8 Ways to Tackle Imposter Syndrome While You're WFH
By Claire Reynolds, head of PR at Tank
It’s a niggling, incessant, rattle of a voice in your head, that can cloud over the sunniest of days. It can make you doubt your ability, your long-term worth and your immediate decisions. In its most debilitating form it can paralyse you completely, rendering exerting any effort nigh impossible.
Yep, we’re talking about imposter syndrome. Its definition is “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’” - it’s one I know very well.
It has been over three months since we left our office and embraced living-room-based-work as our new modus operandi. It is likely to remain our default for some months, and by and large, we’ve adapted incredibly well.
However, technology and equipment aside, the psychological effects of this new wfh culture are less obvious. I’m most definitely better when I’m around other people, and pretty quickly, isolation felt stifling and constrictive. I would question whether what I was writing was any good, whether my campaign ideas sounded daft, or how to deal with a client query, which on any other day would be standard fare.
For me, there have been times during lockdown when imposter syndrome has felt acute and heavy. At Tank, we’re used to working on campaigns together in a room, batting around digital PR concepts, interrogating briefs and helping each other build on skills and ideas. This has obviously had to migrate online, making the physical cues and support much more difficult to appreciate.
It’s one thing when you’re feeling less than 100% but are surrounded by colleagues and friends in person. In those circumstances, you have the ability to offload in person to a trusted friend or grab a cup of tea for a five minute “you’ve got this” pep talk.
After the first few weeks, I started to recognise a pattern of thinking which was quite frankly, unhelpful, and started to look for advice and support as to how to get over this infuriating mental block. Here are a selection of tools and techniques which really helped me, so I hope they provide some solace for you too.
Remember - you’ve got this.
1. Validation is natural
Firstly, don’t feel guilty for seeking an external thumbs up. It takes a braver person than me to plough on under their own steam with minimal input or consideration from others. Accept that you are human, and seeking validation is a natural way to maintain your pizzazz.
2. Open up
Whether you’re entry-level and feeling like you’ve got lots to prove, or leading a team and having to hold the fort for positivity - talking about how you’re feeling with a close friend or family member can add another perspective to any situation. A cliche but it truly is good to talk.
3. Organise your wins
One of my favourite tactics is to prove my brain wrong! Filing your wins somewhere easily accessible is a handy way to quickly remind yourself of what you are capable of. It could be some great feedback from a client, a piece of work that you’re really proud of, or even a testimonial from a friend or colleague who appreciates what you do. Keep these somewhere safe and obvious (I’m a big fan of a ‘wins’ email folder) and dig them out in times of uncertainty to outweigh any negative ‘I can’t do this’ thoughts.
4. Practice counterbalancing
Another technique sort of related to the above is getting into the habit of objectively arguing with yourself. So, if you’re faced with a negative intrusive thought, accept it popping into your brain and counteract it with a fact which offers an alternative view. It might sound a bit wanky, but with practice, it can be a true mute on those imposter syndrome thoughts. For example, if you think “this work isn’t very good, and my boss / client is going to hate it”, a counter argument could be “I cannot control what my boss / client will feel, all I can do is the best of my ability. If I get any constructive feedback - that will help me improve and is not a reflection on my worth as a person”.
5. Don’t let yourself stew
Sometimes, imposter syndrome can be all encompassing. At that stage, no matter how much you talk it over or counterbalance - those thoughts are stuck fast. In this scenario, I’ve found that working from home is actually a strength, as it means I can step away and do something else. It could be going for a walk, sitting in the garden or even some chores like putting a wash on - the physical break removes yourself from that atmosphere of low self-esteem and helps you cool off.
6. Prioritise feedback from those you trust
My Dad often tells me that if you have 99 pieces of good feedback, you’re more likely to remember that one piece of criticism - regardless of how it's delivered. Unless you’re an emotional vacuum, that will have an element of truth for you too, but actively putting more weight on feedback from people you trust and respect can help mitigate this imbalance. After all - if you’re being criticised by someone who, deep down, you wouldn’t actually take advice from anyway, why worry?
7. Your work does not define you
Yes, you are [insert job title here] and it’s what you might spend the majority of your time on. But that isn’t an exhaustive list of what makes you, YOU. It doesn’t equate to why people care about you, your interests or your worth as a person. If imposter syndrome is getting the best of you, actively consider what other elements of your life and personality are independent and not influenced by your career.
8. Others feel like this - even if they don’t show it
One of the most brutal aspects of imposter syndrome is the fear that you are alone in your thoughts. But I can guarantee there will be other people you work with, admire and respect who feel this just as intently as you do. They might just not show it!
Ultimately, be kind to yourself. You can do this and you’ve proven it. We are in a global pandemic which has turned all industries and careers on their heads! Nothing is predictable, except you’ll get through this and be even stronger for it.