The familiar phenomenon called impostor syndrome occurs when you believe that you’re inadequate and a failure in the face of evidence that you’re skilled and quite successful. At least 70% of people experience this feeling at some point.
What you fear is an indication of what you seek.
I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
If any of these feel familiar, you’ve experienced this syndrome:
- I have to be completely prepared for each client, or she will find out I don’t know what I am doing.
- If I tell a client I don’t know the answer to a question, he will know I am new here and am not really qualified.
- When I get more certifications or degrees then I will really feel competent.
- I should be able to figure this all out by myself.
- I have to work harder/longer hours than everyone else to even be considered as capable as others.
- If I don’t do a good job the first time I try something, then that means I just don’t have what it takes and I never will.
- I can’t ask for help because then my supervisor or colleagues will find out I don’t know what I am doing (or that I am unqualified).
- I’m not a “real dietitian” because….
- I won’t try for a new job because I don’t know everything I need to know to do it well.
The next time your inner critic calls you an impostor, smile with recognition. Likely, it has good intentions and believes it’s helping you out. Take a look around for evidence that you are adequately trained and doing a satisfactory job. What degrees and certifications do you have? Take a look at your recent performance evaluations. Think of the last client who thanked you for your help. If this reality check does not calm your critic, ask it what its concern is or what it hopes to do by bringing up these thoughts.
Perhaps it is signaling that you are uncomfortable because you are still learning. This is normal discomfort. Your inner critic may be attempting to keep you completely away from that feeling. Remember that you tolerated this discomfort when in school or on internship. After being in practice for a while, you may find it more of challenge to stay in the awkward place of trying out new things, proceeding even when you are not yet confident. Leaning into learning curves throughout your career is how you move forward. You can remind your critic that this is what you are doing.
It may be useful to remind your critic that asking for help is wise. When you don’t know how to do something or where to find the resources you need, ask a colleague or seek out a mentor. Many of us avoid using mentors because it may mean telling them about mistakes and struggles. Remind yourself that the point of mentorship is to improve what you do and that acknowledging where your deficits are is an important first step. Clients respect us when we admit the limits of our knowledge and then get back to them with an answer.
Taking further training and going for certifications is a natural way to progress in skill and effectiveness. Sometimes a very cautious part of us uses this as a way to avoid putting yourself into new situations. If you find yourself waiting to move forward in your career until you have all the possible certifications, talk with colleagues about what certifications are truly essential and what can wait a bit as you get more on-the-ground experience.
Finally, we all experience ebbs and flows in our confidence. In the less confident moments, remind yourself of the times that you have been on the upswing and that it’s OK to coast until you get there again.