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Spotting an imposter

Posted by Tom Ghirardi on 7th January 2020

This blog is a little different in tone to others I have written, but mental health at work is an important topic that may resonate with some of you, whether you’re just starting your career or are already well into it.

I am often being told off for not being open enough about things like this, so of course I have decided that writing it down in a blog, which will be shared across social media, is the best way to do it!

Starting off any career after university can be daunting. Adapting to an office environment, adjusting to company culture and learning a whole new set of skills is no easy task, but one most of us have to go through. So, the aim of this blog post is to open up a little about my own experience and maybe it might even help someone else.

After graduating and undergoing the long, arduous slog of job hunting, I finally managed to land myself a job in PR. I remember how nervous I felt –– I had worked plenty of jobs previously, but this was my first office-based position in the career I wanted.

My first day came around, and (despite a severe lack of sleep) I managed to get through it. I met my colleagues who were welcoming and friendly and made me feel at home. But unfortunately, from the first week I began to experience some problems.

I struggled in a few complicated meetings and couldn’t always follow and understand what many of my colleagues were talking about. I felt pretty overwhelmed and began to worry if I was really capable of doing this job.

Everyone gets nervous in a new role, but this was something different. At this point I should have spoken up and asked for help, voicing my issues to someone, but instead I made the mistake of staying quiet.

Over the next few months things deteriorated. Every time I was given something new to do, I would panic and work myself up, telling myself I couldn’t do it. I watched all my colleagues completing their tasks with ease and couldn’t understand why I was unable to do the same.

No matter how much positive feedback I would receive, I simply couldn’t shake off these thoughts and found myself spiralling into depression. I felt like I was a fraud, and every day I was terrified I would be ‘caught out’ and let go.

It wasn’t until later on that I discovered I was experiencing something called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Harvard Business School defines this as ‘a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success’.

A recent study found that a shocking 62% of people at work are affected by the condition. It is most commonly seen in women, with 66% of female respondents stating they had the syndrome, as opposed to 52% of men. The same study discovered that the four main causes of this were:

  • Self-generated, self-doubt
  • Being criticised
  • Having to ask for help
  • Self-comparisons to high-achieving colleagues

Considering the high number of people experiencing Imposter Syndrome, it is surprising how little the disorder is talked about.

The effect can be crippling. I remember waking up every day and dreading work, feeling completely incompetent and unable to see myself improving or progressing. It was a strange paradox and I spent so much time telling myself I couldn’t understand something. I couldn’t just listen to what people were saying, or just take in information — all I could do was work myself up into a complete mess.

A lot of people outside of work who were close to me knew something was very wrong, but still I insisted on keeping it to myself. I was on edge the whole time, closed and generally very miserable, so no fun to be around!

I watched all my other friends settling into their jobs and thriving, which only made me feel worse. I watched my managers and superiors in work and observed everything they could do, and just simply could not believe that one day I would maybe be able to do the same.

People can give you all the compliments in the world, you can produce work of brilliant quality and you can generally shine in a task, but when you have Imposter Syndrome it just doesn’t mean a thing.

I was sadly made redundant from my previous agency, but within a couple weeks I managed to find my current position at Wildfire. It was a chance for a fresh start, with new training offered as if I was starting from the beginning — and I began to change.

I finally opened up to other people I was close to about what I was going through, and I started to listen to the help they had to offer. I stopped listening to that little voice that told me I couldn’t do something, and I started telling myself I could.

For the first time, I allowed myself to be positive. I took on board the good feedback I received and used this to push myself. I recognised the areas I was improving in and saw that I was capable of doing my job well when I actually put my mind to it. My overall health began to improve and I felt happier and optimistic for the first time in months.

As cliché as it sounds, I think the moral of this story is to not suffer in silence. I should have opened up earlier and asked for help, admitted that I was struggling and voiced my problems.

Imposter Syndrome can be beaten with positivity, and this will come best from the support of those closest to you, be they your family, friends or colleagues. Just opening up can make you feel like a weight has been lifted off you. We are lucky enough to live in an age where mental health issues are acknowledged, and most companies are actually willing to help.

These thoughts have not completely gone away for me; they probably never will. There are still times where I feel inadequate, but they pass. I am generally a loud and extrovert person on the surface, so a lot of the time people don’t actually realise when I am getting these feelings. But whenever I have actually spoken to anyone at work, no matter how senior, they all really want to help and support wherever they can.

So there it is. I don’t pretend to be an expert on mental health, or claim to have all the answers to issues like these, but I can at least pass on my experiences and hope that helps.

If you find yourself in a similar position, talk to someone, and I am sure you will get the help and support you need just as I did. Find your positivity, look at your successes, and remember to believe in your abilities. Then you can get on with enjoying your job!

For more tips on managing mental health from the Wildfire team, click here

Tom Ghirardi

Tom’s energy and enthusiasm is infectious, especially when it comes to creativity. Whether finding new angles to pitch clients, writing, brainstorming or organising events, Tom embraces these challenges wholeheartedly, not resting unless he’s got the result he wants. He also has a deep love for pre-history and Crystal Palace FC, which co-incidentally have dinosaurs in common! A graduate of international business, Tom started his career in B2B PR before transferring those learnings to tech at Wildfire.