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Tackling the Imposter Syndrome

I’ve written previously about my struggles with imposter syndrome: that little voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough. That, as one of my favourite classic Simpsons episodes memorably put it, “You don’t belong here. You’re a fraud, and a phoney, and it’s only a matter of time before they find you out.”

I am Nature’s Greatest Miracle from John H Boggs on Vimeo.

It’s a tough problem, and one I think is pretty common – most of the people I know, who I consider very successful, intelligent and talented, have admitted having these thoughts at times, to a greater or lesser extent. I find I go through phases with it: sometimes I actually feel pretty good about my work and my abilities, but I still often have times when I just feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and can’t figure out why everyone else inexplicably thinks I do.

I have to say this has been a little more common since starting my new job at Huddersfield – so much of it is new to me, and although it is all within my skill set, I often feel like I’m just making things up as I go along. I have to keep reminding myself that, although the setting is new, that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing – and that it’s ok to ask for help if there are genuinely things about the work that I’m not clear on.

When I’ve talked about this on Twitter and on my blog before, I’ve usualy had a chorus of voices telling me they really struggle with imposter syndrome as well. So, I thought I’d share a technique I’ve started using that, although it may sound a bit silly, I have actually found has helped me to recognise my imposter syndrome for what it is, and banish these thoughts when they arise.

I have given my imposter syndrome a name and face, to help me tell it to bugger off more effectively. My imposter syndrome is named Horace: he is a skinny man with slicked back hair, a shabby, ill-fitting suit, a permanently sour expression, and a clipboard over which he peers at me disapprovingly. He’s always holding the clipboard: this is what he looks at when he tells me, in his whiny, nasal voice, “It says here that you have no idea what you’re doing and should never have been given this job. Care to explain what you think you are playing at?”

This probably does sound an odd thing to do, but I’ve found that visualising Horace helps me to reject what he’s telling me. I’m usually my own worst critic, as I’m sure most of us are: we tell ourselves things that, were it a friend or another person saying them to us, we’d rightly feel outraged. Putting my irrational* self-doubt into Horace’s words makes it easier for me to push them away: rather than getting consumed into a negative spiral, I just tell Horace to bugger off and metaphorically slam the door in his face.

Anyone else have any technique they use to identify and deal with imposter syndrome, or other negative thoughts? Anyone think they’d use the Horace technique?

* I’ve put irrational here as, of course, I do sometimes come up against things that are genuinely outside of my experience and abilities. The trick is, when these moments arrive, to be unafraid of admitting it and asking for help – which is much easier when you’ve learned the difference between being generally unable to do something, and just being scared out of doing something you’re actually capable of by a visit from Horace!

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5 comments on “Tackling the Imposter Syndrome

  1. […] and the old imposter syndrome snuck in (excellent recent post by Laura Woods on that topic here) but after that I squashed everything down into a ‘to examine later’ box and got right […]

  2. Loving the Horace concept! Interestingly I read http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2015/06/07/faking-it/ right after your post, which has more great advice along similar lines…

    • Thanks Emma! Thanks for sharing that article too, that is great advice. I love the part about what to do if someone asks you a question you can’t answer – I’ve come across this in my teaching before! I like the advice to turn the question back on them and help them work towards an answer themselves: I’ve seen people do this before and it does work, I’ll have to give it a try next time!

  3. […] already and would breeze through things that I would struggle with. I think that was my old friend Horace […]

  4. […] of our role. This arose as a result of a couple of blog posts by Elly O’Brien and Laura Woods. My take on this as a thing is entirely personal, but having grown up in a working class household […]

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