few examples of how businesses could tackle Imposter Syndrome:
No blame/no shame
performance–driven creative and advanced Ensuring that the team (no matter what level of seniority) know that it’s not only acceptable but actively encouraged to admit when they’ve failed, without fear of punishment, will ease the intense fear of failure that imposter syndrome can create.
Listen without judgement
performance–driven creative and advanced
As previously mentioned, it’s not an easy thing to speak to your manager about feeling like a charlatan. So, it’s important to make sure everyone in the company knows that they can talk about how they’re feeling, without fear of judgment or repercussions. Feelings of inadequacy are common and helping employees to realise that can reassure them that they’re not alone.
Indulging an employee with bonuses, pay rises and other rewards could have a negative effect beyond the short-term buzz, and shouldn’t be done without genuine reason. The candidate could see it as a misjudgement of their worth by the employer, and therefore assume higher expectations than can actually be achieved are to be expected.
It took a few years for me to realise that I was an imposter in my first role out of university. I had no right to call myself an Art Director – I hadn’t earned the title, I’d been gifted it by an MD who similarly didn’t have the skill or experience to call himself an MD. Since that error in judgment, I’ve worked my way up to my current position in a conventional way. Yet it’s now, with 15 years under my belt and experience out the wazoo, that I’m having these spells of self-doubt.
Maybe, using the techniques listed here, it’s something we can all overcome.
About the Author
Jake is Just Global’s Head of Video Production. After graduating, Jake moved to London in 2007 where he began work as a producer before rapidly moving into motion graphics. At the innovative Current TV he built up a broad range of skills in copywriting and live shows in addition to his core work in motion graphics. Quickly progressing in his career he became a motion graphics designer in 2010 before moving to a position of senior motion designer and, most recently, Head of Video.
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