You’ve probably heard of impostor syndrome, and maybe experienced it yourself. You land a graduate job, or secure a place at university… and then the self-doubt starts to creep in. Do I really deserve this success? I’m not good enough. They’re going to find me out. I’m a fraud!
I wrote about impostor syndrome when I first started working here at the Careers Service. What I didn’t know at the time was there are five different types. You might experience one type, or a combination of several. Do you identify with any of the types below?
Perfectionists care deeply about the quality of their work, which is a good quality to bring to a career. But perfectionism can be paralysing. We might put off starting something because we fear subpar results, or spend too long obsessing over minor details.
Perfectionism can also knock our confidence. If we set the bar too high, we’re bound to feel disappointed by the limits of our abilities. It’s important to remember we all have limits. Failing to meet our self-imposed standards doesn’t mean we are undeserving of our success.
If you’re a perfectionist, you may have a fear of failure or rejection that impacts your wellbeing. Mistakes are a normal part of life. It’s often said that failure is crucial to success, as it helps us develop new solutions and grow more resilient.
The natural genius
If you were a straight A student at school, or labelled a ‘gifted child’ by parents and teachers, you may struggle with impostor syndrome further down the line. Genius types are used to excelling in everything they do. We might expect success to come naturally to us, so when we are faced with a challenge, we start to doubt our intelligence and abilities.
Don’t be fooled by this misconception. You don’t need to be brilliant at something right away! If you’ve been offered a job or a place on a course, this reflects on your potential. It is not an expectation that you will never face a learning curve.
Do you find it difficult to ask for help? Are you afraid that this might reflect badly on you and your ability to perform a task? Soloists are a bit like natural genius types – we don’t want to admit that we are struggling, and we are caught up in what we think others expect from us. These expectations are often exaggerated or simply imagined.
The ability to work independently is valued by employers, but it should never come at the cost of your wellbeing. Burnout is common in this type, and ironically makes us less efficient in the long run. Asking for help shows assertiveness and forward thinking. It’s a necessary part of the working world and will help you build working relationships with others.
Superperson types might struggle with boundaries and stretch themselves beyond their means. This could mean taking on too much work, staying late, and suffering in silence. We might find it difficult to say ‘no’. In essence, we’re people pleasers, and this comes from a place of insecurity. We may try to compensate for our perceived shortcomings with an insatiable hunger for approval.
While an eagerness to help others can go far in the workplace, remember we are all human! We may be able to take on more some days, and less other days. This is not a weakness. Furthermore, it’s paramount that we develop our own sense of value and purpose at work, without relying too heavily on external validation.
If you have this type of impostor syndrome, you may feel you don’t know ‘enough’ to deserve success or recognition. This can happen among new graduates in the early stages of their careers, but even those of us who have been in our jobs a while may experience this. This might be fuelled by unhelpful language in the workplace. I’m hesitant to label anyone an ‘expert’ or ‘guru’. We can applaud people’s abilities without holding them to impossible standards.
Expert types may be prone to overpreparing for an interview or a position. Of course, preparing is good – but if you feel the need to know everything in advance, out of fear you will otherwise be ‘found out’… that is impostor syndrome. Skills and experience are often cultivated on the job. We all start somewhere, and even the ‘experts’ often find they have more to learn.
What do all these types have in common?
Impostor syndrome thrives on a fixed mindset. This set of beliefs tells us there is no room for improvement, or that being less than brilliant means you are unfit for the role. But none of us walk into a job knowing everything. Every successful person has failed and learnt something from the experience. Everyone has asked for help. These actions go hand in hand with a growth mindset – believing that our skills, abilities and talents can be refined and enhanced over time.
Whatever insecurities we bring to work, we have the power to overcome them and prove our self-doubt wrong. Careers are a journey, not a destination.