Acts of self-sabotage: do you feel like a workplace fraud?

Credit: Megan Storey

Credit: Megan Storey


"Sometimes no amount of awards and recognition will help - the more you achieve the more it can feel like you’re swimming with the sharks. "

Do you ever get that feeling that you’re a fraud and you don’t deserve the success that you have so rightly achieved?

If you’ve ever had self-doubt creep up on you or felt that: ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you’ll get found out’, you too may be sharing your space with the Imposter Syndrome.

The past couple of weeks I’ve had a serious bout of it and it’s tried to trick me, showing up in many ugly guises.

I’m overwhelmed

Emails piling up, the more work I complete, the more work I get, deadlines looming and all I can do is look on in disbelief. I’m overwhelmed and feel like the balls that I’m juggling are going to crash down on me, burying me in a heap of failure. ‘You can’t do this’ sings out in my head like a playground bully and I start believing that it’s true. It doesn’t matter that I’ve previously completed the tasks with no issues, receiving praise for them. Right there in that moment, I’m feeling like a fraud and that I don’t deserve the coveted role that I’d work hard to get.

I’m a procrastinator

Sat in front of my laptop, staring at an empty page, I reach for my iPad – Facebook needs me right now. Then there’s the spa break I need to research for the New Year and mustn’t forget to check my bank account, just in case a secret benefactor has put some money into my account. I have started to become aware of when I’m doing this and now know that my procrastinating is linked to self-doubt. Not believing that I’m a good enough writer, I’m too scared to produce anything for fear of backlash - so I procrastinate. Not believing I’m the right person for the job, I read and read my emails, don’t know where on my to do list to start – so I procrastinate.

I need to work harder

Tonight I left the office just after 7pm after a ten-hour stint. It’s commonplace to find me working in a near dark office with the Cleaner patiently dusting around me. Feeling like the extra work I put in will wipe away the doubt, disbelief and despair. Thinking ‘If only I can get the actions on my list ticked off, then maybe I really do belong here’.

Do you recognise any of these traits in you?

The first time that I really suffered from the Imposter Syndrome and started to look into this new phenomenon I was feeling was when I got a new job that came with a significantly higher wage. In the past when I searched for new jobs that were basically the same role in another organisation for a slightly higher pay. This one was a whole new ball game and even though I’d given a great interview, thanks to having public speaking training and having coaching sessions from a colleague, I didn’t’ believe I had actually got the job until I saw it in writing.

The only reason I applied for the job was because the colleague who coached me told me the findings from a report (Hewlett Packard internal report) which stated that men will apply for a job if they only meet 60% of the required criteria whereas women would only apply for 100%. Imposter Syndrome making an appearance early on in the game!

This fact spurred me on to just go for it, if they can do it, why can’t I? Getting the job was one thing, doing it was another. No amount of achievements, compliments or feedback from managers made me feel any more comfortable. At times I would sit in meetings with people ten and twenty years my senior and compare my knowledge with theirs and leave work feeling truly awful.

Finally, I confessed to a friend over a glass of wine about how ‘out of place’ I felt and she admitted that she too felt like that and would often be a ‘Silent Bob’ in the meetings she attended.

Although this made me feel better and laugh every time I heard it, something still didn’t sit right. If there are so many people in the workplace that are suffering from this why don’t they have training sessions to build up confidence and belief? Where is the constant reminders to staff to acknowledge that it’s normal to feel this way and they are not alone?

On the flip-side, sometimes no amount of awards and recognition will help as the more you achieve the more it can feel like you’re swimming with the sharks. I have a blog and if I write something that receives a lot of likes, views and complimentary comments I become scared to write again as ‘that last post must have been a fluke’ or ‘I’ll never write anything as good again’.

Perhaps we need to start celebrating not only successes but the times that we have tried. The silver, bronze and participating medals. Celebrating the fact that we have shown up.

Battling with Imposter Syndrome can be a dangerous game which can lead to burn out, anxiety and at times depression.

If you’re currently suffering or want to try some techniques for when it next pops up to surprise you, here are several ways that you can handle it.

·       Have coaching or mentoring sessions with someone who’s in the same field but further along than you. To be able to talk about it with someone who can tell you they’ve been there and got out the other end could make all the difference.

·       Read personal development books or autobiographies of successful people, there’s always a tale of overcoming adversity.

·       Write down a list of all the times you have achieved something and how you did it.

·       If you’re brave enough write down all the times you failed and what happened after – was it as bad as your mind is making out?

·       If you feel like you’re really not delivering, speak with your manager, ask for feedback. Hopefully they’ll be a good enough manager to be tactful and offer support and guidance.

·       Learn to say no if you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and make sure you take time out and get enough ‘you time’.

·       Support others. I became more confident in my role when I was able to guide and support others who are just starting on their journey. One thing it has done is confirm to me that I do actually know what I’m doing.

I know that there are so many bright, intelligent and amazing people out there that are wanting to take a leap in their career but fear and the Imposter Syndrome have got a hold of them tightly. Believing in yourself can be such a hard thing to do but I sincerely believe that what the world needs now are these types of people to make a difference.

Emma Halliday

Rosie Leggett