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How to deal with imposter syndrome and squash self-doubt

3 January 2020

“Hands up if you’ve ever felt like a fraud in the workplace. A few of you. Oh, hang on that’s a few more hands. Okay, that’s all of us then.”

That was the opening line to delegates at a session on imposter syndrome and digital innovation and how to tackle it at the last CharityComms digital conference.

Adam Waters, director of digital content and training, and Forces Media Academy at BFBS, said that every single person feels like an imposter in the workplace at some point or on a day-to-day basis. For example, he explained: “The concept of digital innovation can intimidate people, as often people don’t explain it clearly. If senior leadership can feel overwhelmed by digital, it’s understandable that junior staff may find it scary.” However, having made us all realise how common the feeling is he then assured the room that there are ways to overcome it.

So, what is imposter syndrome?

It seems everyone is talking about imposter syndrome, but what does it mean? “It’s a feeling that you’re a fraud, that you’re not good enough and you’re going to get caught out by others,” explains Waters.

He adds that it’s normal to feel nervous, but when self-doubt holds you back and stops you from doing things in your career, that’s when it becomes a problem – but he added there are ways to tackle imposter syndrome. For example it’s important to use plain English when talking to colleagues about what trigger terms like digital innovation means for your organisation.

How to beat imposter syndrome: collective tips from across the charity sector

Have an open conversation

When you talk about your concerns with someone else, you can nip them in the bud before they spiral. Speak to your colleagues about how you are feeling. The chances are they’ve probably had similar thoughts too. Waters said at the CharityComms digital conference that “if you acknowledge it’s okay to have self-doubts, this can be powerful”. He also spoke about the importance of making sure everyone feels included in conversations and has their voice heard.

Stay positive

Reframe your thoughts by telling yourself you are good at what you do. Founder of The Cavernoma Society, Simona Stankovska, said she uses positive affirmations, mindfulness and meditation to overcome imposter syndrome. “We are so quick to tell our brains negative things which end up engrained in psyche. When imposter syndrome strikes, I look in the mirror and tell myself that I am intelligent, capable, and good enough.”

Freelance writer and editor, Katie Jones, said she applied the same approach when she worked in-house. “Each time I was promoted, I told myself: ‘Do what someone who is brilliant at this job would do’. It depersonalised the decisions I made and stopped me getting bogged down with over analysis.”

Listen to what others say

Don’t just take your own word for it. Listen to what your peers and managers say about you. If you ever feel like you’re not good enough, remind yourself of the positive comments you’ve received from colleagues. This can help to reinforce the message that you’re good at what you do. Store the feedback in an email folder, so you’ve got it to hand when you need it.

Your friends are also important allies. Communications and social media trainer Helen Reynolds has blogged about replacing your inner critic with an “inner fan club”. She explains: “When I feel unsure or out of my depth, I imagine what the people who like me most would say. Regularly taking a moment to be as kind to ourselves as others would be can help.”

Remember we’re all learning

It can be easy to beat yourself up when you make a mistake, but it gives us a chance to learn and try again. If you worry about getting things wrong, it can stop you from doing things. Instead of thinking about failure as something to fear, see it as a good thing.

A senior marketing and communications officer at a charity says that she’s a lot harder on herself than anyone else. “I remind myself that even the most senior people will always have things to learn and it helps me to not get overwhelmed.”

Look after yourself

We all know the importance of looking after our wellbeing. When you get enough sleep, take lunchbreaks and find time to relax away from work, it gives you a clear perspective. It’s then easier to see all the good work you’re doing than when you’re feeling tired and rundown.

Remember you are not alone: Imposter syndrome is wide reaching

It’s not just digital communicators who may suffer from self-doubt though. It can affect anyone. A recent Forbes article says that imposter syndrome lurks within most of us. “It’s an almost universal feeling for all, even the seemingly most confident of leaders, regardless of age, gender or industry,” explains Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author of the article.

An article in Third Sector Force says that imposter syndrome is common among charity workers, while former charity CEO, Emma Wrafter, has blogged about her experiences of imposter syndrome and how she dealt with it. It’s a topic that seems to resonate with many, so let’s tackle it together.

Photo: Llanydd Lloyd on Unsplash

For more tips and advice on wellbeing and the workplace take a look at the CharityComms Wellbeing Guide for comms professionals and visit our Wellbeing seminar events page for further useful resources.

Kellie Smith

copy writer, editor and proof-reader, freelance

Kellie Smith is a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader, with over seven years of communications and content experience with charities. Before working in the third sector, Kellie worked in journalism and copywriting across a range of trade and consumer titles.