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How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome While Working from Home

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When working from home became a reality for so many people, our worlds compressed. And when our homes became our workspaces, our gyms, our bars, our restaurants, our cinemas, and our kids’ school at the same time, something also happened to our sense of self.

A multitude of troubling reactions revealed an overall state of anxiety: “I constantly feel like I’m going to be found out now I’m working from home,” or, “Everyone else in the videoconference meeting seems so together — I’m struggling,” and, “I’m even more terrified about speaking at this online conference than I would be about speaking at a real one.”

This beastly feeling underlying these concerns goes by the name of Impostor Syndrome. Here are three ways to help you overcome the feeling when it afflicts you during that crucial videoconference. 

1. Know that you’re not alone. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone feels a little more vulnerable and a little less armoured. Now, with online conferences and key presentations, people can see each others’ homes, their bad haircuts and their unruly children and pets. Though this intimacy can be difficult to handle when you’re talking to your board or pitching to a client, it’s helpful to remember that everyone is feeling some discomfort while working from home. 

Feeling that you may be found out or that you don’t deserve the success you’ve achieved is a normal, natural response to being asked to teeter on the edge of your comfort zone — and we have all been on the edge of our comfort zone these last months. Videoconferences from home heighten the feeling that all eyes are on you. They intensify the feeling of judgement from an audience you respect. But know that in any zoom meeting, much of the audience is feeling it as well. 

If you can keep a sense of humour about the awkwardness of it all, or point out something that you and the others on the call all have in common, you make your remote working arrangement a shared experience. Name it, own it and move on, taking people with you because you’ve named a feeling that they have, too. 

2. Mind the gap. Helen Mirren observed recently that there’s always a gap between the person you know yourself to be, and the person you are perceived to be by the outside world. You just have to learn to work with the space between them and keep the gap manageable for you. Establish the right level of tension to stretch you without stressing you. It’s possible to learn to live with this feeling of being found out. Own it and work with it. 

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely wrestled with the gap between how you are and how you should be, and you may have learned to settle with being “good enough.” It releases you from having to try and be perfect, and allows you to dance a little in the space between the perception of others and your own experience of your human, flawed self. 

Make the effort to look polished on your calls, prepare your content, and then be there, be present, be enough, flaws and all. It’s where star quality lives. 

3. Realize that you’re on track. What if the impostor experience was actually a sign of your own growth? What if it tells you that you’re on exactly the right track, stretching, learning and stepping up into a new world? In life, when you do something that scares you a little, sometimes the big fear — the big stage, the high stakes audience, the frisson of trying something new — tells you that you’re learning and growing. The fear is your badge of honour.

But to welcome the impostor experience, you must make sure to be prepared for those spotlight moments. Before a videoconference, make sure you’re familiar with the content. If you need to give a presentation, speak it out loud a few times, or even run it by someone else if it’s a big event. Then, when the voice whispers in your ear, “You don’t deserve this,” you can whisper back, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, and that’s good enough.” 

Carry the fear with you, knowing that it makes you a perfectly flawed human with a healthy humility. That healthy humility brings with it self-awareness, empathy and humor — qualities that are huge assets on your video conferences. 

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