Three tips on overcoming imposter syndrome during lockdown
We all have moments of self-doubt, but working remotely and independently really doesn’t help our professional insecurities. Here’s how to restore your faith in you.
Lockdown 3.0 is well underway and working from home is now our new structure on Monday to Fridays. As GQ’s resident therapist I am hearing something more in this lockdown than I have heard before, which means there is something we need to discuss: imposter syndrome is raising its head and people who have never experienced it before are starting to find they are suffering.
So what is imposter syndrome? It is a term first coined by psychologists in the late-1970s which they define as a psychological pattern of behavior in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and are persistently and consistently afraid of being exposed as a fraud. Most of their day is spent with thoughts like, “I’m going to be found out. They will see that I am not as good as they think I am. They will definitely fire me. I am such a failure.” It is
exhausting and anxiety-inducing.
I wanted to find out why these feelings of anxiety are suddenly creeping in during lockdown 3.0 and it seems to me that there is pressure to perform in every aspect of life now, much more so than when we were heading into the office every day. In lockdown 3.0, many of us feel pressure to do the right thing by our family, to be nice when we really want to shout, to help home-school the children when we actually need to be in a project meeting, to have dinner when want to be at the pub, etc. Our feelings are amplified, our stress is rising and we feel caged in, which doesn’t help. The negative self-talk gets louder and, as we try to juggle everything, “imposter feelings can be amplified”, because ultimately it comes down to not feeling good enough.
In a traditional office set-up, it’s easy to chat to your colleagues at their desks or in the kitchen, whereas when working from home it takes more effort to engage with remote coworkers to exchange ideas, discuss client feedback or share appreciation, accolades or just have a grumble. It feels a lot more disconnected and therefore harder to gain the security and reassurance that you may previously have had when working in an office. Ultimately, remote work adds an extra layer to imposter syndrome because we don’t have the same kind of feedback network as a traditional office environment.
Imposter syndrome is harder to tackle in a remote environment because it’s easier to let the negative self-talk continue through the day, consciously or unconsciously. We are alone for long periods, at our desks without the usual banter and jokes we share with others. We are in confined spaces, which can heighten our feelings of stress and anxiety, which, in turn, affects our self-esteem and self-worth. I do believe that imposter syndrome is worse as we work from home because subconscious negative beliefs we may hold about ourselves – that we’re not good enough, productive enough, skilled enough, etc – are likely to be intensified in the current circumstances.
So how do we start to change this and let go of imposter syndrome once and for all?
1. It is important to remember that we must not do other people’s thinking
We cannot “know” what our boss is thinking – we can only “assume” and assuming is never a good idea. Your thoughts are not facts, so check your thoughts often and make sure that the thoughts you are choosing could be backed up with evidence. For example, you can’t think, “I know that my boss thinks I am crap at this project” unless you have actual evidence that your boss has actually said that to you. Not implied it… actually said it. Also, if, for example, you are a QC and you are thinking that you are going to be found out, the truth is this: you wouldn’t have passed the exams, done the degree and then passed the bar to be in the job in the first place if you were an imposter. In which case, how can you be a fraud? Evidence is key.
2. Remain social
Have some time in your day to chat to a colleague on the phone. Make it 10am each day to check in and discuss how you are feeling and share your thoughts on things. Talking is very different from emailing. Getting the connection and having an actual conversation is very important if you struggle with imposter syndrome. It is good to have honest feedback with each other on this call and that can help alleviate any negative thinking. Even better, make it a Zoom call and have some face time with a colleague.
3. Remember that we all make mistakes
Making mistakes is what makes us great. If we don’t make mistakes we don’t learn, and how can we learn without making mistakes? So, you see, you have to make mistakes to get it. Look at someone like Serena Williams. She didn’t get to where she is without losing and making mistakes. She had to make mistakes in order to learn and you, my dear reader, are no different.
Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. Right now, please remember we are all still living through a pandemic: there is uncertainty, life has drastically changed and everything we knew is now different. So be nicer to yourself. Talk to yourself like you would one of your friends. Honestly, if you think like that, things will change.