Many of your work colleagues will feel like imposters too

It’s natural to wonder how you will re-establish yourself when back in the office

Getting suited and booted for the morning commute feels like you’re getting ready to play a part in front of the world because that’s what it is. Illustration: iStock

Getting suited and booted for the morning commute feels like you’re getting ready to play a part in front of the world because that’s what it is. Illustration: iStock

 

Will you return to work as an imposter? Are you wearing a mask behind your mask?

Imposter syndrome is common and I suspect the feeling may have been intensified without the camaraderie and support that go with working in a physical place with other people.

It’s not just about work, though. You can feel like an imposter in a family, imagining you don’t measure up even while you run yourself ragged taking care of everyone else.

Imposter syndrome flourishes, I think, in social life too. People with social anxiety can feel they don’t belong in any particular group even though the others may very much want them to be there. That’s regardless of whether they are voluble or quiet – and, behind it all, the loud ones are sometimes as shy as the quiet ones.

Every now and then you are going to be out of your depth in new structures in the organisation, new tasks

Fundamental to imposter syndrome is the feeling that you could be found out and that if you’re found out it will be obvious to all that you shouldn’t be there.

Often, people with imposter syndrome don’t then go on to imagine what catastrophe would follow if they were found out. If they were indeed found out, in other words if they made a big mistake or said something that would reveal them as imposters, probably not much would happen.

To other people the embarrassing error would most likely become just another piece in the jigsaw of that person. After all, other people are not so all caught up about your image as you are.

It’s natural to wonder how, after all those Zoom meetings, you are going to re-establish yourself with your colleagues again as a real person in a real place.

My own feeling is that this will work itself out faster than we think. Human beings are natural actors. As sociologist Erving Goffman pointed out, the person who waits on you in a restaurant is acting a part in how they present themselves. When with family or buddies they don’t put on the “waiter” demeanour or way of talking. Yet they slip easily in and out of that waiter role.

Remember that when you’re greeting a colleague again you’re greeting someone who may feel insecure and isn’t showing it

It’s the same at work. Your colleagues are, among other things, playing a role which they slip into and out of without much thought. Getting suited and booted for the morning commute feels like you’re getting ready to play a part in front of the world because that’s what it is.

Many of them, too, feel like imposters. You don’t know because they don’t tell you. Some of those who feel like imposters achieve a lot in their work or in their families but somehow they are blind to it. This may be due to a protective part of the mind saying, “Don’t big yourself up too much, don’t get above your station in life because you’ll get hurt.”

It can help to remember that this is just a protective part of the mind going about its job in an annoying and, actually, unhelpful way.

It can also help to remind yourself that an imposter is a person who doesn’t have your knowledge, skills and qualifications. That’s an imposter. That’s not you.

Every now and then you are going to be out of your depth in new structures in the organisation, new tasks, new teams, in the family when a child turns into a teenager, at a party where you don’t know anyone and in other situations.

That doesn’t make you an imposter. It means you are temporarily out of your depth. Eventually you’ll get to know the lie of the land or you’ll do a new course to fill in a gap in your knowledge of a new task, or you’ll get some assistance you need. Sometimes you’ll get out of your depth again because the world never stops changing – and you’re still not an imposter.

As I said above, we are natural actors. In all social situations we play roles.

So when you return to the physical workplace, remember that when you’re greeting a colleague again you’re greeting someone who may feel insecure and isn’t showing it – and that’s okay.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email pomorain@yahoo.com

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