Doubt , uncertainty and fear of judgment. The three emotions that never fail to remind me that I may not be enough. In the field of Psychology, this experience is called Impostor Syndrome.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the Impostor Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. The American Psychological Association defines the syndrome to occur among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. It was during therapeutic sessions with high achieving women, that Psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance, identified The Impostor Phenomenon that these women experienced, despite their success. According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, this experience is common amongst 70% of the world’s population.
Women and under-represented ethnic-minority individuals are those who are largely affected in the workplace, commonly due to the feeling of being a diversity pick, creating the sense of not belonging. I also believe that this information age has created unrealistic, image-obsessed societies, with mental ill-health side effects that make many people feel as though others possess greater skill sets and advanced knowledge, pushing the narrative that they may be a fraud in comparison to them.
In reference to my career, more specifically job hunting, I have created a habit of aiming lower than what is expected of me, out of fear that I am not equipped to succeed. I have taught myself to believe that in order to be the ideal candidate for a role, I must have worked that exact same job for many years before I can be considered. Even with internships and entry level roles. The reality is that this is not true of many jobs, but layers and layers of self-doubt have made the glass ceiling non-existent, leaving me trapped under a concrete ceiling.
Six months before my Master’s graduation I began to apply for jobs, so that I could secure a position by the time I graduated. Nearly two-years later, I cannot confidently say that I have begun my career. Many rejection emails wore me down and I started to lower my standards and expectations. Soon, finding a job became a full-time job within itself and in order to pay my bills, I started working in administrative roles that had nothing to do with my goals and career plans.
I was placed by an agency to work with different companies, where I had opportunities to transfer full-time into a position that I enjoyed. The enthusiasm to seek full-time work was often seen as an opportunity for men in senior positions to make sexual advances. Such sexual harassment was often disguised as a mentoring opportunity, one that I did not accept. Nevertheless, it was not the best thing to experience when I was putting myself out there to overcome the feeling of not doing enough.
I would not say that all of the rejection and harassment that I experienced fuelled the feeling of inadequacy, but I can admit that some caused maladaptive behaviour. Instead of internalising my many successes, I chose to internalise my failures. Admittedly, the choice to amplify my failures has affected my career path and personal relationships.
As a daughter, sister and a friend, there are many responsibilities that come with the roles that I occupy. In these roles, I place what I would call “adequacy measurements” to show others my ability to utilise my skill set. For example, I know that my family’s acceptance of me does not depend on how successful I am, but I distance myself during times where I am not doing very well. In relationships and friendships, I have adopted the idea that I need to stop the expression of “unhealthy” emotions like jealousy, anger/rage, frustration to cultivate good communication and partnership.
I often feel as though I am in the Truman Show, where I am nurtured into the person I am supposed to be; a person equipped to achieve great things despite what I feel to be mediocrity. The struggle in trying to prove to myself that I am adequate is a tiring process. A process that needs hard work, confidence and consistency. I have to understand that everyone is on their own path, and each person has their own failures and successes to manage.
Nobody is immune to impostor syndrome. In fact, the global pandemic of COVID-19 can make many people feel as though they are not performing well enough to have kept their jobs. The distance we have created with our families and friends can make us feel helpless, almost as if we are not doing enough to be there with them. The feeling of inadequacy is not one that we can win over at one time. It is a battle that we have to address consistently.
Written by Bethel Haimanot