Is your inner impostor holding you back?

Do you walk into that important meeting feeling that everyone else is expert and knows what they’re talking about, and that you must have been invited by mistake? Do you think that luck has got you were you are rather than talent or hard work? Are you worried that your lecturer, your supervisor, your boss will find you out? Do you hold back from presentations or tasks because you think you’re not up to the job, or are scared you might not be? These thoughts are symptoms of the impostor phenomenon – the idea that somehow you don’t deserve your success, that you aren’t as good as other people think. Stop worrying, because you are not alone! Lots of us have these feelings. It may even be a normal part of academia, where we are constantly being judged (papers, grant applications, presentations) so it’s easy to feel negative about yourself.

Impostor feelings may be useful: that fear of not being good enough may drive us on to accept greater challenges so that we have tangible evidence that we are good enough. Spoiler: this often doesn’t work long term, because the inner impostor just persuades you that you got away with it this time, but next time you won’t. Impostor feelings may also hold you back, leading to higher stress, and unwillingness to take on new roles through lack of confidence. The important thing is to be more aware of the problem, to talk to other people about it, and to develop strategies to combat it. For example, being realistic about your achievements instead of dismissing them is crucial. We can all help each other combat impostor feelings by being kind: help each other to recognise our great qualities, and learn to give and accept praise more easily. Practice it every day!

I’ve put together some resources here if you want to learn more: http://www.cs.stir.ac.uk/sciencegrrl/impostor/

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