This post was written by an external contributor. Here, Rene Germain tells us about her experience with imposter syndrome and how to conquer it.
When I received a phone call from HR to congratulate me on securing a place on the front office spring internship for a European investment bank (roughly four years ago), I must admit, I thought the lady was having a laugh. Seriously, I thought this was one big mistake and the following day she would call me and say there was a mix up.
Sure, I applied for the programme, (due to encouragement from a friend), but did I think I would get on to it? Hell no. I thought that only the reaaallly smart people got those opportunities, the people that studied subjects like Maths and Science, not “vocational” subjects like International Business. Despite all my academic and extra-curricular achievements, I just didn’t understand why they chose me.
Even when the internship started, I felt a little uneasy. Listening to some of my peers talk passionately about bonds and stocks, knowing the ins and outs of everything happening within the world of finance, whilst I just awkwardly laughed (praying they wouldn’t ask for my opinion) made me question why I was on the programme. Did I really deserve to be there?
It has a name – Imposter Syndrome
The truth was, I felt like a fraud. I didn’t think I was as smart as the people that secured the internships or those that didn’t, but so desperately wanted it. What I didn’t know is that there is a name for having those kinds of feelings – Imposter Syndrome. It’s actually something that many people (especially women) tend to experience.
Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes gave it this name in 1978. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Yup, they hit the nail on the head.
Some of the common feelings and thoughts I can admit to feeling:
Being scared to fail
When someone gave me an opportunity, I assumed they believed I already knew it all. This meant I put great amounts of pressure on myself to not make mistakes, because that would show that I’m not 100% competent and I’m a “fraud”.
Whenever I’ve been asked “Ren, how did you secure that role?”, I will never credit my abilities or hard work but put it down to being lucky. If I say it’s because I’m talented or naturally gifted, and then don’t keep up with my success, I would fear people might start questioning whether I’m “the real deal”.
“It’s no biggie”
I’ve always downplayed my achievements and successes, not wanting to put it out there or accept compliments. Imposter syndrome is based on the idea that when we achieve success in a particular area, for some reason we tend to discount its value. Why? Because we perceive that if something comes naturally to us, others won’t regard it as highly, hence we create this flawed image of our successes before they can.
Tips conquering Imposter Syndrome:
Nobody aspires to fail but if we do, we need to see it as a Lesson.What can we learn from this that will reduce the chances of it happening again?
Flip your mental script
Not knowing everything 100% doesn’t mean that you should overlook your successes and achievements. Stop panicking that someone is going to “find you out”. The best way to change this mind-set is to be open from the beginning with regards to what you don’t know. That way it won’t feel like you’re “hiding something” and this massive weight is lifted off your shoulders.
Celebrate small wins
When you get things rights, no matter how small or trivial they may seem, give yourself a pat on the back, and accept the compliments. Be kind to yourself, you did that! No more attributing your achievements to luck or anything else. You worked hard, you perfected your craft, you did your research, it was all YOU. So own it.
How you discuss your achievements is how they’ll be viewed so stop using words like “only”, “merely”, “simply” to describe them.
As I write this post, I’m secretly reminding myself to take my own advice, because I still struggle sometimes. However I remind myself of the below and you should too:
YOU deprived yourself of sleep so you could study and achieve the best grades for that role.
YOU participated in a range of extra- curricular activities to build your skill set.
YOU submitted that application form and achieved everything on your CV and cover letter.
YOU attended the interview, assessment centre and smashed it.
And it’s YOUR name at the top of that email / letter congratulating YOU on receiving an offer.
They chose you. For being you. For all the things you know and don’t know. Don’t forget that.