What is Imposter Syndrome?

So hands up, who suffers from imposter syndrome? Who’s never heard of it? I’m going to try and break this complicated subject down to answer the question of what is imposter syndrome, how to overcome it and recognise when it is affecting you in your personal and professional life.

Definition of Imposter Syndrome:

“An individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness

i.e. a fraud”.

This might be something that you don’t realise you suffer from until you really stop and think about it…deep down do you believe that you aren’t as competent as your peers consider you? Do you always deflect compliments and attribute your success to factors outside of your control, as opposed to acknowledging how hard you’ve worked to reach those achievements? Do you fear that you won’t live up to people’s expectations?

When I first started working at JCB I felt this a lot, especially when delivering a presentation to my peers who all had multiple years more experience than me…I would always think “why are they going to listen to what I’ve got to say, they already know it”, or the worst one “what if the data I’m presenting is wrong and I’m going to get asked things I don’t know”. Fortunately for me I had a really supportive team and I never got put in those dreaded situations, but it still didn’t stop me worrying about it for quite a long time.

I had made good progress with imposter syndrome, but I have suffered from this massively since JCB went through a huge redundancy procedure this summer. I’ve really felt myself thinking about the engineers who lost their jobs and not feeling like I deserved to still have mine. I’ve spent many nights worrying and wondering why I had survived the redundancy process when I’d been so convinced I was going to lose my job. It all boiled down to me not believing I was as competent at my job as those around me thought, which in itself was a huge contradiction when those people had saved me from redundancy.

Common thoughts when suffering from imposter syndrome
Common thoughts when you’re suffering from imposter syndrome

Have you had any situations like this where you’ve found yourself feeling guilty because you’ve been awarded something you don’t believe you deserve? You’ll often find that you will feel this more if you’re going into a new situation or taking on a new position. It was the reason I toyed with starting a blog for a while until I finally took the plunge and did it – my self-talk was “why will anyone be interested in what you’ve got to say?”. Fortunately when I’d spoken with friends and family about doing it everyone was super positive, which truly gave me the confidence to just give it a go…..a lot of the time you have to ask yourself “what is the worst that could happen?!”

So now we know what it is and how it can present itself in our lives…let’s move onto the important part which is learning key techniques to deal with this mental struggle.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

I think there are two key parts to overcoming imposter syndrome, both of which are as important as each other;

1. Build up a great support network

Your support network is absolutely crucial to dealing with imposter syndrome and sometimes you just have to stop and think about who these people are. Your friends and family are the obvious first camp in this network, but you should also consider your work colleagues and managers. Quite often the support from your work colleagues will mean more in this instance because they “see” how you operate at work and what you know – therefore should be dispelling the self-narration of you not knowing what you’re doing.

You got this - how to overcome imposter syndrome
Step 1 for overcoming imposter syndrome is building up a great support network

You should also think about societies you’re a part of – as an example for me the Women’s Engineering Society is a great network of amazing female engineers, who are all wonderfully supportive of each other. Having these kinds of people in your life and access to these fantastic networks will make a huge difference to you. You can also find these people in Facebook communities or on Instagram – I’ve “met” a few people online over the last few months who have surprised me by giving me real confidence in dispelling the self-doubt that has been chasing me around.

Surround yourself with people who build your confidence up and make you believe in yourself. Cut out people from your life who you feel are doubting you and you can imagine them laughing at you behind your back…even if those people aren’t doing that, just the fact you consider they might be doing that should be enough to cut them loose!

2. Personal reflection on your achievements

The second step in overcoming imposter syndrome in my opinion is reflecting on your achievements. After all, your negative self-talk should be easily silenced when you stop and think about what you’ve been able to achieve! These don’t even have to be big achievements, something as simple as being able to answer a colleague’s question or spotting an issue are achievements in themselves. You are showing your competency and skills, which means you DO know what you’re doing!!

Step 2 for dealing with imposter syndrome is reflecting on and celebrating your achievements

It’s so important to reflect on your bigger achievements too, maybe it was delivering a project against adversity, getting a promotion or getting a high score in a test. What did you have to overcome to achieve those things? Just remember, you’ve done it once so you can most certainly do it again! This is so important to hold onto, and once you realise all of the things you’ve overcome to achieve great things, your brain should start to recognise your competency and silence your negative self-image.

Obviously it isn’t as easy as this, otherwise it wouldn’t be such a highly discussed topic! However, I do believe that by following these two steps you can make huge progress in dealing with the current imposter syndrome causing beliefs you are dealing with right now. When you move onto a new position or into a new company those thoughts will probably start coming back, but the more you deal with them and overcome them the less power they will hold over you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, or any advice on how you deal with imposter syndrome? I’m always trying to find new ways for overcoming this so would be interested if you’ve got any other techniques I haven’t discussed!


The Female Engineer

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