“I am an imposter in my own skin. I don’t fit in with this new role I’ve been given. Nothing I could do is right or the best; they could hire anyone off the street to do what I do better than I do it.”
These are the seeds of self-doubt that blossomed with my promotion to Business Intelligence Analyst of the Xtend Data Analytics team two years ago. I not only swam in that sea of self-doubt, I almost let it consume me until this past year when I realized just how much I had accomplished and how well deserved this promotion was. I constantly thought I could never live up to this title and this role I’d been given until someone new to the company asked me what I do and how I got here. Then it hit me: I’ve been working my backside off to get here, and they didn’t just hand me this role. I had earned it through living it for well over a year prior to putting a new name on it.
So why was I feeling this way? Was I alone in feeling this way about my job? How did all these candidates with even lesser qualifications strut so confidently into a room and ask for more, while I humbly tried to deny the possibility of myself in this role for two years?
I knew why I felt the way I did: I am almost 30, but I have no college degree and very little college education. I came to Xtend looking for a career building job and healthier work environment from the gas station I’d been working at for two years. How could I, a young adult who almost failed their high school functions and statistics math class, become a data analyst for not just one company, but credit unions all over the country? If I had only taken the five minutes to think about the fact that I’d already been with Xtend over 5 years, am very well educated in the system we work with, and hold the writing skills to take on the job, I would have been fine a lot sooner.
Who else really feels this way? According to a 2011 study mentioned in Medical News Today, roughly 70% of people will deal with imposter syndrome in their lives at some point. It’s especially common in the tech world, with over 58% of tech employees reporting as suffering from imposter syndrome according to TechRepublic; some even after 14 years of working in their current roles. It’s most likely to occur when starting a new job and can cause the self-labeled frauds to shy away from taking on new/extra work, challenging themselves in positive ways, and volunteering for projects. This shying away makes these “imposters” feel as though it keeps others from seeing their “lack of ability.” What us fakes don’t realize is this makes it more obvious that we feel incapable of tackling or handling these projects, while we may very well be equipped to not only take them on, but greatly succeed at them. I experienced this firsthand by not speaking up for a solid 8 months in any meetings, shying away from having my items added to meeting agendas, not standing up for myself when I was being questioned or yelled at, and feeling extra guarded when trying to sell my “small” skillset to clients.
The worst part of being an “imposter” is that we often set ourselves up for a cycle of imposition and disappointment. We set near impossible goals for ourselves and sometimes miss the mark, reinforcing these feelings of inadequacy. At some point, we have to make it stop, and it starts with battling what’s inside of ourselves. You have to fight it – within yourself and in your workplace, if necessary, and it’s not an easy battle.
In the spring of 2020, amidst a global pandemic and homeschooling my kindergartener, I took on some extra work and assisted in training a new employee on top of my already challenging role. At the same time, we were given a book and test to read for our current book club assignment: StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. After taking the “CliftonStrengths Test”, we gained insight into our top 5 strengths and got to share them with each other. Upon reading my strengths, I realized I was in a perfect professional position to play to every single one of my strengths, and Xtend had seen this where I’d been blind to it for years. Not only this, but when I was talking with a friend in the industry, she said there was no way she could handle a project she was about to be handed. That’s when I realized: if a four-year college educated employee with previous work experience doesn’t feel ready to take on something I’ve been doing successfully for years, what am I so afraid of?
There are a lot of great ways to beat imposter syndrome. Working with my bosses and my colleagues to build my confidence back up were the building blocks to getting me to a place where I don’t necessary feel comfortable, but I feel confident enough to take on tasks, volunteer for projects, and sell my services to clients without fear. Having colleagues turn to me for help, being the head of most of our new employee and team trainings, and having regular check-ins with my superiors reinforced over and over again that I’m not only ready but completely capable of owning this role. Reading any article about how to battle imposter syndrome will give these sorts of “action items” as suggestions for empowering yourself and your employees. The most helpful item for me was to stop and tell someone where I started and how I got to this point – slowing down and recognizing my accomplishments was the biggest eye opener I have ever experienced.
The only way to really to beat imposter syndrome is to face it head on. Fake it ‘til you make it isn’t just a motto to be used lightly; it’s something we are all capable of. You might even realize you were never pretending all along.