Dublin: 0 °C Saturday 20 April, 2024
dear fifi

Dear Fifi: How do I deal with 'imposter syndrome'?

This week’s column tackles feeling overwhelmed by a new job.


I’ve got some news! I recently quit my day job and come October I’m going to be hitting the road to travel around the world, kicking off in South East Asia. Or at least that’s the plan! Who knows? 

I plan to keep up doing Dear Fifi from farflung places. I’ve promised to always be there for you right? Keep in touch and send me your travel itineraries here.  

Dear Fifi,

During the harsh times of the bad Irish economy, I was stuck in a low paid job that was going absolutely nowhere for over half a decade.

This year, I finally managed to land a much higher paid job and career progress and learning. However I suddenly feel overwhelmed and I fear that I won’t be able to manage and to do the job as expected of me.

How do I handle this?

I think what you have here is potentially a case of “imposter syndrome”. This is a psychological phenomenon where people attribute their successes to luck or pulling the wool over people’s eyes, not to their own abilities or achievements.

(Far better, in my humble opinion, to struggle with mild imposter syndrome than its flip side – the dreaded Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias where people of low ability mistakenly imagine themselves to be shit-hot. We’ve all seen that particular workplace car crash, I’m sure.)

While it has its roots in psychology, I think it’s something we’ll all recognise on an anecdotal and individual day-to-day basis: that shady feeling that we’re conning everyone when something goes well, that all of our big wins were actually just sheer dumb luck. When something really great happens, in work or elsewhere, it’s part of the human condition to deflect it and imagine we were somehow blessed rather than actively went out and got something we deserved. 

It’s undeniable that luck has a part to play in how our lives turn out. While we’re all in control of how we behave and where we choose to take our lives, fate conspires both with and against us a lot of the time and leads the way. Yes, it’s important to recognise that random chance does have a part to play, but it’s also in large part you that has got you into this (good) position. 

When you don’t trust yourself, trust those around you. Think of it this way: your boss saw something valuable in you and hired you. Do you trust that person? Try to. Believe them when they put faith in you. You’ve got something worthwhile and important in you that you can’t see right now due to nerves, but others have already seen it and rewarded you for it. People have made an active choice to give you responsibility and a role in their team. Do them a favour and give them a little credit, eh?

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel overwhelmed by a big, sudden shift in your life. Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed – try to modify it into excitement where possible, too – but don’t let it consume you. It’s okay to feel freaked out by change. But you deserve your seat at the table and you’ve waited long enough, so relax into it. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in work either. No one walks into a workplace knowing the ropes! It’s not a sign of weakness to freely discuss your level of comfort and skills – in fact, it’ll be admired. There’s nothing worse in a job than someone pretending they’ve understood and secretly feel like they’re drowning. Be candid. People respect people who are honest (and plus, people feel flattered by being asked for advice and support). 

Best of luck with your career. But try to remember how it felt to be scared – one day I’m sure you’ll put that to good use by understanding and reassuring those who will come after you. 


 Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

Check out previous advice>

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel