You've just started a job as a designer with a new employer. It's your first experience in the industry, the work is piling up slowly and you're starting to stress. You begin to wonder 'how did I even get this job? It's above me! I'm not capable! It's only a matter of time before my boss realises I'm a fraud.'
If you've ever felt this way at work, you're not alone. It's called imposter syndrome, and research suggests a whopping 70 per cent of us will experience it at some point in life, with many people struggling on a daily basis.
Imposter syndrome is often experienced by high-achievers, perfectionist types and those easily prone to stress or anxiety. Women are also more susceptible. It is characterised by a severe lack of confidence and the belief that one is a fraud in some aspect of their life, and will eventually be caught out. It's the inherent feeling one is destined to fail, that their skills aren't valuable, or that someone else could do the job better, more efficiently and with greater ease.
Someone with chronic imposter syndrome won't enjoy personal success because they don't believe it. It is either downplayed or reinforces feelings of inadequacy - 'I must work extremely hard to achieve my goals whereas others simply breeze through' - leaving the individual generally dissatisfied.
Stress can be an effective motivator, but when we become overly stressed - to the point of anxiety - these sorts of negative thought patterns can lead to self paralysis.
American author and entrepreneur Tim Ferris argues our most reliable tool in avoiding this sort of thinking is stoicism. Stoicism is excellent for thriving in high stress environments because it encourages people to focus on what they can control as opposed to what they can't.
Ferris asks us to visualise the worst case scenario of an action in detail, and then consider what we can do to either prevent or decrease the likelihood of that scenario happening. If the worst case scenario does occur, how can I repair the damage?
It is important to ask yourself the cost of inaction or avoidance of a particular situation or environment – financially, physically and emotionally. “If I always avoid actions and situations like this, what do I stand to lose? What will my life be like in six months? A year? Three years?”
Simple acts like being prepared for worst case scenarios or having an alternative plan can help ease the burden of imposter syndrome. Admitting when we don't understand something and having the confidence to seek help is important, and sometimes the 'fake it till you make it' philosophy can lead to great success. At some point in our careers, most of us have experienced imposter syndrome. It's important to remember that our situation is almost never as bad as it seems through the lens of imposter syndrome. As the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca famously refrained “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”