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Imposter Syndrome Workshop with Kate Atkin

Imposter Syndrome Workshop with Kate Atkin

Imposter syndrome should really be considered a phenomenon, because it is not experienced all the time but is most prevalent during times of change. This was defined first in the 1970s by two academics who recognised that students are one of the demographic groups which experience this. The problems associated with imposter phenomenon mean that it may limit you from recognising your full potential and abilities, both in the working environment and in social settings. The imposter phenomenon can manifest itself during university: it may mean you are less confident to speak up in a tutorial, or shy away from applying for internships that you may actually be perfect for.

The workshop gave the audience the chance to challenge their own thoughts about the imposter phenomenon. Causes of the phenomenon can stem from being hypercritical of your own talents or having hyper critical, or even hyper supportive parents which may mean there is less resilience to criticism and failure during life: both extremes are negative. Often people think their achievements are because ‘I got lucky’ when actually you deserve your success, having applied your knowledge skills and abilities. Throughout your life you must be able to recognise your own success, and commonly women will tend to externalise their successes and believe the cause was down to external circumstances rather than their own doing.

Kate then shared her own experience of the imposter phenomenon throughout her life. She attended a Secondary Modern school and didn’t attend university, however she then completed a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology in her 40s where her research into the imposter phenomenon began. This was a huge success; but she says that she still experiences negative feelings surrounding her academic ability, especially as she is now undertaking a PhD to discover more about the phenomenon. This learning process has been the starting point for her challenging her own imposter feelings.

Through her research she realised that people wanted to combat imposter syndrome in new scenarios, to encourage themselves to try new challenges and to feel positive about opportunities, especially when they weren’t entering from a traditional route such as having an undergraduate degree. Additionally, there’s an academic paper that says 70% of people will experience this phenomenon in their lifetime and certain situations can exacerbate it. However, it is important to have an accurate sense of self, and not an inflated belief known as ‘Dunning Kruger effect’.

Kate asked audience members to talk about when they’ve experienced the imposter phenomenon as it is always much easier to talk about it when encouraged. The workshop encouraged others to talk about their own experiences and start the conversation. Everyone agrees that self-doubt is a normal part of doing new things for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd time when you don’t have a track record of success and can therefore feel less confident, but it is when you have previously been successful but still do not believe in your own ability that imposter phenomenon sets in. Additionally, often the more success you have, the more of an imposter you feel as stretching outside your comfort zone can be uncomfortable and triggers the imposter phenomenon.

Kate’s advice for dealing with Imposter Phenomenon included collecting positive feedback to make sure that you recognise your own ability, to help combat the spiral of negativity and remember positive scenarios more easily. If you receive good feedback, explain to yourself why you got this and which skills you used to achieve success. You can then develop saying this out loud and using your unique competencies for internship applications and job interviews.

Ultimately in the modern world, the perfection problem can create many issues and feelings of failure. We can’t expect to be 100%, all the time, and the stress of striving for perfect results can be paralysing and contribute to the imposter phenomenon. We should aim for the optimal result rather than the perfect one and be flexible in the face of challenges rather than see these as failures. A useful way of thinking is to apply the 80% rule – do 80% of what you ultimately can do and balance this goal with the rest of your life, especially if there are other competing tasks. Of course, put your best effort into your work, but also don’t be too critical of yourself if every small task isn’t above and beyond: doing what is needed at the point in time is completely acceptable and necessary.

‘You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both’ – Brene Brown.

This quote exemplifies how we should approach the imposter phenomenon: ultimately, new experiences will bring feelings of self-doubt, but you must stretch yourself and experience new things. Be courageous – it may mean feelings of being an imposter – but it will ultimately benefit you and your life.

Many thanks to Kate Atkin – we all left feeling more confident in ourselves.

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