Have you ever felt like you are going to get found out in your job? Like you are not good enough to have the post you have, or that it is only a matter of time before someone realises you should never have been employed in the first place? You are not alone. And while your thoughts may not be as extreme as these, imposter syndrome is a very real and problematic element of working life for some people. Some estimates suggest as many as 70% experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. That amounts to a considerable degree of insecurity in the workplace.
It is not unusual for educators to be hard on themselves. The job is a high demand, high pressure one, and confidence is bound to be impacted from time to time.
Imposter syndrome, sometimes referred to as “perceived fraudulence,” is the name given to that sense of incompetence or inadequacy that some experience when doing their jobs. That sense of not being good enough or being in a position we really do not deserve to be in. It does not just affect us at work, either. We might suffer imposter syndrome while studying or taking part in a hobby, in our relationships or friendships. It is linked to the ways in which we see ourselves, so no area of life is immune.
Imposter syndrome can be short-lived, as we grow in confidence in our abilities. But it can also linger across entire careers. It is not uncommon to hear of highly accomplished people in roles of immense responsibility dealing with imposter syndrome or at least questioning why they, of all people, have found themselves in the role they have.
If we are not careful, imposter syndrome can be devastating. We might ignore our many accomplishments in favour of a focus on our perceived shortcomings, and this can lead to depression and anxiety if not kept in check. It really is important to recognise the signs and symptoms and change course in our thinking.
If you think you may be struggling with imposter syndrome, these ideas may help you to reach a more realistic perception of your undoubted capabilities…
- Read your CV – look how far you have come! Look at all your qualifications and all your accomplishments! Keep your CV up to date with all your latest additions and refer to it regularly if self-doubt is creeping in.
- Keep on learning – sometimes we are placed in a position where it is easy for self-doubt to manifest. For example, being asked to teach an age-group or a subject we are unfamiliar with. Enhancing your knowledge and skills can be a fast way out of those thoughts, so make CPD a focus. However, make sure you are realistic about all the skills you do have. Do not keep adding to your knowledge base out of a sense of relentless lack. You are not a fraud!
- Give and receive compliments – a common feature of imposter syndrome is an inability to accept the positive things others say about us. When a colleague notices something we do well or a particular achievement, accept the compliment graciously, with thanks. You deserve it.
- Ditch perfectionism – we all know deep down that perfection does not actually exist, especially in the world of teaching. Do not grasp after a notion that has no reality, and is utterly unattainable. We all need a nudge to be realistic sometimes!
- Ask for help when you need it – asking for help is not proof of your inadequacy. It simply means you have not encountered that situation yet and could do with some support. Do not let that feed any feelings of imposter syndrome. Asking for help is what skilled, competent professionals do. You do not have to be infallible, or expert in every role you have in life.
- Do not avoid progressing your career – if you have a small voice telling you that you are not good enough for the next step, tell it to back off! Talk to your mentor or line manager about your readiness for promotion and do not let imposter syndrome talk you out of moving onwards and upwards.
- Set realistic goals – setting outrageous goals that are unachievable will feed any lingering feelings of imposter syndrome. They become proof that you are not good enough. Do not do that. Set realistic goals for yourself and use your success to build on the next steps.
- Do not fear success – if you suspect you have some feelings around success that may be holding you back, talk to a professional (counsellor, life coach, mentor etc) who can help you to unpick what is at the root of those feelings.
The self-sabotaging tendencies of imposter syndrome can be incredibly damaging in all aspects of our lives. Teaching is hard enough without giving ourselves a difficult time about our perceived strengths and weaknesses. If you have been employed to do a job, trust that others have made a decision to employ you and have faith in your abilities, and show yourself some self-compassion.
We do not have to be brimming with outrageous confidence throughout each and every day (and we can all point to examples in the public domain of those promoted above and beyond their capabilities), but we are perfectly entitled to feel good enough, and even awesome at times, as we undertake our roles.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.