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Imposter syndrome: what is it and how can you deal with it

This was originally published on Women's Agenda.

I first learned of the term “imposter syndrome” when I entered the human resources profession and like many people, I related to it immediately.

Feel like you’ve tricked your way into a job? Check.

Self-doubt in the tasks you’re performing? Check.

Feel like you’re not as smart as others think you are? Check.

One of the best definitions I’ve read for imposter syndrome comes from the Caltech Counselling Centre in California – it also happens to be the most widely used:

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

In my role I have had the privilege of working with professionals from the CEO level to newly graduated starters and I can tell you – without any doubt - that imposter syndrome does not discriminate.

While there is no quick fix, acknowledging and dealing with imposter syndrome up front will help your career and personal development. Here are some tips.

Separate yourself from your work

One of the best ways to take control of imposter syndrome is to separate your work from who you are, which can be done using simple math.

Sit down and list your professional skills. Once you have these, rate each of them from 1-10. You will have varying numbers, reflecting your strengths and areas for development.

Recognise and appreciate your strengths

The next step is to push your numbers up. The things you are good at are also the things you can usually do quickly – enjoy this, but make sure you spend the time working on those skills that need development.

Being knowledgeable about your skills will help with time management. You are never going to be good at everything, so instead become known for what you excel at. We are human, it’s our condition to suffer from not being exceptional at everything, which is why we work in teams.

Embrace your weaknesses

When you separate yourself from your work you can remind yourself that it’s not about you, it’s about the work.  Acknowledge your strengths and embrace your weaknesses. While feedback can be hard to receive sometimes, don’t overthink or justify it. Instead see it is a reminder of your skills and the areas you need support in.

The important thing is to be able to assert your high number skills, or expertise, with confidence and be humble when approaching low number areas.

Accept that you’ll have good days and bad

Confidence comes in waves so when you’re having a low confidence day or feel out of your comfort zone try to remember your skills and trust the numbers. 

Shanyn Payne is the General Manager of Human Resources at Swinburne Online. Prior to working at Swinburne Online, Shanyn has held human resources positions at SEEK, Pulse Pharmacy, Australian Pharmaceutical Industries (API), Computershare and Woolworths Ltd.