If there’s one thing that raises its ugly head from time to time, and threatens to undermine all freelancers, it’s imposter syndrome. I don’t know a single freelancer who hasn’t been hit with it at some point.
It starts off as a niggle … ‘oh, I do that differently to Freelancers R Us.’
Then, despite the shoulder shrug and the acceptance that we all do things in a different way, the little niggle turns into a monster that runs off to hide in the corner.
Within a few days the little monster wants feeding again … ‘Oh, hell, am I doing this right?’ (Yum, he likes that … back to the corner a little fatter and more satisfied).
By the end of the week he’s sitting by your side as you work, he’s stroking your shoulder and feeding off your fear … ‘Oh, I’m rubbish, no-one will want to hire me ever again, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a fraud.’
It’s about time we all understood the genesis of this particular type of monster, and learned how to crush him.
The Imposter Monster seems to prefer a solitary environment and he also seems to prefer women (are men naturally more confident?) although he will attack both genders and will creep into a busy office if it takes his fancy. If you work on your own, and have no-one to reassure you, there are steps you can take to avoid monster propagation.
Realise that this monster will attack the vulnerable.
If you feel the first niggle, take stock, understand the situation and realise that the monster is trying to feed. This may be enough to kill the monster dead – accept what it is and let it go.
If the monster does take hold understand this:
- Just because you find something easy, or something comes naturally to you, don’t discount it.
- Remember that not everyone knows what you know and not everyone deals with things the same way.
- You don’t necessarily need the same pathway to a career as everyone else.
- If you think you are a fraud, most other people you know think the same thing about themselves.
To keep the monster at bay realise your self-worth. It is not a dirty word.
- Print out and keep emails that praise your work, or even just say thank you for a job well done. Pin them to your board, keep them in a jar, put them in a folder. Imposter syndrome thrives on the lack of outside validation – keep these positive messages and believe them. You didn’t ask for them to be written did you?
- If you did ask for testimonials, believe them … those clients would not react favourably to a job badly done.
- When you have good days keep a note, put them in a jar and go back to them when you feel the monster growing beside you.
- Talk to someone. If the monster has grown huge and won’t let you go, take a realistic view of your work. If you really feel a fraud ask someone you can trust for an honest opinion.
- Keep a book of training, accomplishments and successes. Prove to yourself that you are not a fraud. Be a Vulcan, leave emotion behind and concentrate on the cold, hard facts of your working life.
- Laugh it off. If it gets bad, take the day off if you can, do something fun and remove the stress for a short while. Stress to the Imposter Monster is like a fine dining experience.
Kill the monster. By believing in yourself, and understanding the nature of the beast, you may eventually kill it. If you do you are one of the lucky ones.
So … realise, take stock and understand the problem to keep the monster at bay, then kill it. Imposter syndrome can be a career killer, it’s about time this monster was vanquished.
(For the record, I haven’t killed my monster yet, it’s right beside me as I type this … I may feed it in a minute).