But like… “Am I Enough”? – The Weight of Imposter SyndromeMay 17, 2023
It’s not uncommon that people experience feelings of anxiety when starting a new job or breaking into a new industry. When receiving a new assignment or project, you may ask yourself things like, “I aced my classes in biostatistics, but do I have the knowledge base to successfully manage this analysis”, “why’d they choose me when that person has more years of experience”, “I have a background in epidemiological sciences, and I’m confident in that area, but why are they having me manage this project”? “AM I ENOUGH?”.
Sometimes we can’t see alignment in what we’ve done and what we’re being asked to do. When these anxious thoughts creep into our minds despite our achievements they can affect performance and relationships. This is called Imposter Syndrome, and it can be heavy sometimes!
Imposter syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and experiencing success internally, despite being high performing in external, objective ways. Basically, this condition often results in people feeling like “a fraud” or “a phony” and doubting their abilities.
HOLD UP! The logical person on the outside (friends, family members, or even colleagues) would say, but… you’ve got the degree, done the work, secured the job, and are receiving high praise for it… obviously the hiring manager must trust your abilities? You’re clearly competent. While these are often true, we sometimes can’t quite shake that weighted feeling of not being enough.
STORY TIME ☺
In the last blog I wrote, I shared that my undergraduate background is in international business management with a pre law track and minor in Spanish. My love for working with kids and making sure they have healthy environments to grow up in was just a passion unrelated to my education – but it piqued my curiosity for public health. When I decided to transition, I thought to myself, “what am I doing”? I don't know much of anything about health sciences, but I was passionate enough about getting into the global space to work for children.
After working abroad in Japan for some time under the Japanese government as a teacher, I came back to the states and began searching for the MOST BASIC PUBLIC HEALTH JOB I COULD GET MY HANDS ON. I landed at the Task Force for Global Health as a Program Assistant supporting a portfolio on field epidemiology and capacity building for Zika across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Then came the anxiety of “will I be able to handle science related tasks”, “I don't know anything about public health, how can I be effective”?
What I didn't realize at the time was luckily, the field of public health is so multidisciplinary, that my employer wanted someone who had project management skills and could speak Spanish, more so than science. Eureka! I felt like I fit in, and the anxiety related to competency died down a bit. Then, imposter syndrome reared its ugly head in other ways. I would often find myself being a perfectionist and feeling the need to overachieve because I was one of the only team members without a science background and the youngest. I would fear not meeting my Project Manager’s expectations despite her telling me multiple times that I was doing amazingly. At times, I would attribute my success to another team member, even if they didn't do anything!
The Imposter Syndrome’s Many Forms
These are just some of the many signs of types of imposter syndromes and I’m here to tell you to NOT DOUBT YOURSELF! Dr. Valerie Young, co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, categorized people who experience imposter syndrome into five main groups. Have a look and see where you may find yourself at times:
- The perfectionist
- Typically sets really high expectations for themselves and even if they meet 99% of those goals, a small loss will feel like a large failure
- The natural genius
- Has been the top of the class for a long time but as they grow, they are bound to encounter scenarios where achievement doesn't come as second nature. This person tends to feel that the struggle to meet their goals is a sign of incompetence and not being “good enough”
- The rugged individualist
- Likely struggles to ask for help and only feels success when they’ve achieved it on their own. When asking for help, this person feels that the need for assistance shows that their own skillset is lacking in some ways
- The Expert
- They must be an expert at something before they can go for it. This can sometimes hold people back from applying for jobs if they don't meet all the criteria in the description or prevent them from speaking up because they’re afraid that the answer won’t be perfectly informed.
- The Superhero
- Pushes themselves to work harder than everyone around them to prove themselves. Their expectations for themselves are higher than others to prove worthiness or cover up feelings of being an imposter but can often lead to burnout
If you’d like to see what Dr. Young suggests for the 5 types she describes, visit this website for more info on what may help.
When I broke into public health and was job hunting, I felt like Imposter #4 – where I had to fit ALL the requirements before I could apply.
- I encourage you to let that go and realize that your experiences are valuable. Zoila from Public Health Hired, explains how your experience doesn't only equate to working experience. Check out her tips and advice in that area.
While rising through the ranks from a Program Assistant to Project Coordinator and finally to Associate Director for Programs, I’d often feel like Imposter #1 – where if I failed at one thing, I would beat myself up so hard despite being high achieving across all those positions which led to promotions!
- I encourage you to applaud yourself for big and small accomplishments because they’re ALL accomplishments that stack up and make your overall experience.
Even today, as a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I often feel like Imposter #5 – where I must continue to prove myself as a contractor around my fellow colleagues who are FTEs (full time employees). I feel as though if I don't continue to overachieve, I risk not being re-contracted.
- If you feel this way, remember! By simply completing your tasks with a degree of excellence and timeliness, you are proving yourself! While going above and beyond can be great at times, it’s not necessary all the time!
Where are you now, Adam?
Since realizing where I struggle as it relates to imposter syndrome, I’ve tried my best to do the following:
- Be okay with learning on-the-go and recognize that I’m capable of doing some things on the fly and improvising so that tasks can be completed in a shorter time frame. Admitting that I’m not an expert on everything.
- Learn to accept my mistakes and take feedback openly! My failures along my career path have made me into the public health professional I am today. Being a student of the sport is so powerful and makes you a pro.
- Try to resist gauging my self-worth as a professional from external sources. My undergraduate education is enough, my masters studies are enough, my experiences are enough, and my skills are enough and will continue to sharpen over time.
I’ve settled into the public health field and try every day to shake off the anxieties of imposter syndrome. Now I’m on my way to a Doctor of Public Health with a unique background comprised of international business management, global public health program development, and health policy with one of our nation’s top public health agencies.
While doing the internal work is necessary to not let imposter syndrome build mountains of doubt in you, improving your skills, expanding your education, and landing the job that you’re interested in can help. Check out our Instagram @publichealthhired for plenty of job openings that are waiting for you to take that step! Remember to go for what you’re interested in and not let Imposter #4 – the Expert stop you!
Public Health Hired Contributor: Adam is an alumnus of the Georgia State University with a background in health policy and work experience in global health. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with Ministries of Health, National Institutes of Health, and other public health agencies in over 20 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, sub saharan Africa, and insular areas in the Pacific on public health program delivery and capacity building. He is currently working as a contract Public Health Analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focused on policy analysis and partnerships to improve our nation's heart health and increase health equity. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn!
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