Feeling you'll be discovered as a fraud at work
During my many years suffering silently in an executive world, working ridiculously long hours, spending the majority of my life in pointless meetings, or sat eating tasteless pre-packed sandwiches and waiting for delayed planes, I always had an overwhelming fear hanging over me. The fear that at any moment now I was about to be found out, discovered and outed as a fraud. Everyone was going to realise I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Emails would be whizzing around distribution lists of everyone I ever knew, informing them of the news that I was a fake, a fraud, flying by the seat of my pants every day.
The worst time for this was before, during and after I was going to be taking holiday from work. Beforehand I’d be panicking that I didn’t leave lots of work outstanding in case someone discovered I was behind (even though I wasn’t). On the other hand I’d panic about leaving no work for someone else to do, as they’d then discover I didn’t have enough work to do (which of course I did). Then during the holiday there’d be those flashes. The flashes where you think ‘it’s 1.30pm on a Tuesday. I’d normally be at the senior leadership team meeting right now’. Then I’d start feeling anxious knowing that whilst I was sitting on my sunbed watching the world go by, they’d all be sat there with their note pads. Would they be talking about my projects? Would something have gone wrong? Would one of my team have been moaning about something I haven’t done? I’d then check Facebook to see if any of them had been online or said anything cryptic, confirming my worst fears. Maybe they’d all been told to not go on Facebook as they didn’t want me to get wind of the fact I was in deep trouble when I got back... and breathe.
So if I’d survived this, when due back at work the thoughts kicked in around whether nobody has missed me at all (therefore meaning my job was actually redundant), or alternatively if I’d been discovered to have messed up something so badly that they were waiting to tear a strip off me as I entered. I’d worry that my virtual boss whom I rarely saw, would be sat waiting for me on arrival to give me the news.
Of course as I tentatively entered each time the usual suspects would say hi and largely not know I’d been gone. My peers would be more interested in whether I’d brought a bag of airport sweets back.
Was this a huge relief, or grave concern about my state of mind? I never knew until I started training and working as a therapist. I was however staggered to realise nearly every single client would splutter out this same fear, almost verbatim to my own experience.
Turns out we’re not alone here and it is something many of us have become pre-programmed to deeply fear. "Imposter syndrome" as it’s known affects many of us who on one level know we are competent, hardworking people doing a good job, yet on another level are all consumed by this belief we are not worthy of our success or achievements. Despite being recognised and our performance being good enough, we remain convinced this continued success is due only to luck, timing or pure deception.
You may recognise some of the typical traits of sufferers such as feeling compelled to be able to answer any question a superior asks them so as not to appear incompetent or out of touch, working twice as hard as expected so nobody thinks they are lazy or perhaps fussing over small details to ensure nobody finds a flaw in their work.
This syndrome is recognised more as a way of behaving or operating than being labelled as a ‘condition’, though it typically may be more prevalent in those of specific personality type. In my experience those who are already suffering from stress and anxiety seem more likely to suffer with this. The good news is this can be managed and improved through a number of techniques that a reputable counsellor, therapist or coach can support with.
For the record, I still have to share a piece of my subconscious mind with this syndrome despite changing key elements in my life, but at last I can recognise it and have learned how to stick it right back firmly in its place, alongside the drawer I have filled with obsolete adapters and cables!