Overcoming Imposter Syndrome - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

A few years ago, I experienced a bit of a professional crisis. I was working in my job as Evidence Based Researcher (and loving the projects I was leading), chairing CILIP West Midlands, and participating in ALA Emerging Leaders. Everything was great and I was really relishing all the challenges and experiences. Internally though, when I stopped to think about all the great opportunities I had, I was panicking. How had I managed to get this great job? How had I managed to secure such a brilliant project? How had I managed to get people to support my involvement in CILIP and ALA? Surely I wasn’t good enough to be doing all these things I’d seen ‘the great and good’ doing? I felt like a fraud. I thought I would get ‘found out’ and lose the opportunities. Others seemed to think I deserved these things, but I told myself that they didn’t know the real me and they were just being kind.

In order to combat this feeling of not being good enough, I invested so much time and energy into ‘doing my best’ hoping that I could perhaps feel like I deserved these things. I went above and beyond in all aspects of what I was doing, partly because I enjoyed them all so much but partly because I felt I had to in order to earn the right to be doing these things. Unfortunately, I invested so much time and energy in them that I neglected other needs in my life, and I experienced burnout.

Slowly but surely I realised this was my imposter syndrome rearing its head and causing unnecessary doubt, and I realised I wanted to pay attention to it but not let it rule my way of being. I started to relax and respect my time more (including my downtime). I started to do things the way I wanted to, in a way that felt authentic to me, rather than the way I thought I ‘ought’ to because of what others do. I began to pay more attention to what others were sharing with me, especially when they were expressing thanks and appreciation for my work (I was already paying plenty of attention to what they were saying about how things could be better!). I tuned into my strengths, skills, and experience that helped me fulfil these roles. I started to see that maybe I was the right person at that moment for those roles, and I started to respect the fact others had put their trust in me. It was a beautiful feeling and it enabled me to wholeheartedly apply myself to the different roles.

Imposter syndrome is something that will always be with me, but over time I’ve developed a number of different strategies to help reduce the impact in terms of longevity and intensity. It’s a work in progress and I’m picking up new strategies all the time. Later this year I’ll be sharing my experiences in the Overcoming Imposter Syndrome online course that I’m co-facilitating with Sarah Durrant as part of our Mindful Leadership for Women Programme. If imposter syndrome is something that impacts your work too, perhaps you’d like to join us. There are a few places left and if you book before 30th September you can get the early bird price (£325/$425). For more information on the course see the Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Course Overview and to book your place visit the Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Course Booking Form.

9 Comments
  • Charles Oppenheim
    Posted at 11:45h, 25 September Reply

    It’s not just women who have this. I’ve had it all my professional life

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 11:49h, 25 September Reply

      Thanks for mentioning this Charles. I absolutely agree. Some of my most interesting conversations about this topic have been with men, and research shows that it’s not exclusive to women. The only reason we’re focusing on women initially with our work is to address the issues in the sector (such as those found in the CILIP workforce mapping project).

  • Michael Cook
    Posted at 12:05h, 25 September Reply

    Good read Jo – been having a bit of this recently (alongside my fragile professional) and it’s important to try to find suitable strategies and to work through it!

  • Phil Bradley
    Posted at 12:14h, 25 September Reply

    Oh yes, I know this only too well. However well you do, or think you do, it’s always been by accident. There’s always someone in the next training course who knows more than I do and is just waiting to contradict me. As for reviews of my books, or training course feedback, they’re almost impossible to read, and even if I do it’s just a bunch of other people who I’ve pulled the wool over. Very debilitating.

  • Esther Arens
    Posted at 14:00h, 25 September Reply

    Many thanks, Jo! So heartening to see that genuinely great (;-0) people like yourself, Charles, Michael and Phil are affected too. Not nice but does make me feel better. Best wishes to all!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 15:51h, 25 September Reply

      I know exactly what you mean, Esther. It’s definitely reassuring to know so many other people experience this (including those we wouldn’t expect it to!).

  • Sarah Durrant
    Posted at 14:19h, 25 September Reply

    Lovely, inspiring and freeing piece Jo. I can really relate to your experience of redoubling your efforts in order to feel you deserve to be part of a project, team, panel, conference, whatever. It’s very familiar. As you suggest, it really does come down to learning to trust ourselves which for me entails (amongst other things) self-awareness, deep listening, recognising and valuing our strengths, learning to love our limitations (huge!), growing well where we can, identifying and letting go of limiting beliefs and treating ourselves with the compassion, kindness and love we would show a dear friend.

    Oh, and setting fire to the Big Stick we’ve been beating ourselves with. Something good will always come from that burning.

    Thank you again for sharing.

  • Phil Jones
    Posted at 14:51h, 25 September Reply

    I completely recognise this Jo. What helps me is reminding myself that the outside world isn’t paying half as much attention to my triumphs or failures as I am – same strategy I used to combat terrible body image at school funnily enough! On a similar topic I’m reading a book by Paul Dolan called Happiness by Design at the moment, a bit dry but very persuasive about how what you choose to focus your attention on can make a big difference to your wellbeing and strategies for designing your life to assist you in paying more attention to positive inputs than negative ones.

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 15:54h, 25 September Reply

      I’ve been told that strategy by a friend recently – someone they love dearly reminded them that they’re not as important as they imagine! Of course it wasn’t meant in a harsh way but I think we all imagine the spotlight is on us when actually everyone else is more worried about themselves than judging us.

      I think I’ve read that book (I’ve certainly scanned through it!). I hope you’ve found it useful for you 🙂

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