This week we are excited to host a guest post from Katie Tietz, MS, OTR/L, a pediatric occupational therapist, international best selling author, and mindset coach who specializes in helping therapists find a healthy work/life balance and avoid symptoms of therapist burnout!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
The Harvard Business Review (1) defines imposter syndrome as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. Individuals who struggle with imposter syndrome suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
Having personal experience with imposter syndrome, I’d say this is a pretty accurate definition. For me personally, despite having graduated with my master’s degree from NYU, despite passing the board exam with flying colors, and despite applying to, interviewing for, and being offered the job of my dreams… I still felt like I did not deserve to be there. I felt like I was not good enough to be there. I constantly compared myself to other therapists… therapists with 10, 20, and even 30 years of experience in the field. Looking back now I can see how unreasonable this was, however, at the time, it only paved the way to frustration, exhaustion, and internal conflict. I let it get to a point where I was consumed with self-doubt both inside and outside of work, and began to question my whole career in healthcare. I would think to myself, if this is the way it makes me feel, why am I even here?!
What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like?
According to Clance and Imes (2) there are four ways one may cope with Imposter Syndrome. These four behavioral patterns include:
Diligence and hard work
Throughout my fieldwork experience and particularly during my first couple years as an entry-level OT, I tried SO hard. I tried to read every article and ensure that my notes were perfect and polished, even if that meant I lost sleep or stayed extra hours after my shift, cutting into very needed personal time. This behavior pattern was not sustainable, and over time I started to suffer from symptoms of burnout. Imposter syndrome was sabotaging my career, and at the time, I didn’t even know it. In the words of Clance and Imes (2), I did not want “my stupidity to be discovered” and used hard work as a “cover up” for my perceived intellectual downfalls.
Have you ever known that you were right, but held back your opinion for one reason or another? Have you ever talked up your co-workers or your peers ideas, but downplayed your own? I definitely have. I remember having an amazing idea for a “treasure hunt” themed treatment session with a difficult kiddo who happened to love pirates. However, a peer of mine had a different idea for that treatment session. I automatically felt like it was a better idea because it came from someone with more experience. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case. I didn’t speak up. I held my opinion back. And we never got to do the treasure hunt activity that I know my client would have loved.
Charm and perceptiveness
To a certain extent, if we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we have all put on the charm at some point to woo the approval of our peers, team members, or superiors. According to Clance and Imes (2), this involves finding a candidate you respect, studying that individual carefully, and perceiving very accurately what that person will be responsive to. For example, if you know your supervisor’s favorite animal is a dolphin, and you bring up conversation about how you once swam with dolphins, this may be in an attempt to win that persons approval; to win their outside validation. Now, in my personal opinion, we all do this naturally to connect with those around us. However, the key is that you are genuine. If you find yourself putting on phony charm, that’s a behavioral sign you might be struggling with imposter syndrome.
Procrastination/fear of success
We tend to think that the only thing that holds us back from diving head first into our wildest dreams is the fear of failure. However, that’s not the case. Although the fear of failure is alive and strong in many of us, the fear of success can be just as immobilizing. What types of preconceived notions do you have about successful individuals? What types of beliefs do you hold about people with more money than you? What do you, or those around you, say about the people in positions of power at your workplace? Even if consciously, we want to have more money or more power/responsibility, we may think negatively about the people who do on an unconscious level. By avoiding success in this way, we are also avoiding the societal rejection we may be unconsciously placing on others around us. In other words, as long as we maintain the notion that we are not good enough or smart enough, the longer we can avoid that rejection.
Who does Imposter Syndrome Affect?
Imposter syndrome affects many different individuals from various backgrounds and careers. There is a thought that imposter syndrome affects high achievers to a greater extent, due to the fact that they are surrounded with other high achieving individuals of whom to compare themselves with. Specifically in regards to occupational therapy – we are all susceptible to struggling with imposter syndrome. Whether you are an academic student, fieldwork student, entry-level OT/OTA, or an established OT/OTA, imposter syndrome leaves no one left behind.
As a student in academic course work, there are new demands placed on us. There are new societal expectations, possible cultural expectations, culture shock of grad school, or the school environment. As a fieldwork student, this feeling of inadequacy might grow exponentially as we find ourselves in a new environment that we are not familiar with. This is where we begin to take on the role of clinician or assistant versus the student, which can be scary. Clients are now turning to us for their care, and we are looked at as the “expert”.
As an entry-level OT/OTA, feelings can be similar to that of the fieldwork student. You are still trying to get used to your new role. Depending on where you work, there may or may not be strong opportunities for mentorship. We may feel pressure to prove ourselves to our team. We are in a new and unfamiliar setting yet again, and have to pick up the politics and flow of our new workplace.
As an established OT/OTA, imposter syndrome still finds ways to rear its ugly head. You may have feelings of inadequacy spark up when you think about advancing within the profession, whether that’s applying for a supervisory/management position, asking for a promotion, or opening your own clinic. You may have these feelings if you change work settings as an established OT/OTA. You may feel unprepared or not skilled enough to be successful in a different setting and that may deter you from changing things up and getting new experiences with different patient populations.
If you think you may be struggling with imposter syndrome, I encourage you to take a brief questionnaire, created by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, known as the Clance IP (Imposter Phenomenon) Scale (3). This 20-question test will help you determine whether or not you have imposter syndrome characteristics and, if so, to what extent you are suffering. Knowing this information helps to know how to manage it.
5 Steps to Managing Imposter Syndrome
Stop comparing yourself to others.
Recognize that we are all on our own individual path. Comparing yourself with someone else takes your eyes off the beauty of your own journey! Remind yourself that when we do make comparisons, we are comparing other people’s “outsides” to our “inside”. They might put on a good show, but at the end of the day we don’t actually know what goes on behind closed doors.
Educate yourself on any programs your school or company has to offer.
Ask about mentorship or seek assistance from guidance counselors. Many larger companies offer and Employee Assistance Program that helps with all sorts of needs, including mental health, burnout, or life related stress. You’ll never know what you’re missing out on unless you ask.
Count your wins.
We often take time at the end of the day to dwell on what went wrong. I challenge you to shift that focus and reflect on your top three wins every day for the next week. I can guarantee you have accomplished much more than you think you have – we just have to take the time to reflect and appreciate our hard work.
Be your genuine self.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, she explains the story of The Court Lobster. The story centers around a young artist who was invited to a costume party. The young artist worked really hard to create an extravagant lobster costume, but as he approached the party, he realized he made a big mistake. The theme of the costume party was “a medieval court”, and the young artist was dressed as a lobster. He had a choice to run for the hills or to own the work he had done and simply be himself, lobster costume and all. When asked what on earth he was, he replied, “I am the court lobster!” He was met with laughter, joy, sweetness, and love. The people embraced who he was and he even ended up dancing with the queen of Belgium. This is how we must live. If you’re invited to the party, show up. Be yourself. People will love you. There’s no telling what you’ll miss out on otherwise!
Relax and have fun.
One of the best ways to maintain perspective is through humor and laughter. Laugh at yourself! Laugh at the crazy situations you find yourself in! People with imposter syndrome are often unable to joke and relax in the workplace, because they fear they will be perceived as slackers. Let me tell you a secret… no one cares! Everyone is too caught up in their own “stuff” to worry about you. Take time to enjoy the life-changing, creative, FUN work that you do!
If you find yourself identifying with any of the symptoms of imposter syndrome, I encourage you to check out the following resources 🙂
Additional Resources for Imposter Syndrome/Phenomenon
- The re-released version of original 1985 The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success by Dr. Pauline Clance
- Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
- The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young
- Beating the Impostor Syndrome by Portia Mount
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie
Additional Online Resource
- Feel Like a Fraud- http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx
- How it can apply to life as an OT/OTA/student – http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx
- Thinking your way out of imposter syndrome – Valerie Young – https://youtu.be/h7v-GG3SEWQ
- Defeating the inner imposter that keeps us from being successful – Knatokie Ford –https://youtu.be/J9PgY1mbPgM
- Why does a successful person feel like a fraud? by Portia Mount – https://youtu.be/GT_1xv2dk10
About the Guest Author: Katie is a pediatric occupational therapist, #1 international best selling author, speaker and certified mindset coach. She is the founder of Health Pro Mindset, LLC – a mindset coaching business teaching hundreds of healthcare professionals (and soon to be professionals) how to use mindfulness-based practices to overcome burnout, compassion fatigue, imposter syndrome and secondary trauma stress, so they may serve others at their highest potential.
You can find more about Katie at her website: Health Pro Mindset