Dealing with Imposter Syndrome and Feeling Like You Belong

by Clare Sobotka, Head Editor, INALJ Idaho

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome and Feeling Like You Belong

Clare SobotkaI’d like to introduce something that I have struggled with in starting out in the field of librarianship. For my first library-related job after graduation with my MLS, I struggled with the feeling that once I had been working for a short time the people that hired me would feel disappointed and realize that they had picked the wrong person. In my mind, I didn’t know what I was doing, I had no experience, and didn’t they know there were so many better people out there? As it turns out, these feelings are so common that they are known as imposter syndrome. I came across the term sometime last year, and once I understood what imposter syndrome was about, I felt more confident that some of my feelings of insecurity stemmed from this particular mental phenomenon rather than a real mismatch with my job. I wish someone had told me about imposter syndrome at the beginning of college, so I think there is merit in becoming familiar with the concept sooner rather than later. Perhaps you will recognize it in yourself!

So what is imposter syndrome? Generally speaking, it is the feeling that you aren’t cut out for the position you are in, that you are a fraud and don’t know what you are doing, and that you will be found out. Even though you are competent, you feel as if others will discover that you accidentally arrived in this role and really shouldn’t be performing the job. It can manifest itself in other ways: chalking up your success to luck or discounting your own success (you didn’t really put in that much effort). This feeling can be strong even for those already deemed “successful,” including published scientists and CEOs. It affects both men and women, students, and those just starting a career as well as established and respected workers.

Some tips for dealing with imposter syndrome:

1. “Fake it till you make it.” It has been run into the ground, but keeping the old adage in mind can help. As a beginning professional or as someone starting a new job you may feel uncertain of yourself, but sometimes you just have to get started or you won’t accomplish anything. Or people will talk to you like you know what you are all about. Pretend they are right.

2. Give it time. Getting more experiences under your belt help alleviate some of these feelings as a beginning professional. You can even be extra pro-active and decide to shore up your self-confidence with some new skills. However, for some people the feeling never entirely goes away or may reappear at times, such as when you begin a new job or an ambitious project.

3. Ask questions and ask for help. Most librarians are open and friendly about answering questions and providing guidance. No one expects you to know everything right away in a new job, or even when you have been in an established position. They also recognize that everyone makes mistakes.

4. Realize that you are not alone. In general, most people have insecurities, and so many people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives that it is quite normal. Read through some of the articles below and their comments for variations on how people experience imposter syndrome.

5. Acknowledge that there is always someone better than you at certain things, and remind yourself of it periodically. There will always be a person you know of with more experience, or who does more activities, or who stretches the boundaries more. People who are more efficient and more professional than you. But that’s okay. No one is perfect and there is no reason you should be either. Also, remember that people you work with didn’t become brilliant overnight; they’ve had years to develop some of the skills they have.

If you feel that you struggle with imposter syndrome and it might be holding you back, it might help to have someone to talk to. Ask for help from a mentor or licensed professional such as a therapist or counselor.

Here are articles that elaborate more on the subject, but plenty more can be found on the internet:

Imposter Syndrome: When You Might Be A Fraud” by Alison Green

Do You Suffer From Imposter Syndrome?” by Olivia Fox Cabane

Do You Suffer From The Imposter Syndrome?” by Morty Lefkoe

The Imposter Syndrome” by Caltech Counseling Center

Imposter Syndrome: When You Feel Like You’re Faking It” (PDF) by Rose O. Sherman

  3 comments for “Dealing with Imposter Syndrome and Feeling Like You Belong

  1. April
    May 12, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for writing about the unspoken. It really resonated with me. The part that’s hard, for me, is having to toot my own horn at job interviews. I struggle with that fine line of acknowledging my accomplishments/skills and worrying that I’m over-selling myself. (Case in point, I mentioned in an interview that I taught K-6 students to use the online catalog. The interviewer hired me thinking I could do instructional teaching in a college library.) As one who likes to blend in and stay in the background, I’m hypersensitive about things I say during interviews. It probably comes across as normal, but sometimes I feel like I’m telling them I’m Wonder Woman.

  2. girlyfacade
    May 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I just started my first full time librarian positions 4 month ago and I have been feeling like this for a long time. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there.

  3. May 8, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Wow, thanks for posting this; it’s something I think about (and worry about) a lot. I’m about 1/2 way through my MLIS and am starting to really think about jobs and what I’m going to do after graduation. It can be very difficult to imagine myself in a ‘real’ job, and I definitely know what you mean about the fear of being “found out”. I think just knowing that others out there feel the same way is a boost, and I’ll try to remember that!

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