Understanding the new imposter syndrome triggers from remote work
It’s no secret that the pandemic has changed how we work forever, but many people have not caught up to the fact that it also changed the triggers and ways that our imposter syndrome manifests in our work. In this episode, we will look at the three things created by remote work that have changed imposter syndrome, how those affect the five types of imposter syndrome, what you can do about it, and how you can help other people.
We have been here before talking about how even the most successful creatives have a little secret we all share – If we are being honest, from time to time we feel like frauds. It happens at all levels of your career, it comes in a lot of different forms and this is another one of those problems that we don’t talk about enough. But times have changed thanks to the pandemic thanks to our new reality and having to work remotely. This was something that was rarely talked about before but now we have layered on new problems and challenges that have changed what imposter syndrome looks like and what causes it. In this episode, we will review what it is, why remote work has created new triggers for imposter syndrome, affects us, look at the 5 different types, and new look at how to overcome it.
What is imposter syndrome?
We first covered imposter syndrome in episode 69 which covered the basics and in episode 96 which added some insights, I found through a series of conversations with hundreds of creatives from all over the world. For those who may have missed those episodes, let’s start with a refresher. Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where you have a belief that you’re inadequate despite evidence to the contrary. Maybe you think that when something doesn’t work out exactly the way you expect on a project that you aren’t good enough or should let someone else speak up or take the lead next time. It’s best summed up by you feeling like a fake and hope no one finds out how you work because that isn’t how real designers work.
Why do we all have it?
EVERYONE has it in varying degrees because creating is a personal act which I have talked about a number of times before. Making a mark on a blank page or blank screen comes from who you are and what you have experienced. So that creates an inner dialog and personal connection to our work which creates anxiety when it is judged, commented on or disliked.
It is also because we rarely ever discuss these insecurities so the internal loop and dialog build up creating these insecurities. It manifests in ways like constantly going back to change something in your design, not because you know it can improve, but because you feel like you don’t know what the best choices are and your design is a mess from your lack of trust in yourself. While these are the basic how it manifests was driven by a different time when we were all in offices and how many of us worked was totally different. So while the way we work has evolved, imposter syndrome has as well.
Why does remote work make it worse?
Lack of context
- One of the biggest changes that is causing a different type of imposter syndrome is remote work
- Remote work has robbed us of context so we don’t understand how we are doing against our peers who we used to see in the office every day
- The problem with creatives is when we are robbed of context it creates doubt, that doubt turns into insecurity and that insecurity turns into imposter syndrome
- Many people misread the symptoms since we had never experienced this before.
- The lack of context was an internal mental battle that was compounded by a physical component as well.
- My studio used to be my sanctuary and my place away from my NYC office.
- That sanctuary suddenly became my full time office when I moved to remote work.
- The pandemic wouldn’t let me escape to another space so what once a source of energy became – an office.
- You can tell that you also have gone through this is working in a new place like the couch, or the back porch brings back some of the old energy.
- This struggle for context and loss of a change of environment culminated for many people, and me, in a loss or change in motivation.
- For me, this show hasn’t been on hiatus by mistake. I lost my connection with the community I primarily had through public speaking, and my home studio turned into my office.
- My imposter syndrome grew as I doubted my insights that drive the show without being able to validate them with the community and my motivation to do the show dropped through the floor as a result.
- The desk that used to be for creating my talks and recording these podcasts episodes became my day-to-day desk and so it seemed to lose most of its former charm and motivating power.
What are the different types?
For me, it was a hard and difficult road to see these three things and see that I needed to change some things to overcome them. I had to understand that these forces had reshaped my imposter syndrome and made it feel like something I had not encountered before. So I wanted to revisit the 5 types of imposter syndrome but new eyes and new insights based on this new world. I still use Valerie Young’s approach to the subject from her book ‘The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It’.
She categorized it into 5 subgroups:
1.) The Perfectionist
2.) The Superwoman/man
3.) The Genius
4.) The Individualist
5.) The Expert
As we go through these remember this is about balance. Having a small amount of these can actually be a good thing but it is when they overwhelm, paralyze or hurt your mental state that they are a problem.
Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about if they measure up. This group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves. This approach creates the obvious problem that in creativity there are no right answers so as a result perfection will never exist. Even worse for them is when success comes it is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done better.
To fight perfectionism:
- Learn to take your mistakes in stride because they are a natural part of the process.
- Push yourself to act before you’re ready.
- For remote work it also helps to get together with members of your team or community to celebrate your achievements. It gives you some of that much needed context remote has taken from you but it will also help you see that even when it isn’t perfect it still can have a big impact.
People who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies working alongside real-deal colleagues so they push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. This means they will show up earlier and work longer than everyone to show them that they are talented. This obviously leads to some unhealthy work habits that will cause burnout and the worst part is that all that work doesn’t make you feel any better or get any more confidence.
To fight superwoman/man syndrome:
- Start training yourself to veer away from that external validation.
- As you recalibrate to have more internal validation you’ll be able to ease off the gas as you gauge how much work you are doing is really needed and healthy.
- For remote work it also helps to
People who struggle with this judge success based on their abilities rather than their efforts. In other words, if they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it. These people set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists. But unlike perfectionists, they judge themselves not only on ridiculous expectations but on if they can get it right the first time they do it. You can see where this approach only grows in a remote work world where learning isn’t as easy, and so much has changed that everything is new and requires work and learning.
To fight genius syndrome:
- See yourself as a work in progress.
- Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill building–for everyone, even the most confident people.
- Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviors that you can improve over time.
- For remote work it also helps to
People who feel that asking for help reveals that they are imposters. It’s okay to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth. The pandemic has forced almost all of us into being individualists when we went into remote work. This has caused increased challenges for those who have this type of imposter syndrome. But it has also caused it for the first time in a lot of people.
To fight individualist syndrome:
- Externalize your creative process and share your work in progress
- Share the things are struggling with to a trusted group of people
- Start small so you feel comfortable and share more over time.
- For remote work it also helps to set aside time to connect with people, do team events, and not just make every interaction about work.
People who feel like they somehow tricked their employer into hiring them. They fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. There’s always more to learn. It helps you professionally and keeps you competitive in the job market. But the tendency to endlessly seek out more information can actually be a form of procrastination. The lack of context also feeds this type of imposter syndrome.
To fight expert syndrome:
- Start practicing just-in-time learning. Acquire a skill when you need it rather than hoarding knowledge for false comfort.
- Realize there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.
- If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem, seek advice from a supportive team member or leader.
- For remote work it also helps to
What can you do about it?
Ask yourself where it’s coming from.
Your impostor voice might be trying to tell you something. If you feel you lack value because your opinion is never asked, you’re likely craving to use your voice and be heard, and/or seeking feedback. Step into that: Brainstorm ways to communicate with your boss or manager more effectively.
Use logic to prove yourself wrong.
If you constantly think, “I don’t belong here,” question it—is that really true?
You landed this role and have garnered these responsibilities fair and square. Why do others belong and deserve their place, but not you? If you constantly think, “I’m going to get fired,” ask yourself why. What fireable offense have you actually committed? Or did you just have a comparatively unproductive week, and need to work on some time management tricks next week?
Pause and be grateful for these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
They are alerting you that something doesn’t feel right, and that gives you an opportunity to make a change in your life, whether it’s small, like finding ways to reframe your mindset or larger, like making changes, looking into talking to a therapist or new people or environments.
Map it out
I will post a map that has helped me and many other teams I have worked with where you can map out your types of imposter syndrome. It is best when you can do the exercise with other people and all share the results so you can support each other.
How can you help others?
One of the things we haven’t talked about in past episodes, which was a massive miss, is what can you do to help others who are going through this?
- What are some ways you’re giving people space to speak openly?
- Do they have a safe platform to give honest feedback?
- How can you show that your people that voices is valued?
- What expectations are you setting for people?
- Do you expect them to be “on” at all times, or do you respect boundaries between work and personal life?
Create conversations and spaces where it is OK to not be OK
This is about a change mindset. I think that starts by accepting that there has been a lot of change so things will be different. When you are able to open your eyes to that then I think you are able to start to take stock of what is working and what isn’t.
Give the process time so you can think it through and reflect.
Get an accountability buddy.
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