Just throwing it out here…. this post is a little vulnerable. However, everyone who reads these has been so kind and encouraging. I hope the same will hold true for this.
Months. That’s how long I have had this post in my content plan. And the same thing keeps happening. It’s the week to write it, and I push it out a few weeks. I’ve decided to not do that this time. I’m going to lean in and tell you about a struggle I face.
Why you ask? I suspect other people probably feel the same way. The more we talk about our own mental health struggles and the challenges we face, the better environments we create. The better leaders we are.
So, here goes: I have imposter syndrome about my work in marketing.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
It is a term that I have heard about for quite some time. There are several different definitions that exist. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the definition from Szechwan.
When I was first tapped to lead a marketing team at Arkansas Tech, I struggled with this heavily. At that time, much of my knowledge was OJT (on the job training). I knew my stuff, and others thought I did as well. However, I struggled with was I good enough to lead. And did I know enough to be successful.
I have always looked at imposter syndrome as more of a blanket experience. However, Murphy breaks down imposter syndrome into 5 key types:
- The Expert – This is the person who everyone looks to for the answers. If this is you, you probably feel extreme pressure when you don’t have all the answers.
- The Super Human – This is the person who is the overachiever and works really, really hard. If this is you, you probably work so hard to compensate for feeling like you’re not doing enough.
- The Perfectionist – This is the person who wants every just right. If this is you, you probably tend to focus more on the misses you had rather than the moments something went well.
- The Soloist – This is the person who has a hard time asking for help and carries their burden in silence. If this is you, raising your hand to for assistance is incredibly scary and something you rarely do.
- The Natural Genius – This is the person who wants to understand a topic completely and can become frustrated when they don’t. If this is you, you may become frustrated and avoid situations where your lack of knowledge could be exposed.
You can read more about each of these from this blog post. It’s a great read because it also offers tips and strategies to help keep the imposter syndrome in balance. I can say — I see a bit of me in all of the above.
Who Has It?
Szuchman indicated his belief that it was more likely to occur in women who were high-achievers. However, I tend to disagree.
I think it is much more prevalent than previously recognized. As the world becomes more comfortable talking about mental health, I think more people are beginning to become comfortable saying they have or do struggle with imposter syndrome.
This latest study suggests the numbers are much higher and that 8 in 10 may face imposter syndrome.
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275.
What Does it Look Like?
Another bit of vulnerability here, this is what imposter syndrome has looked like for me. I share these examples in hopes people can recognize when it’s existed in themselves.
In 2019, my team won the highest award from UCDA for the best in-house print team. I was so excited but found myself thinking how “lucky” we’d gotten.
I kept brushing off the win as luck. Not a talented team and good leadership. It was only when our team won a Grand Gold from CASE for our design work on the enrollment funnel the very next year, did I begin to feel comfortable with owning these awards. My logic was that lightening doesn’t ever strike twice, so I could be okay with we were that good. I find it sad that it took winning the highest honor from two national organizations for me to feel like I was “good” at my job and it was more than “just luck.” I’m still working on it but am getting better at this one.
Like so many others, the world shut down in 2020. Our team was trying to think of a way to support our graduating students. Another member of the team came up with an amazing idea. AH-MAZ-ING. I realized how good it was, and I suggested that she run point on the video concept and the idea. She blocked it out. Wrote the script. And led during production day. I suggested it. But didn’t fully feel comfortable with it.
I focused my efforts on getting the needed supplies, getting the approvals to be on campus, and making sure we had food and snacks to keep us going. I told my husband that I felt like I had “failed” because I didn’t lead on that project. I didn’t have the best idea. It took him putting it in perspective that I recognized the best idea and empowered my team to run with it. Just because it wasn’t my idea and me leading that project, didn’t make me a bad leader. In fact, he argued the fact I stepped away probably made me a better one.
By the way — here’s that great idea. It’s definitely worth a watch:
How Do you Cope?
I don’t have all the answers here. For me, I am trying to start talking about it more. My hope is that talking will help normalize this as something many of us face. Then, maybe it can be part of open communication.
I talked about it my “context of the researcher” section for my dissertation and also when in a recent podcast with my friends at The Slate Group. In both instances, people were surprised to learn this was something I struggled with.
The surprise that folks experience really inspired me to be brave and bold and tell the world in this blog. Thanks for listening. Thanks for letting me own this. And most of all, if you struggle with this too, know you’re not alone.