Do you often question your own abilities? Watch out for the Impostor syndrome!

Do you sometimes feel out of place? Do you think others would be better suited for the task? Do you often question your own abilities? If you answered yes to these questions, it’s time to show you the concept of Impostor Syndrome. In this blog post, I’ll explain what Imposter Syndrome is, why it plays a significant role, especially in the expat community, and how you can leave it behind and rush into work or re-enter the job market with joy and confidence.

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So what's this Impostor Syndrome?

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 individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Especially women face 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.

"It starts with recognising it in yourself and others. Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics."

It happens to more people than you would think! - Even to the CMO of Facebook

Generally speaking, about 70% of people state they face the Imposter Syndrom at least once in their lives. 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.”

Typical symptoms of the Impostor Syndrom

Many people experiencing Impostor Syndrome 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. They try to become as invisible as possible. 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 sooner or later, everyone will realize that you are a fraud. 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.

Here is the list of the most common symptoms of Impostor Syndrome. Do some of them feel familiar to you?

  • Extreme lack of self-confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Constant comparison to other people
  • Anxiety
  • Self-doubt
  • Distrust in one’s own intuition and capabilities
  • Negative self-talk
  • Dwelling on the past
  • Irrational fears of the future

As stated before, Impostor Syndrome happens to 70% of us, but women are especially challenged with this. Here are a few examples:

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Maya Angelou

Despite her own self-doubt, Angelou was a fiercely accomplished person. She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award; won five Grammys for her spoken recordings and served on two presidential committees. All this while also charming readers with her honesty, vulnerability, and personal fortitude.

Maya Angelou also said, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” ­So you can see that you can be very visionary and bold but struggle with knowing your own self-worth simultaneously.

As Sheryl Sandberg puts it: “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”

corona, job, career

The significance of the Impostor syndrome for the Expat and Expat Partner

Expats are the masters of growth and change. However, new Expats face a massive learning curve before mastering it. This learning curve brings a lot of uncertainty and trial and error experiences with it. Expats have fewer safe havens, such as a supportive 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. 

On top of the familiar 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)

Expat Partner Support

For expat partners looking to enter a foreign job market, this is an additional barrier to overcome. I have talked about the Expat Partner’s most common job-hunting struggles in this blog post here. Convincing someone from a different cultural setting that your competencies and work experience are worth inviting you to an interview while still waiting for the work permit is most definitely ideal. It triggers Impostor Syndrome on many levels, and the longer one has exited the traditional corporate job market, the less confident we feel about our skills and achievements. This most likely happened to most Expat Partners, and if you think that way, you are definitely not alone. Coaching is the most direct and helpful way to claim ownership of your value again and help you position yourself with natural confidence. If you want to know more about that, download my free guide to re-enter the workforce here or book a free assessment call here. You can read more about my 1:1 coaching strategy here, but I am happy to jump on the phone!

"This most likely happened to most Expat Partners, and if you think that way, you are definitely not alone. Coaching is the most direct and helpful way to claim ownership of your value again and help you position yourself with natural confidence." Kate

How to overcome the Impostor Syndrome

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 and reflect on accomplishments. You are the most qualified person to convince yourself that you are not a fraud, 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 SharetheLove, I did the same thing. Whenever I got supporting feedback via personal messages or social media comments, I wrote it down in a small book. 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 need some focus and wants 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 is not the case. I recommend talking with friends and family first. Most of the time, 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 agenda other than helping you 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 (more info on my three months 1:1 program here). 

Other ways to battle the Impostor Syndrome are:

Ask for positive feedback

Find allies

Remind yourself of your own definition of success

Take ownership of objective successes

Embrace
failure

Reflect and
own your
strengths

Interesting further reading material: The latest HBR article on how to end the impostor syndrome in the workplace. 

In my experience, the essential step is learning about Impostor Syndrome and realizing that about 70% of us are experiencing it firsthand. That is the reason I have written this blog post. It is THE first step to do. When you want to make a turnaround, use the tips I have shared above, or send me a direct message to info@sharethelove.blog to learn more about my coaching services. I am happy to help! You got this!

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

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