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Constantly doubting your abilities, endlessly comparing your work to others or always expecting bad feedback can be exhausting. However, there are ways to manage imposter syndrome within your working life.
Let’s start this off by saying that I am by no means an expert nor should this blog be used for self-diagnosis. However, I do hope this blog acts as a reminder that other people have similar struggles and perhaps provides some helpful tips.
Note: If you are struggling and need support please reach out for professional advice, there are services available to help.
Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been achieved legitimately. Rather than acknowledging your own success or contributing accomplishments to hard work, you may attribute it to external factors or just pure dumb luck. Imposter syndrome is not limited to a certain age, gender, or profession and it can arise in any area of life, not just work.
When it is related to work it can manifest itself in a constant fear of negative feedback, being called out for not knowing enough, or even the potential of being fired at a moment's notice. Some feelings can be more rational than others, and feedback or criticism is a natural part of life. But it’s when you let it spiral and remove the rational element that you can start to struggle.
The consequences of imposter syndrome, depending on its severity and your ability to manage it, can be profound. It can lead to increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, and in some cases even slower career progression.
Stress - The constant fear of being 'found out' as an imposter can increase stress levels. Especially when it comes to preparing for upcoming meetings or new client projects. This stress can manifest as physical and mental health issues, ultimately impacting your well-being.
Productivity - Imposter syndrome can lead to stress and anxiety, which hampers performance and can lead to procrastination. When doubting your own abilities you may put off a piece of work or delay meetings; this can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where you underperform compared to your true potential.
Motivation - The feeling of not being good enough or the idea of being ‘found out’ can discourage individuals from seeking opportunities for growth or advancement. This can lead to a pause in development and make you feel stuck in your current role.
Isolation - It can feel like your colleagues and the people around you have it all together. This can make you feel like a fraud while everyone else looks competent and successful in comparison. This can make it difficult to contribute to meetings or work with others out of fear of being found out as a fraud.
Exhaustion - You find yourself putting in 110% even to the point of exhaustion. For example, you find yourself logging on early, staying online late and even picking up work at the weekends. You may have all the work planned well ahead of the deadline but you’ll still find yourself triple-checking your work or making constant alterations. You never think your work is good enough, even when others praise you.
This is all sounding pretty glum and it’s time for a little sunshine and hope. While imposter syndrome can feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy, there are things that you can do to help acknowledge your achievements and build on them to progress. It can sound like a lot of hard work when you’re struggling to see your potential but it's a marathon and not a sprint. Taking the right steps, building the right support system, and regularly doing the work can have a big impact.
Acknowledge it - If you’re having feelings similar to those that I have described then it’s important to recognise what you’re feeling. Understand that these feelings are common and that you're not alone.
Talk about it - Perhaps don’t post a deep quote on your Instagram story or pour your thoughts into a TikTok video. But find someone trusted that you can speak with to explain these feelings; perhaps that's a work colleague, a friend, or someone with professional expertise to guide you.
Set goals - If you know what you want to achieve in your career or even within a single day, break it down into smaller goals, and achievable steps. This can help you see clear progress and build confidence as you accomplish each step.
Record achievements - Whether they’re big or small, write down what you’ve achieved and the hard work it took to do it. Being able to reflect on your achievements can help you dispel the myth that you are faking success.
Ask for feedback - Constructive feedback from supervisors or managers can provide a more accurate picture of your abilities. It can help you focus on genuine areas of improvement rather than those created in your own mind.
Be ready for failure - Setbacks and failures are part of every campaign, project, and job. It's important to understand this and accept it, rather than seeing it as a sign of incompetence. Take time to understand what you’ve learned and how to improve.
Be kind - Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you'd extend to a friend. It's okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to not know all the answers and it’s okay to have these feelings of failure. But take steps to understand whether they’re rational feelings and how you can address them.
Imposter syndrome is not fun, it can be a lot of hard work and I’m sorry if you can relate to the contents of this blog. It can feel lonely and admitting that you feel like a failure is scary as hell, admitting it feels like you’re giving the opportunity for others to look for the failures in you too. However, I can promise you that 99.99999% of people are not rooting for you to fail. They don’t see the failings that you see, they don't have more answers than you and you’re not faking it.
It’s okay not to have all the answers to every question, even in your specialist field. What’s important is the drive to learn more and being willing to improve. Success doesn’t spontaneously occur, it comes from learning what doesn’t work and improving what does. Doubting yourself isn’t working, so try to focus on improving your skills and building on your achievements.