As you may be aware, as well as peak performance coaching and leadership development training, I support clients in achieving their career goals. I help them get clear about what they want, work through any potential blockers and teach them any essential skills they may be lacking.
Over the last 13 years, I’m honoured to have helped thousands of people to find and land their dream job, so I know well the challenges, pitfalls, and joys of job hunting. Unfortunately, one issue that arises (to a greater or lesser degree) with many people who transition into a new role is ‘imposter syndrome’.
A Typical Scenario…
A well-qualified professional applies for a new role that they believe ticks all the boxes in terms of content, level, remuneration, culture, etc. It’s a step up from what they’re currently doing, but deep down, know that they’re ready and they’re excited. It’s clear that they have all the transferrable skills, experience, and proven track record necessary to succeed.
After jumping through various hoops during the recruitment process, they secure their ‘dream job’. However, their internal imposter syndrome kicks in between a few days and a couple of months after starting the new job.
When I call them for an update, I hear variations of:
- I’m feeling a bit lost/ I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!
- I don’t know if it’s right for me/ I think I’ve taken on more than I can chew.
- Their working practices are so different; I don’t believe this is right for me.
- I don’t feel like I’m doing enough!
- It seems like I’m bugging people trying to get answers.
- I feel like a fake/ I should have stayed where I was/
- I’m not cut out for this/ This is too much!
This is what imposter syndrome sounds like!
Deep down, they know they have the skills (I will have challenged them appropriately during our sessions to establish their likelihood of success before embarking on their job search). After a rigorous recruitment process, the new employer also believes they have the necessary attributes.
So, why do competent, accomplished people suddenly feel like they can’t do something they’ve worked so hard for?
Our Brains are Hard-Wired to Detect Threats
The simple answer is that our brain’s primary role is survival. If we are in an unfamiliar environment, our brain gets active; it unconsciously scans for risks. The Amygdala (located in the Temporal Lobe) is constantly monitoring our environment and is assessing whether we are safe against memories of what we have experienced before.
If it recognises that we may be unsafe, it produces a chemical reaction, and we may experience butterflies or feel anxious. Our heart will beat faster, and our breathing rate will increase. Our unconscious brain is telling our body to get ready to react quickly, if necessary.
When this occurs, our Frontal Cortex (the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking) shuts down, and our more primitive survival instincts take over, triggering our flight/ fight/ freeze response.
Adrenaline and cortisol get released into the bloodstream, keeping us on high alert and making it harder, if not impossible, for us to think logically. That’s precisely why someone else can tell you that you’re brilliant and say things like, ‘You can do it; you’ve got this!’, but in that moment, it feels too impossible to be true.
New Ways of Working
In addition, many people have unrealistic expectations that they will be able to hit the ground running and perform at their usual high level from the get-go. However, often just the simplest of things that can take so much time and cause immense frustration. For example, unexpected system or I.T. issues coupled with the fact that we don’t even know how to get them sorted can impact our performance and mindset.
I’ll lay out simple, easy-to-use tools to combat Imposter Syndrome in the next article. Until then, have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? If so, what did you do to overcome it, or did it dissipate as you learned more about the company, people, and role? I’d love to hear about your experiences; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message in the comments section below.