These feelings first popped up at the Fulbright orientation in August. The orientation itself was quite incredible. For 3 days, I found myself surrounded by educators that completely inspired me. I was in awe of their ideas, passion for education, and plans for study. The Fulbright alumni that we met were equally incredible…listening to them talk about not only their Fulbright experiences, but also how their work continues to impact their students and colleagues since returning home left me so excited for the opportunity. But then, the old familiar self-doubt started to creep in. Here, among these ranks of articulate, intelligent educators, I worried, “Why did they pick me?" Each day, I struggled to recognize if I truly belonged. And surprisingly, I heard this feeling echoed by others in attendance. Why is it that all of us could recognize the worthiness in each other’s plans, but doubted ourselves? This is something that I’ve thought about a lot since returning home from the orientation. Weeks later, I came across an article talking about Impostor Phenomenon, and it rang a little too true for me.
Impostor Phenomenon (also referred to as Impostor Syndrome) was first identified in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. In their paper on the topic, they identified Impostor Phenomenon as feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and intellectual fraudulence despite a history of high achievement. Clance and Imes state,
Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements…do not appear to affect the impostor belief.
Bingo. That’s me. From reading about it more, I think it’s also a lot of other women in leadership roles and in education. It's also important to note that Impostor feelings also affect men, but they are identified less frequently than in women.
It’s pretty clear that self-doubt holds people back from achieving their full potential. I know that in my case, while I often force myself to take professional risks, I find myself worrying about them constantly. I am fortunate to have family and colleagues in my life that encourage me through the self-doubt. In some ways though, I feel that my own manifestation of “Impostor” feelings has had some benefits. My self-doubt has pushed me to work harder and set high goals for myself in order to “prove” that I am worthy. But worthy or what? Praise from others? What is it exactly that I am seeking? By asking myself this question, I’ve helped myself to re-frame my motivation. My motivation for the work that I do is first and foremost to benefit the students that I work with every day. By bettering myself as a professional, I am better able to impact my students in our speech-language therapy sessions. Aside from that, I am lucky to have a profession that I truly love and I get excited to learn new things and share them with colleagues. Reflecting on my feelings and what I’ve read, I’ve come up with a few other ideas to help overcome self-doubt.
1) Recognize what makes you qualified: When I find myself going down the rabbit hole of “I’m not good enough,” I think back to the experiences that make me qualified for whatever new challenge I am taking on. A simple mental review of these experiences can help block those feelings of doubt that so easily creep into new experiences. At the same time, reviewing past experiences can jog your memory for the “tools” that you have developed that will be useful in your new endeavor.
2) Learn to accept compliments: I have always struggled to accept compliments, both professionally and in my personal life. I noticed myself following up thanks for compliments with qualifiers: “Thanks, but…” Thanks, but I still have another 10 pounds to go...Thanks, but I really didn't do that much....Thanks but, really it was nothing. I plan to make a conscious effort to accept compliments with sincere thanks and leave the “but” out.
3) Take ownership of accomplishments: Give yourself permission to take pride in what you've done. While accepting a compliment is an extrinsic reward for hard work, the intrinsic piece is even more important. By thinking about how your accomplishment can impact those around you, you will continue to feel motivated to take on new professional challenges.
4) Accept that perfection is not possible: There will always be mistakes and there will always be unanswered questions. Recognizing that is what helps professionals to continue moving forward. Reminding myself that I will not always have all the answers, but that I will continue to seek them out is not a weakness. It's what keeps me invested and interested in my profession and helps to make me better.
5) Have a plan: Any new professional challenge can seem daunting. I have found I can improve my confidence if I come up with a detailed plan. In ASHA's leadership development program, we talked about developing a project charter for new undertakings. By writing out goals and objectives, identifying stakeholders, and developing steps to achieve the end goal, I always feel more prepared and more confident in my ability to get the job done.
6) Dress the part: Before anyone thinks I’m being sexist, I believe that this applies to both men and women. In professional situations, wearing appropriate, well fitting clothing can go a long way in projecting confidence. Maybe this is the old fake it til you make it adage, but I feel more confident when I look the part . My final Fulbright interview was completed by phone, and I still decided to dress up to get myself in the mindset.
7) Pick up some new office supplies: I'm mostly joking about this one, but I always find myself picking up a few new office supplies when I set off on a new project. There's nothing like a nice, inky pen and new accordion folders to give a gal a boost. While this point is a bit funny, I know that organization is one of my weaknesses. Making a few purchases to improve my ability to keep organized helps me to get off to a good start and manage all the necessary details in a project.
Have you ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt? Take the Impostor Phenomenon Scale (developed by Pauline Clance) to see if you have a propensity for Impostor feelings.
What have you done to overcome self-doubt in your professional life?