In this episode, Daphne explains how Impostor Syndrome has affected her career, how it might affect a transitioning teacher, and the many forms it takes.
Daphne shares how she has faced Impostor Syndrome in her own work life
I have struggled with Impostor Syndrome throughout many stages of my life, especially when it comes to my careers. It might surprise you if this is the first time you’ve heard me talking about it, to learn that I get really nervous, and I’m just scared of failure or that I’m not fitting in at times, but that is something that I struggle with and many people that you probably admire, struggle with as well. I really at times did not believe that I was good enough to land the roles that I got outside of the classroom. I remember feeling lucky and I felt like they could be taken away from me at any moment.
There’s a past episode where I interview Mallory Mack, Episode 28, and this was one of my first colleagues who’s a former teacher, who we really bonded in our first roles out outside of the classroom together. And I used to send her these text messages that was like, “Am I doing a good enough job? Do you think that I could get fired?” And there was another former colleague or former teacher colleague of mine as well, I was sending these messages to, and they were just saying, “You are doing a great job. You’re not going to get fired from this role.” But it was really hard for me to process due to trauma and low career self-esteem and how the last school year really treated me.
When I pivoted to instructional design or when I pivoted to being a full-time business owner when I’m in front of journalists or speaking in front of large audiences, Impostor Syndrome comes up time and time again. But the difference is now I have taught myself to live this life where I do not shut doors on opportunities based on my own fears.
And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today, is how to battle Impostor Syndrome in your new career outside of the classroom. So this is going to be an episode that’s really great for former teachers in their new roles. If you are a current teacher, some of these strategies can help you in your transition as well. But I’ll use a lot of examples from former teachers for this specific episode. What we’re going to talk about is what is Impostor Syndrome, how it shows up in our new careers and strategies to help you overcome it. And I’ve actually brought in advice from some of the former teachers from the Teacher career coach course. So make sure to listen to This Entire Episode, which shouldn’t be too hard because I am making this a shorter than usual episode just to try out some different episode times.
Daphne explains Impostor Syndrome and how it might affect a transitioning teacher
So what is Impostor Syndrome? Well, the term impostor phenomenon was first introduced in 1978 and it was introduced by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and it was mostly focused on studying high achieving women who experienced persistent self-doubt despite all of their many accomplishments. They found that people, especially women in this study, were attributing their success to external factors like luck, timing, were tricking people, deceiving others rather than acknowledging that it took hard work and effort and strength and intelligence to do it. So they noted that these individuals lived in fear of being found out as frauds and as the research and everyone’s understanding of Impostor Syndrome expanded, it became clear that it affected both men and women across various fields and professions. And it just is pretty consistent with these feelings of inadequacy and not being good enough despite evidence of your competence.
And the reason why we’re talking about this is many people who get that first role outside of the classroom feel like it’s luck. Like they don’t deserve it, like they don’t deserve to be there. They don’t deserve to speak at meetings, and that if they do begin to speak at meetings, everyone’s going to figure out that they’re not qualified enough and immediately they’re going to get let go in the first month. But the ultimate truth is a hiring manager looked at all these different resumes and you were the person that they hired. So there is objective evidence of your competence. Someone chose you and trusted you for that position. This can show up as just like that voice in your head that you’re not good enough.
And if you’re still in a career transition, it might be that voice that’s telling you even if you’re listening to this podcast and someone has the exact same career experience that you had and landed this new role, that something about them made them more special than you and it’s impossible for you. That you’re not as good as they are, or if you are reading a job description and it’s a job that other former teachers are landing and you are talking yourself out of applying over and over again because you just don’t feel good enough for the job.
And there is always this level of, yeah, it might take a few weeks of really reflecting, to figure out what’s the right job for you. It might take a month of upskilling and learning these skills to stand out if it’s a competitive type of job, but I’m talking more about those people who write it off as a forever. This is never something that I’m going to feel qualified for and this is never something that I should even begin to work towards because I’ll never be good enough for that. And objectively, that’s just not true. Impostor Syndrome is not rooted in an actual deficiency. It just pops up when you don’t feel like you’re an expert in something and when you change careers, you’re not going to ultimately be an expert in something. That’s just what happens.
It also might come up when you don’t feel like you fit in. So if you go somewhere and you are the only former teacher on the team or you’re the only woman on the team, it’s normal to feel like you don’t fit in when you don’t. When you are a little bit different. And that’s a lot of what is feeding this Impostor Syndrome inside of us.
Daphne break down the five forms of Impostor Syndrome
Now, there’s a couple of ways that Impostor Syndrome comes out and I’ll go through them. And this is also something that we have on the blog. So if you look at our show notes for this episode, we’ll have a blog article that we’ll list as well, but there’s the Perfectionist Impostor.
So the Perfectionist Impostor just feels like your work is never good enough if it is not 100% perfect and this is not achievable. So even if you’re really successful, if you’re always looking to be perfect 100% of the time, success is rarely going to be satisfying for you because you’re always thinking of the one mistake that you made in a series of successes or you’re always thinking of what you could have done to be even better. And so many perfectionists also struggle to even perform because they don’t want to share anything unless it’s 100% perfect.
The next one is the Expert. So the Expert Impostor is someone who really measures their competence based on how much they know. And once again, when you’re a career pivoter, that’s going to be challenging because you’re going in with a lower level of understanding of the career that you just came out of. Even if you took a few courses, the second you get in this new role, you’re going to find out that there’s so much to learn about and this is totally normal and we have a strategy just for this in the next segment. But just know that there’s no way to be an expert on all the different things. There’s always going to be more to learn.
There’s also the Superman or Superwoman Impostor, and that’s someone who feels like they can’t ask for help and usually kind of shows up as being a workaholic as well. So not being able to take a lot of downtime or maybe staying late at work, feeling like rest and not being productive makes them less worthy of respect or praise.
The next type is Natural Genius. So these are people who judge their own ability to succeed based on how quickly they pick something up. So I struggle with many of these different types of impostor syndromes, but I was a gifted and talented student and things just came really naturally easy to me while I was a student. And then once I started to become a teacher or get into some of these other positions, I found myself having these really huge big emotions. Anytime something would pop up that would be outside of my comfort zone, that would take me longer than expected, than I expected to learn it, made me spiral and made me feel completely worthless.
And lastly, there’s the Soloist who just is afraid to ask for help or let anyone know that they need help because they feel like they’re going to be found out as not being as capable as they seemed when they got the job.
Most of these Impostor Syndrome patterns lead us to these big black and white thought distortions. So if you’re not amazing, if you’re not perfect, you absolutely suck. You are the worst. There is no in between phase. You’re just bouncing back and forth between those two realities and to feel worthy, we make ourselves have to do all of these things. Let’s just call it X, Y, Z. We have to have the perfect career. We have to be strong when we have that perfect career. We have to have confidence through every step of it. Our appearance, our looks may be part of that, and we have to have a certain level of success, maybe financial success in order for us to feel worthy. If all of those things don’t happen, then our inner critic, our inner voice, is telling the truth, we suck. We’re not amazing.
Daphne discusses how low self esteem plays into Impostor Syndrome
A lot of this comes from the need for external validation because that’s how society measures success as well. And everybody struggles with those types of feelings and it’s becoming more and more normal for people to push back against this and start to find happiness without having to have all these unrealistic standards. But our need for external validation can sometimes come from trauma that happened to us when we were young. So children who assumed parental roles and responsibilities at a really young age are more susceptible to impostor syndrome, especially children who didn’t really have a strong and secure bond with their parents. A good book to dive into if this is describing something that happened to you as a child is adult children of Emotionally Immature Parents. I think a lot of this can also come from our experience and education, at least in my own personal experience.
I got really low career self-esteem and really low self-worth based on how other people were talking about me and treating me when I was a teacher. And on top of that, if teaching is making your anxiety or depression show up, anxiety and depression often feed our feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and low self-worth. Lastly, another reason why this may come up is it’s just really hard to know that we are not in control of our own pain and discomfort. We’re putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone. And the reason why impostor syndrome shows up is because we’re new at something. And so we will do pretty much as much as humanly possible to avoid any unexpected rejection or criticism, even if our own choice to stay stagnant hurts us in the long run. We want to be in control of our own pain and our own discomfort, and we hate not knowing what’s going to happen next. That’s just human nature and our brains trying to protect ourselves from harm, even if sometimes it is doing harm to us in the long-term to do so.
Daphne shares strategies for how to overcome Impostor Syndrome
So now that we understand Impostor Syndrome, I’ll start to focus more on the strategies for overcoming it and helping you build confidence in your new career. Now, a lot of these suggestions are coming from a variety of different places, so I’ve done a lot of research on it. I’ve worked with a therapist about overcoming it myself.
And then a lot of really great suggestions were coming from the Teacher Career Coach Course Community because they’re former teachers in a variety of roles who have come in and given advice to other former teachers when they’re new in their role, in their first 30 days, or for teachers who are struggling with impostor syndrome when it comes to applying for specific roles. Some of the former teachers who have given advice are in roles like UX researcher, project management, there were corporate trainers, instructional designers, and a variety of other former teachers who gave some of the insight that I’m going to be using in this part of the podcast.
Overall, just cultivating self-awareness and self-compassion is key to beating your Impostor Syndrome. And sometimes that might be as simple as starting to write down what is the fear and the Impostor Syndrome telling you? What is the voice really telling you? before you even start to spiral, getting it out on a piece of paper and really pulling it apart? What is it telling you is important to you? Is it telling you that you need to research a little bit more about that subject before you give that presentation, is it telling you that you might want to look up how to have a really hard conversation with your manager? What is it that is coming up and what is the inner critic telling you that you’re not capable of? And how can you debate that inner critic? How can you prove to that inner critic that it’s wrong and that it’s okay for you to be new at something and to move forward without being an expert?
Another strategy is just to acknowledge your strengths and your accomplishments. Remind yourself that you did a lot of amazing things in your life and you deserve to be right where you are. So one former teacher in the Teacher Career Coach Course community said that a friend of theirs said, instead of saying, “I’m not good enough,” instead, tell yourself “My inner critic is being really loud today.” Name and recognize it.
Another strategy is using affirmation and it feels so cheesy, but writing these types of sentences down on a post-it note where you can see them and remind yourself to say them over and over again until they feel true: I am worthy of success. I am a X, whatever your career title is, I am a customer success manager. I am a project manager, not I’m learning to be a project manager. I am a project manager. I was chosen for this position because I was the best person for it. I’m surrounded by supportive people who believe in me. Other people who are around this table also feel this way.
Anything that you feel like you are new at or you don’t know how to do, frame it in your mind as something that you’re excited and eager to learn. Write it down. It doesn’t have to be your inner critic telling you that you’re terrible at X, Y, Z. Make it something that you’re excited about. I’m excited to learn about X. That’s something that’s totally new to me, and write it down and give yourself some time and grace at learning that thing.
When it comes to recognizing your accomplishments, it can be hard to pat yourself on the back and realize all the really great things that you’ve done in your career. If you have colleagues that you trust and feel really close with, you can ask them, “Hey, what is it that I really excelled at?” Ask your loved ones. Some of the people who are closest to you, what are your personality traits that impress them? And it feels so hard to take these compliments if you have a really loud inner critic, but this can be really powerful because you can take this and start to write it down and use it as an affirmation as well. “I am a natural leader. I am excellent at creative writing, and that’s going to help me excel in my career. I am really great when it comes to analytical thinking and people are impressed by my ability to learn complex information quickly.I’m going to do great here.”
Writing those things down and remembering them when you start to feel really low. You can also start a folder on your desktop. It could be called your Accomplishments Brags or whatever you want to name that folder. But when you get positive feedback or a compliment, just screenshot it and put it in that folder. You can also do this in your email inbox, and any time you need a confident boost or something to put on your resume, you can open it up and read them.
One former teacher in our community gave some of the best advice that they got onboarding in their new position, and it was basically, when you’re starting a new job, do not evaluate or self-evaluate yourself for at least three months. Let everything sink in while your mind and your feelings go haywire and just keep at it. Whatever they’re asking you to do, do. But don’t worry about getting 10 steps ahead of the process. And in three months time, you’ll see the progress that you’ve made and you’ll have saved yourself months of spinning thoughts and self-criticism and doubt about the role that you’re in.
This could have helped me from all of those text messages that I sent over and over again. Am I doing a good enough job? Because no one else was giving me an evaluation at that time. I was just self-evaluating and spiraling and making myself more stressed out than I really needed to be. So making sure you’re setting realistic expectations and celebrating those small wins along the way: oh, I finished that course that my new manager asked me to do, or I ended up reaching out to X amount of clients within a certain timeframe, and that was something that was completely new to me. You can set your own personal 30 day, 60 day, and 90 day goals at your work if you already have kind of a benchmark of what is realistic for you to accomplish during those times. And then just kind of check in with yourself on how you’re actually progressing through it.
Daphne explains why mentorship and professional help are great resources for Impostor Syndrome
One of the best pieces of advice would be for seeking mentorship and just building a support network at your new role. So surround yourself with your coworkers who are really supportive and can also provide guidance and potentially demonstrate new skills or answer questions that you have. So if they sit you next to someone else who’s working in the exact same position, that can be really helpful. Or if you just ask for a 15 minute check in with your manager once a week, if you’re working remotely and you feel like you want some feedback week-by-week, that you know that you’re making the right amount of progress so that you don’t worry about it, if you’re not getting as much feedback as you’d like.
Now, the next strategy is probably good for everyone, but it might be time to limit your social media. Get off LinkedIn, get off Instagram. Everyone is posting a highlight reel, and let’s go back to what we need in order to feel worthy for external validation. It’s our careers, our strength, our confidence, our appearance, all of that is how we measure success. And so that is what everybody else is usually posting about, and it can make us feel lesser than, when we start to see post after post about, oh, this is the promotion I got, or this is how much money I made in X amount of time, or these AI generated selfies that are not even real human beings anymore, but looks like someone’s headshot that people are starting to share on LinkedIn in order to look really successful and really polished. This is not everyone’s true story, but if it is starting to really get in your head that you are lesser than, it might be time to take a social media break for 30 days or 60 days or 90 days or indefinitely.
I also recommend that you seek out professional help if this is something that you are really struggling with, and especially if you have never worked with a therapist before. It’s one of my number one recommendations if you do have the means to do so. And last, I have not read this book, but a book that was recommended multiple times throughout my research is the book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive and Spite of It by Valerie Young.
So to wrap up this episode, if you are feeling Impostor Syndrome, that is not an indicator that you are not doing a good job. People feel like impostors even decades into their career, and especially people who let their inner critic, talk to them loud over and over and over again without ever pushing back on that inner critic. We’re starting to evaluate where that inner critic is coming from, and this is from one of my LinkedIn posts where I talked about all the times that I struggled with Impostor Syndrome in my career transition.
But the end of it is something that I wanted to share at the end of this podcast, which is you deserve and are worthy of every good thing that is coming your way. You are smart and capable of doing anything that you put your mind to. So don’t let negative self-talk make decisions about your future for you. Opening yourself up to the ability to fail, to not know what’s going to happen in the future is truly how you will become a confident and happy and successful person.
Mentioned in the episode:
- Episode 28 of the Teacher Career Coach Podcast: Mallory Mack: From Teacher to Senior Government Account Manager
- Former Teacher Newsletter: teachercareercoach.com/formerteachernewsletter
- Our career path quiz at teachercareercoach.com/quiz
- Explore the course that has helped thousands of teachers successfully transition out of the classroom and into new careers: The Teacher Career Coach Course