The Impostor Syndrom: Why it is such a big deal for Expats/Expat Partners

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The Impostor Syndrom: Why it is such a big deal for Expats/Expat Partners

I recently joined a webinar about the Impostor Syndrom amongst the Expat community by Monika Evje. It was really interesting and offered a lot of helpful information, so I did some further research and decided to share my learnings in a blog post. 

WHAT THE HELL IS THE IMPOSTOR SYNDROM?

Let’s start with a short definition. You might not have heard the term Impostor Syndrom, but I am sure you are familiar with the concept: 

It is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Especially women are facing this fear in the workplace where they are not convinced about their skill and think they got the job by mistake and someday the boss or colleague will find out about it. 

The Impostor Syndrom is not a unique thing at all

Generally speaking, about 70% of people state they are facing the Imposter Syndrom at least once in their life. This is even more common in the Expat and women of color communities regardless of their profession. Even Sheryl Sandberg, CMO of Facebook, talked in her well-known book “Lean-in” about her own experience with the Impostor Syndrom! “Every time that I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself – or even excelled – I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jog would be up.”

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Typical symptoms of the Impostor Syndrom

Many people facing this are afraid that colleagues or supervisors expect too much from them. Especially women start to avoid extra responsibilities but bury themselves in work they feel familiar with to stay busy. The worst thing about this psychological phenomenon is that it can turn into a vicious circle. The more you excel in work, the more you fear that soon everyone will realize that you are fake. It’s reversed logic, but it’s hard to stay confident once the thought of not being enough or even worse “being fake” is stuck in your mindset. 

For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of a greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better as than it actually is... Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she "worked really hard" or "got lucky" or "had help from others"

Why is the Impostor Syndrome to common amongst Expats?

Expats are the masters of growth and change. However, new Expats are faced with a massive learning curve before mastering it. This learning curve brings a lot of uncertainty and trial and error experiences with it. Expats have less safe havens such as a supporting social network in times of new beginnings. At a certain level, the feeling of new beginnings can become overwhelming. Thankfully, this phase is often followed by an adaptation phase, but it can often take some time to reach this stage. 

In combination with the Impostor Syndrom, Expats start to question their entitlement to be in this new country, this new company, this new home. 

I love the way Monika Evje of the Expat Woman Webinar has put it: 

On top of the regular feelings of inadequacy you may be feeling:

 “It’s not my country, I don’t really belong here.” – 

“I have an accent, it’s clear I’m not from here.” 

“I look different, I don’t fit in.”

“I don’t have all the cultural code.” (e.g. I don’t understand the small talk topics about local sports or VIPs)

 

Interestingly enough I found out that there is another group of people struggling with the Impostor Syndrom, and it tells a lot about it: Data Scientists and especially women in tech. One reason is that this field fo work is still relatively new and develops very quickly. At the same time, many supervisors or HR-experts who hire Data Scientists have no clear picture of the exact dimensions of the job. Many hired employees in that field feel like fraud as they get a lot of recognition by people who are no professional experts in that field. 

How to overcome the Impostor Syndrom

There are many ways to overcome the Imposter Syndrom, but only a few might be helpful depending on your character. 

In my experience with my clients and also from my own journey, the most helpful approach is to document accomplishments. You are the most qualified person to convince yourself that you are not fake as you are the only person who talked you into that in the first place. Therefore it is tremendously helpful to write down positive feedback from clients, colleagues, superiors, family members and friends. When I started my journey with Share-the-Love, I did the exact same thing. Every time I got supporting feedback via personal messages or social media comments I was writing it down in a small book, and I am so glad I did this as you will forget about these lovely messages in the endless universe of digital notes. It is also tremendously helpful if you are in need of some focus and want to be reminded of your original business purpose. If you are applying for jobs in the corporate world, it is also excellent preparation for a job interview. It will not only boost your confidence but give you the best arguments for the meeting with a potential new employer. 

If you are feeling too much into the vicious circle of the Impostor Syndrom, you might think that there is no positive feedback. Let me assure you that this not the case. I recommend talking with friends and family first. Most of the times they remind you about accomplishments in the past and prep you to dig deeper. In this context, I can also highly recommend coaching. Coaching is nothing else than a conversation between a qualified person who has nothing on their own agenda than helping you to help yourself. A good coach can use specific conversation techniques to take you back in time and remind you of accomplishments and the skillset you are bringing along. Other ways to battle the Impostor Syndrome mentioned in the great webinar by Monika Evje: 

 

  • Ask for positive feedback
  • Join a community, talk about it
  • See failure as a learnings
  • Focus on your strengths
  • Find allies

I am a big fan of taking time for reflection. Whenever you have a moment of feeling like fraud, try to stand still for a sec and reflect where this feeling is coming from. Listen to yourself and watch out for patterns. If this fear is coming up, again and again, you might find a sticky note helpful – create a little reminder that will help you exit the vicious cycle. Know that the feeling will pass and that you are not the first nor the last person dealing with it. We all bring along a very unique skill set that is shaped not only by our achievement and study but by our experiences and mindset. 

 

If you have some further advice or want to share your own personal experience please feel free to use the comment section below!

Thanks for sharing the love and stopping by

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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