What is imposter syndrome?
Although I’ve never been full of self confidence, I had never really experienced this feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ until last week.
One of my goals for 2020 is to become more familiar with the IELTS exams and to also gain more experience in teaching preparation classes.
Luckily that came to me in my first teaching post of the year as I was asked to cover 3 lessons for an IELTS teacher who had, unfortunately, damaged her back.
Of course I said yes and I was really grateful for the opportunity. So I spent a few hours going through the materials, matching activities with specific study skills (Reading: skim / scanning, highlighting key words, Writing: planning point of views, paraphrasing the question, word counters and so on…)
I was confident in the material I was teaching and felt as though I built up a good rapport quite quickly. However, I could not shake the feeling that the students knew I was new to the whole IELTS thing.
That feeling crept under my skin and would not budge because during the afternoon class I completely messed up. My lesson plan went as follows:
“Hey guys, how are you? I’m you’re cover teacher today etcetc…”
“First of all can we introduce ourselves…”
“Now I would like you to describe your favourite city. Why do you like it, what’s special about it…?”
“Okay great, so now we’re going to do a practice IELTS reading paper. The first section you’re just going to start on your own, then we will discuss it in 25 minutes. Do you have any questions?”
AAARRRGGHHHHHH CLAIRE WHAT ON EARTH WERE YOU THINKING??????
I’m not even exaggerating.
So, what happened?
I asked them to describe their favourite city because it was relevant to part of the text, however someone asked a question which distracted the entire class and I then forgot to come back to it. So we didn’t even discuss the cities as a class.
The second part, where they just started working on the practice paper was supposed to have an introduction which involved brainstorming and discuss skills and techniques for the reading section.
So, why didn’t we?
I panicked. Again.
It was at this point, as the students were reading and working on their test, that I realised I felt extremely inadequate, and stupid.
Imposter syndrome really hits us when we’re lacking in confidence and self-belief. It can hit us when we’re doing something new and we don’t feel as if we should have been given the chance to do so.
However, imposter syndrome can also strike high-achievers who deserve their success, such as my super-successful friend.
Her take on feeling like an imposter is…
I feel it ALL the time. When I’m teaching, blogging or giving advice.
…which given how talented, intelligent and successful she is does seem bizarre to me, but proves it can affect anyone.
Gill talks about Imposter Syndrome back in 2008, which only highlights that even though the term is used far more frequently these days, it really isn’t something new within our societies.
One of her points that really resonates with me is this:
• Rewrite your mental programmes. Instead of telling yourself they are going to find you out or that you don’t deserve success, remind yourself that it’s normal not to know everything and that you will find out more as you progress.
Because I think this plays a huge part in imposter syndrome. If you’re lacking self confidence and, perhaps, you’re not fully experienced in something, do you feel as if you don’t deserve any success in it?
I do, and that’s such a toxic belief for myself, which will only impact on those around me.
You will never gain experience without being given a chance to teach, manage a project, lead a team, or whatever else you want to do, so it is only normal that during your initial opportunities you may feel like you don’t deserve to be doing it.
However, this is where you need to change your mindset.
You need to tell yourself that you’ve been given an opportunity because you have proven that you’re capable of doing so. You’re allowed to make mistakes, that’s part of being human.
Own your mistakes. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit that you’re new at something, but you don’t have to divulge that information if you don’t want.
A little story:
The first time I taught IELTS, my students knew, and they gave me absolute hell. It was an hour every day, for two weeks, that I absolutely dreaded. The following time I taught it, I didn’t mention my lack of experience and it went far smoother than the initial class.
The third time I taught it I decided to tell the class I wasn’t an IELTS expert and they could not have been more supportive.
So my advice on that matter is to just go with your gut instinct on whether you share your experiences, or lack of, but know that you’re in that position because someone believes you can do it.
More importantly, you should believe you can do it.
So, my suggestions for beating Imposter Syndrome are:
- Believe in yourself
Because if you don’t, who will? Recognise your achievements and experiences and know their worth. You will be able to offer invaluable knowledge and support to people if you believe in yourself, whether it’s about project leadership, solo travelling or social media management.
- Prepare sufficiently for your projects
With lack of experience comes great responsibilities to yourself, and to others. You’ve been given an opportunity to prove you can do something, but it’s the proving part that often scares us.
“How will I prove it?” and “What if I make mistakes?”
If you prepare well, do your research and own your mistakes, your dedication will show. Making mistakes is a normal part of life and does not mean you’re inadequate for a job. Admit it, learn from it and move forward.
- Ask for help from more experienced colleagues
How else are you going to learn? There are many books and a lot of research about most subjects these days, so of course you can do your own studies on something. But, what better way to learn than from someone else who’s already experienced in a field?
For example, with teaching. I always take the opportunity to observe other teachers. The lessons I learn have always proved invaluable; from classroom management to revising vocabulary, using games to encouraging reading.
I’m lucky that my colleagues are extremely experienced and intelligent people who often make time for me when I ask for advice or suggestions. (Shoutout to Martin, Harry and Helene!)
- Do not compare yourself to others
This should be in the rule book of life, if it isn’t already, because the easiest way to increase negativity and self doubt is by comparing yourself to other people, within or out of your field.
With only two and a half years of teaching experience, there are an awful lot more teachers who have more experience than I do.
I find myself guilty of comparison, especially when I am observing, or reading about new teaching roles people have gained. But this year I’m working on being more positive and kinder to myself.
I am unique in myself, but my background is similar to many others, I have no reason to compare my situation because the world affects us all different and we just have to accept it.
- Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to become burnt out in today’s world so you should recognise where you need to improve and see these areas as a positive step forward, for self development and knowledge of your field of work.
Do not beat yourself up over little things. You will improve with time and dedication.
Take a step back from work now and again. You cannot, and will not, know everything there is to know, so don’t stress over it. Make time in the evenings to enjoy a long bath, watch a movie, or read a good book – make time for YOU!
Make sure you’re eating healthily, getting some exercise and sleeping well, otherwise your brain and skin will suffer, which will only make you feel even worse.
- Talk about it
This is a separate point because you don’t have to talk to someone in your field and neither do I mean ‘see a therapist’. I mean, talk about it. Voice your opinions on Twitter (this helped me massively), talk to a friend or your parents. You’ll be surprised at how many people have felt, or are feeling, exactly the way you feel now. Or, if you’re not a big talker, write it down in a dairy / scrap piece of paper. However you do it, make sure you’re voicing your concerns, otherwise it will start to consume your every thought.
I hope this post is helpful to many of you, and if you have any opinions on the piece or would like to share your own experiences of Imposter Syndrome – please feel free to leave a comment or connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.