A lot of the time I feel like a fraud at work. I've recently been promoted and feel out of my depth: I'm often behind on my work and feel like I don't spot problems as quickly as others, or like I'm not able to anticipate things with as much clarity. How do I know if this is objectively true or if I'm just worrying about it too much?
If you have recently been promoted it isn’t surprising that you sometimes feel out of your depth. When we push out of our comfort zone it becomes, well, uncomfortable.
The reasons it is highly unlikely to be objectively true that you are a fraud are many and various but let’s focus on a couple of the big ones.
First, you got the promotion in the first place so someone must have seen something in you that you have lost sight of yourself.
Second, when we lose confidence it starts to become self-fulfilling.
Confirmation bias tells us that when we hold a belief we will move heaven and earth to prove that its true. So, “I am a fraud,” ceases to be a possibility and instead becomes a reality you must confirm.
You begin to notice only the things that go wrong and the parts of the job you can’t do. You become expert at ignoring all of the contrary evidence and so dig yourself into an ever deeper hole.
Here are three things you can do right now to help yourself.
Write down a couple of things that went well in the working day every day. A piece of work completed, some positive feedback, a bit of learning or growth. That will help you to mitigate the inaccurate and subjective feeling that everything is unremittingly bad.
Ask for some feedback. If you think you’re behind where you should be ask your boss. Tell them that you’re having a crisis of confidence and ask them how they feel you’re doing. There’s nothing like the view of someone else to break us free from the negativity vacuum.
Give yourself some timelines. Instead of expecting yourself to know how to do a new job immediately set yourself some more realistic goals. Write them down and review your progress each month.
Finally, be kind and gentle with yourself. It’s hard starting a new job but you made it. Now encourage yourself rather than being so self critical. You have time and you’ll get there.
It’s a common experience to feel “like a fraud”. This may be the phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome; when we feel we are not capable enough to do a job and fear we might get ‘found out’ by our colleagues or managers. Over 70% of professional people have reported experiencing it at one point or another.
But rather than worry, what if we were to define Imposter Syndrome differently? What if we were to see it as a green light, that we are about to engage in a challenge? Our brain experiences doubt as a warning that things may not go well and can lead us to avoidance, insecurity or panic. What if we reframe this doubt as a sign that we are doing something important or challenging; something we can grow from and learn from? It may not be easy, straightforward or comfortable, but it will help us develop as a person (professionally or personally) and reward us with a sense of achievement.
It’s also a signal that we may need support, more information or extra resources in order to get where we need to go. Imposter Syndrome occurs most commonly when we take on a new role or a new project; where we step up and outside of our comfort zone. It thrives where growth and learning happens. So rather than push it away and try and stop it, why not embrace and get uncomfortable, take risks and stretch yourself? But also ask for what you need to do this successfully. We are tribal animals; it’s important to reach out to others when we need extra scaffolding and support. You are a capable human being – this doesn’t mean you’re capable of every single task, or capable of new tasks immediately. Show yourself some compassion, offer yourself some time and slowly that imposter will settle down and realise how much you already offer but also how much there is to learn.
To calm the feelings of not being good enough, I would encourage you to chat to a line manager and get some feedback on your work so you can find ways to reassure yourself you’re doing a good enough job. Also remind yourself of what has gone well and your achievements to date. If it’s really getting in the way, it may be a good idea to explore these thoughts with a Spill Therapist and find a way to manage them. You may well feel out your depth at the moment, this is a new challenge for you. And if you want to get feedback and review how you’re doing so that you can get a sense of what’s going well, what you need to attend to and what you can let go of, then a performance review or check-in sounds like it may be useful. So ask for what you need.
A new promotion is a place of vulnerability and a place where Imposter Syndrome can arise. Listen to it (“this is a challenge” “the new job will stretch you”) and embrace it (“thanks, yes it is a challenge and that’s what I’m seeking”). You can do hard things ;)
Congratulations on your recent promotion. It sounds as though as you transition into your new role you are experiencing anxiety. Know that this is not unusual. Most people feel anxious and out of their depth when starting a new role. The process tends to look like this:
Excitement about the new role, offer accepted
This is harder than I thought it would be, anxiety increases
I don’t know what I’m doing! Help! Feelings of panic
Things are starting to get a bit clearer, feeling calmer
I get it! Confidence is growing
I’m guessing you are in stage 2 or 3 right now and stage 5 probably feels hard to imagine. What will help at stages 2 and 3 is accepting that you will learn gradually over time and that it is not possible to start a new role as an expert. It is always difficult to go back to a beginner mindset as we feel insecure and uncertain in the beginner position. The key is to recognise where we are and that this stage cannot be skipped. It is a natural part of life. I would not expect you to spot problems as quickly as your peers at this point or to be able to anticipate things with as much clarity. I do think that you are worrying and overthinking about things that you do not need to. Try to find ways to relax when you feel like this; practise a hobby, exercise, meditate, try deep-breathing practices or get out in nature.
If you need more help settling into your role, book a session with Spill. We are happy to help!