Feeling like an impostor can arise at various stages in your career. Those times when you wonder “who am I to think I can do this?”. Or, “I have given the wrong impression about my capabilities, and for sure, I am going to be found out”. There is almost always a learning curve when moving into a new position or new situation. For the most part, we adopt and adapt until we make it. It is natural to feel ‘out of our league’ for a period of time while we learn new skills, new cultures and new systems.
Here are the five situations when you might feel like an impostor
1. Moving from Academia to ‘Real World’ Employment
While in school we are given immediate feedback as to how we are doing through grading, critiques from instructors and comparison with peers. In the workplace, you are more likely to be left to figure out how you are doing on your own, except for the annual review and hopefully regular chats with the person you report to. I recall being included on the Dean’s Honour List and thinking I should call the University and point out the mistake. This belief obviously would not support my confidence in seeking a new job.
2. Transferring to a New Career or Industry.
You may have accumulated expertise and confidence in a job that may not transfer directly to a new position. You can find yourself back on a learning curve, feeling not quite so on top of things and missing how self-assured you felt before the move. In some instances, you are ‘starting again’ and blaming yourself for not knowing everything. Like that is even possible.
3. Transitioning from Individual Contributor to Leader.
Instead of begin able to recognize your accomplishments and success through your own efforts, you now are now responsible for the output of a team. Teams have so many moving parts – different skills, personalities, attitudes, personal agendas – all new terrain for you. You might long to go back to doing your own thing. Managing one person (you) is much easier.
4. Promotion to Executive Position/CEO
As you move up the corporate ladder, you may find yourself with more responsibilities and pressure with less emotional support. You are called on more and more to rely on yourself to make important calls and crucial decisions. These accountabilities take a great deal of trust and belief in yourself and your capacity for clear vision, deep insight and productive action. Any self-doubt becomes painfully evident.
5. Launching Yourself as an Entrepreneur
This could have you feeling really out on a limb. Hanging out there fully exposed with all your insecurities and fears being magnified. Business owners might find some assurance in working with a business coach or consultant but really, the buck stops with you. Unanticipated success can also exacerbate impostor feelings in the owner, “who am I to have achieved this level of success and recognition?”.
Note to Self
If you find yourself faking it for a period of time, know that this is normal and usually passes as you become more conversant and comfortable in your position. If the “I still feel like a fake after all these years” persists, talk to someone – a mentor, coach or trusted colleague who can support you in adopting a more authentic and realistic perception of yourself, your accomplishments and your successes.
Dr. Rose Clance, who identified the condition said: “Impostor Phenomenon (IP) is a real condition that often has serious consequences. It may emotionally choke its sufferers to the point at which it derails their career.“
You can take the QUIZ that she and Dr. Suzanne Imes created to access the degree to which someone experiences Impostor feelings.