I sat in the training room as a participant alongside some of the most influential people in a global business. Individual’s whom I had never met before, only seen their names floated around, attached to important communication with an association of power and influence. People who are leading the way, project managing instrumental change, writing publications and who have served 10, 15, even 20 years in the organisation. Board Members, Directors, Head of Departments.
And then there was me. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, my measly three years of service feeling like an infant in comparison. I had no experience on or exposure to the topic we would spend the next two days digesting. I felt like I had fallen down to the bottom of the food chain, and then fallen some more. No value to add, no experience to draw on and no clue about what I was about to learn.
Had I just been really convincing at ‘faking it till you make it’ for the past few years? Did I deserve to be in this room? And most importantly,would I be found out that it was a mistake that I was here? All questions that were running through my head throughout the program and haven’t stopped since.
Impostor syndrome: “A psychological pattern where an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”
Something I had previously heard of but only recently a concept that I identified with.
When I started with the organisation over three years ago, I was fresh off the plane from little New Zealand, isolated from the rest of the world. I had big dreams, an open mind and a pretty clear idea of where I wanted my career to head, no matter how vast those ideas were. I just didn’t expect to get there so soon and so… easily?
Only it wasn’t really easy. By no way did I have a clear road that was paved out for me to follow. No one gave me anything that I didn’t work for. I wasn’t provided with any opportunities that I didn’t create myself. There’s no handbook for how to grow your career and there’s definitely no guides on how to act or what to do when you finally ‘make it’ to your next destination.
So why did I feel so fraudulent and how do I make sure impostor syndrome doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Reflect on where you started
Reflecting on where you have come from and the challenges you have faced to get to where you are today can bring you back to reality and make you realise how hard you worked to get here. Comparing yourself with the person you were when you started and who you are today can demonstrate how much valuable knowledge and experience you have gained. It can reinforce how much you deserve this and how you have earned this growth.
I’m going to bet that you haven’t ended up in the position you are today purely by chance, and somewhere along the way, someone believed in you or was impressed by your work and attitude. Impressed enough that you were provided with an opportunity to take the next step.
Look back to where you started and the steps you have taken to get here today. Have you grown professionally and personally? Did you master your art?Are you highly regarded in the industry, business or through your networks? If you answered yes to these, chances are that you grew gradually over time and therefore, you didn’t see the fundamental shifts in your ability, perception or status. This incremental growth over time might not be much but when you compare yourself now to your starting point, that shift is instrumental.
Take your time for adjustment
Remember just as it took time to get here, it will take time to master this new state of being.
You aren’t expected to know everything when you first start a new role or in a new environment. Just as you gradually became an expert before, it will take time for you to find your feet, learn the ropes and understand what it is that you’re meant to be doing. There is a whole new set of rules and customs for you to learn and unfortunately, we can’t download this information to our brains. Although that would be pretty cool.
The adjustment period can be one of the hardest because you are in a new environment that is out of your usual routine. You’re dealing with new people and being asked to do things that 10 minutes ago, you hadn’t even heard of. It might seem easier to revert back to ‘before’ but no one grows by staying in the same place.
No one expects you to know everything from the outset so take a deep breath(or 10), ask questions and be kind to yourself if you make mistakes. They don’t mean you’re not meant to be there, it just means you’re still learning.
It’s okay to miss your previous situation
The adjustment period can be hard and it can be disruptive. If you weren’t necessarily unhappy before, this change and going through a period of uncertainty can make you second guess your choice. You’re the new person on the block who doesn’t know what the hell is going on. It’s normal but it’s important to keep going in the direction you’re headed. It’s okay to miss the people you used to work with or your old environment, even certain aspects of your role but that doesn’t mean you need to revert back to it.
What you did before became second nature to you. You made strong relationships with the people you saw every day and it was easy. You knew what you were doing and you were good at it. But that doesn’t mean that is the only thing you will be good at. It doesn’t mean you won’t forge new relationships with a new team or group of people and there is no reason why this situation can’t be better than the last. You will eventually thrive at this too but it won’t necessarily happen in the first week. It’s imperative to remind yourself of that.
Change is an adjustment and just as you grew in and flourished in your previous environment, you will too in this one.
Work with a mentor
Working with a mentor is an incredible way to get through this transition and to remind yourself that you are meant to be here. A mentor who is in the same industry or who has had a similar background to yourself is ideal as they can be a picture of success to demonstrate that it is possible and put your mind at ease that they too, have been in this position.
Mentors are a great way to bounce ideas off and approach with challenges. They have been there and they understand what you’re going through and can help pave the way for where you’re going. Managing up is probably one of the hardest and most important skills to learn when you have stepped into anew role and is something that mentors have the experience and knowledge about,from both sides.
Most importantly, embrace the change. Embrace the newness and uncertainty. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity and this “new” will one day become routine.