The World of Work and Imposter Syndrome: Breaking Through My Own Barriers

Who you think you are versus who others think you are
Image: Science of People

Starting my Catalyst journey at the end of August was both an exciting yet daunting feeling. It is exhilarating to think about all the future opportunities and successes that may come my way but the feeling of not being ‘qualified’ enough, working hard enough or even just failing continuously lingers in my thoughts. This feeling is called imposter syndrome and over 70% of all people feel this way at some point. According to Science of people, the meaning of imposter syndrome is as follows:

‘A psychological phenomenon in which you feel like you don’t deserve your accomplishments. You might feel like you don’t belong, don’t deserve your success, or are “out of place”’

As a first-generation South Asian woman from a working-class family, I know this feeling too well. I reflect to multiple times where I felt this way in my latter school years (Sixth Form), my various part-time jobs and when I attended university. Once again, it had hit me hard when I began working in a professional environment full time. Although it’s not a fun feeling to return to, I have learnt so much in the past month and a half on the importance of confronting such feelings and have reconfigured my approach to tackle this and appreciate my wins and progression. I want to highlight some key barriers I recognised within myself and how I worked to overcome them.

Barrier 1: Just Ask Questions!

In my first week of starting my new role, I was given the position of project coordinator by my client. My initial feeling was an overwhelming worry about how I would manage a team of 12 people who were older and more experienced than me. My usual approach to uncertainty was to simply try to ‘figure it out’. However, I realised that this method was impractical and made me feel worse about my performance in the role. When I started working as a Business Support Executive, it had encouraged me to confront my own barriers and to simply just ask questions (so cliché but incredibly important). Asking lots of questions would prevent me from feeling so overwhelmed at the thought of failing and helped me to fully understand the task, perform better and build confidence.

Barrier 2: Making Mistakes

Even with asking lots of questions, it is inevitable to still make mistakes. When you have imposter syndrome, a minor mistake is treated as a reflection of your capability which is, of course, quite unhealthy. Although this is something I have not fully mastered yet, my approach has changed to one that asks for extra feedback and for additional support if I am still struggling. Learning from my mistakes has tested my resilience and helped me to accept that mistakes are part of learning and they will take me further than if I had not done so.

Barrier 3: Speaking up in meetings

I previously had been comfortable with interacting with group conversations, presentations, and meetings but the work environment in the beginning felt intimidating at times. To me, the managers/client is the expert and feels incomparable to make suggestions to them when I have only just started my career. However, over the course of the last few months, I recognise the environment at Sussex Innovation and within the Catalyst team is one that values the opinions of everyone. Therefore, I challenged my worries of ‘saying the wrong thing’. A time which really proved this point for me was sitting in a recent client meeting and raising some issues regarding the concept of a particular design as part of a marketing campaign. After mentioning my concerns in the meeting, the client was thankful for raising this point as this would have been overlooked. This was another teachable moment for me in finding value in your opinions in professional settings and celebrating my wins!

Overcoming imposter syndrome is not an overnight miracle as it takes time and practice to feel that sense of belonging and develop your confidence. Working at Catalyst has brought out my own barriers but simultaneously has given me opportunities to challenge them and nurture and appreciate my development in the workplace.

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