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6 Mins
Anxiety
Workplace
Stress

Starting work after uni: do you have imposter syndrome?

May 16, 2022
By
ieso

Imposter syndrome – the feeling of not being ‘good enough’ to do the job you’ve been hired for, and that it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out – can happen at any stage of life. But for those going through the huge transition from uni to the workplace, it can be particularly intense.

 

People experiencing imposter syndrome often feel like a fraud, and tend to be full of self-doubt and self-criticism. You might also feel anxious, frustrated or afraid. These feelings can be accompanied by thoughts such as “I’m not qualified, skilled or experienced enough for this role”, “Everyone is more competent and cleverer than me”, “I don’t belong here” or “I’m going to mess up sooner or later!”

 

These feelings and thoughts can influence your behaviour. They might result in over-preparing, or working harder and longer than your colleagues. Some people avoid challenges, or decide not to put themselves forward for interesting tasks or projects to reduce the chance of ‘failing’, or being exposed as a fraud. Others may go the other way, pushing themselves and setting unrealistic goals in an effort to prove themselves. You could find it hard to accept constructive criticism, seeing it as proof that you’re not making the grade.

 

On the one hand, experiencing imposter syndrome can be a sign that you care deeply about what you’re doing, and want to do your best. However, constantly feeling this level of pressure and self-doubt is likely to make enjoying your job difficult.

 

Thoughts and feelings aren’t facts!

Try to remember that just because we believe something is going badly, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the case. Major changes, and taking on something that’s new and unfamiliar, will often make us uncomfortable. It’s an inevitable part of learning and growing.

 

When these thoughts and feelings kick in, you can use the STOPP acronym to arm yourself with some facts.

 

Stop!

 

Take a breath, and try to calm your mind.

 

Observe what your thoughts are in the moment. Tune into any physical feelings: is your stomach churning? Are you shaky and nervous? How about behaviours – are you procrastinating, or avoiding your boss?

 

Pull back and get some perspective. Anxiety makes our thinking muddled, while feeling scared or inferior can lead us to catastrophise! Try to see the big picture. Are you dwelling too heavily on a mistake you’ve made, a piece of negative feedback, or a perceived ‘failure’? Are you jumping to conclusions? Or looking for signs that match your belief that things are going badly? Is there a different way you can look at the situation? What might you have missed? Gather information that will help you see things as they really are, perhaps by talking to colleagues about how they perceive your performance, or keeping note of positive feedback you receive.

 

Practice what works. This will be different for different people, but might include:

 

Exercising self-compassion. What are you saying to yourself? Would you talk to a friend like that? If not, what would you say instead? Aim to bring the kindness you give to others to yourself.

 

Connect with your values. Rather than comparing yourself with colleagues, or striving for ‘perfection’, think about what you want to bring to your role. For example, you might decide “I want to be the kind of lawyer who is compassionate and curious”. How can you enact these values?

 

Aim to cultivate a ‘growth’ mindset. See yourself as stepping into the the growth zone, rather than out of your comfort zone! Try to put yourself in ‘receive’ mode; be open minded and don’t judge yourself.

 

Expect to make mistakes! You’re just starting out, and it’s OK not to be brilliant all the time. In fact, trying new things and getting some of them wrong is how we learn, and discover our strengths. Give yourself permission to take small steps if that feels right. The old ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra is outdated – people are happier and do a better job when they bring their authentic selves to work.

 

If you’re feeling really anxious and stressed about your job, you could try CBT. Your therapist will help you to understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and share techniques and strategies that will enable you to change them and flourish in your career. Find out how ieso uses CBT to treat anxiety here.

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