In the last year, we’ve all become low-key pandemic experts. We’ve checked the numbers daily, watched the news obsessively and read all we can on how they spread, mutate and what can be done to stop them. Safe to say, thanks to the internet and Covid-19, we are the most informed generations ever when it comes to pandemics.
The World Health Organization defines a pandemic as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.” If you apply some ‘outside-of-the-box thinking’ you will start to see that we live in a world full of ‘pandemics’. And there is one in particular that is spreading unchecked in our industry - The Imposter Pandemic.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t deserve your position, if you’ve questioned why people listen to you, if you’ve convinced yourself you’re a fraud just waiting to be caught out - then you’ve been affected by Imposter Syndrome.
First identified in 1978, by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter Syndrome at its core is feeling inadequate even when there is external proof that says otherwise. It is the idea that you are lucky to be where you are, rather than the reality that you have earned your position through talent and hard work.
When you put it like that, it’s not surprising that for a long time Imposter Syndrome was thought to mainly affect women. After all, 60 years since women stormed the workforce, either consciously or subconsciously we still feel lucky to be there. This social conditioning needs to be unlearnt at the exact same time we are fighting gender bias, and on top of that Imposter Syndrome, which while also affecting men is a whole other affliction to overcome. That’s one heavy trifecta for women to carry every day.
And this does not just concern an unlucky few. An estimated 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in their lives according to an article published in The International Journal of Behavioral Science
. The very nature of the syndrome stops people from talking about it and sharing their fears which ultimately has resulted in an unchecked outbreak silenting spiraling out of control.
Unlike physical pandemics, there is no testing available. Much like Covid-19 and the common flu, its symptoms mirror those of other more known conditions - depression, anxiety, burnout, stress and low self-esteem. It feels impossible to know where one affliction starts and another begins. You can never be 100% sure of what you are dealing with.
But that is not to say there are no signs to watch out for. Imposter Syndrome can be found all around us. Its symptoms range from refusing to speak out in meetings, being afraid to ask questions, disproportionate disappointment in your inability to do something, not applying for a position unless you clearly met all the criteria to taking on extra responsibilities and tasks when you are already overworked, going above and beyond to prove your worth and attributing your success to external factors. Sound familiar?
This syndrome provokes fear, spreads uncertainty and attacks our psyche over and over again. It confines us, and while this pandemic does not lock us inside our homes, it traps us inside our doubts which is a very difficult place to create from.
It is vital that we start admitting and by doing so normalising these imposter feelings. The simple understanding that someone else feels the same way is the first and most accessible step to beginning to control this situation. It is our mask. Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness but an experience or phenomenon that can be managed. Recognising the signs when they appear allows us to remove them of their power. Our social distancing is setting boundaries professionally - saying no when you have too much on, committing to stopping work at a certain time, disconnecting when you need to. Our curfew is stopping before we burnout. It is recognising when we are overworked and not waiting until the last minute to ask for help or time off.
This is one pandemic that we don’t need scientific progress or government intervention to overcome. It is a pandemic where spreading your feelings of doubt can have a positive contagious effect. If every person who reads this tells one person they feel or have felt like a fraud, we could start treating it straight away. If we fight this pandemic we will all be in a better space to overcome the inequalities rife in our industry and create meaningful work.
We can create a new normal. One where instead of obsessing over the validity of our abilities, our opinions and our convictions, we obsess over how to make the work better.
Parting note: If you are reading this and have been affected by Covid-19, have lost someone you care about or have faced difficulties because of it, I am very sorry. By creating a metaphor around this horrible situation, I do not mean any offense, nor am I trying to downplay its significance.