Imposter Syndrome: How I am stuck in a vicious cycle?

Image credits: Pixabay.com

It has been a while since I started work after graduation. I’ve had several jobs now and my prone to “imposter syndrome” made me put in my best effort in all the different roles that I have secured. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be enough to increase my confidence in my ability and capability. Not even promotion is enough to address these insecurities. That results in a vicious cycle of overwork resulted from the following.

  • Longer hours spent preparing, researching and thinking through problems;
  • More time spent revisiting completed work by means of vetting through and reviewing again and again;
  • Unnecessary responsibilities on tasks outside of your work or scope;
  • Tendency to say “yes” to additional work due to the lack of securities; and
  • Constant doubts in your ability to lead and hold a higher position in the organisation resulting is potential missing opportunities in salary or promotion negotiation.

Before encountering the concept of “imposter syndrome”, my intuition tells me that I have a problem with “low confidence level” and “lack assertiveness”. It was also a repeated feedback that I had received from managers of the organisations I have worked before. However, that doesn’t explain why there’s persistence feeling of incompetence even after back-to-back promotions. At the end of the day, I was made to believe that I wasn’t competent in my role when, in reality, no one thinks that way at all.

The issue I have with “imposter syndrome” was the ways to overcome it. So far, it seems impossible. It remains unclear what’s the root cause of “imposter syndrome”.

Advice: Set reasonable expectations

When you are perceived as competent by others around you, their expectations of you would tend to be higher and somewhat unreasonable as compared with your peers or fellow colleagues. In the event if the “ball is dropped”, more would raised eyebrows or frown upon your failure. Of course, you could have ignored them as their responses were definitely outside your realm of control. Yet, considering the amount of insecurities that you need to face, their responses wouldn’t help in your fight to overcome this “imposter syndrome” of yours. You tend to take failure much harder than others making your professional working experience less pleasant.

Furthermore, different people have different views on expectations. Some organisation may believe in stretch goals for performance review — an expectation that all staff needs to go above and beyond their day-to-day operations to achieve some “strategic objectives” (ranging from reducing cost to increasing productivity and efficiency). Others may just believe in setting challenging goals for employees for “growth and learning” purposes. It could also be seen as “milking the cow to its last drop”. Hence, as much as you can set “reasonable expectations” for yourself, it probably tend not to align with the managers’ or management agenda.

Advice: Keep your successes in mind instead of focusing on your failure

The above is only for those who knows what their successes are. For those who are suffering from imposter syndrome, it may be difficult to understand and know what our successes are. It might be obvious to others, yet not immediate obvious or even visible to us. Usually, it is also not in the common interest of your managers and peers to truly congratulate your successes. There are few avenues where successes were celebrated (e.g., yearly staff appreciation and excellence awards, yearly performance review, and probably departmental appreciation awards, if any) whereas you’d have immediate feedback and repurcusions to deal with when you fail. So naturally, it is rare to focus on successes when the stakes are definitely higher for failures. That’s just how it is.

The above also seems really challenging especially you are feeling down and stress out because of unforeseen factors affecting your work or even personal life. Success, at least, for me would be the last thing in my mind. Problems and roadblocks would take up the majority of the foreground. Instead of thinking about successes, the better way would be to just go for a run or watch a comedy. Yes, escaping even just for a while.

Advice: Self-awareness of why you are feeling the way you do

One of the potential causes of imposter syndrome is family background coupled with, usually, high expectations. If you grew up in a family where everyone has high expectations of you, you probably think that it is normal until you encounter otherwise. Even if you know that your family has high expectation of you, what would change?

What about if you are living in an environment where you had to perform in order to survive and earn your living? If not, there is just no food on the table, no shelter, and no money to pay the recurring utilities bills. Being aware of self-crippling thoughts in this case, would it help?

My point is there are so many generic advice out there on how to cope with many symptoms brought about by the high-pace and stressful societies that we might be living in this day and age. However, we really need to consider that in context. It may not be relevant for us to consider it. Each of our circumstances are different. The advices ought to be considered in the right context and bound with reasonable boundaries. It’s alright if you, like me, have not found an answer. The most important is not to give up, just keep trying and there would be a chance that it’d work out.

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