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Imposter syndrome

Community Member
Hi BB forum,

I'm currently working on a big project at work which is much more technical than anything I've ever done. I'm feeling so inadequate. The thought of going to work tomorrow makes me feel sick.

I'm so scared of failing or having conversations and not knowing the answer to questions.

I'm dreading the next few months of this ☹
9 Replies 9

Champion Alumni
Champion Alumni

Hi Ash111,

Ah yes, the dreaded imposter syndrome– definitely something I'm no stranger to!

The best general advice is to own with confidence what you do and do not know, and to ask for help when it's needed. Someone other than you (probably multiple people) independently evaluated your skills and credentials and decided that you were the right person for your job, so there are others with faith in your abilities even when your own is lacking.

Are there any supervisors, mentors, or coworkers you feel you can turn to for some guidance? Unless you feel that this assignment is totally incommensurate with your job description, skill, or ability, I wonder if you could take this as an opportunity to really upskill, understand the material better, and get a real intellectual challenge at work.

We're always here for you to talk– let us know how your first day went, and we'll go from there!



Community Member

Hi Ash,

I'm really sorry to hear that you're having a battle with work related anxiety at the moment, feeling anxious and sick in anticipation of having to go to work the next day is really hard. I hear you and have experienced very similar issues with imposter syndrome - feeling like I didn't deserve to be in the position I held and that I must be doing an awful job of it. I got to the stage earlier this year where I actually resigned from my role because both my mental and physical health were being compromised by severe and chronic stress. I tell you this not to scare you, but due to some unexpected feedback I received after I resigned. My manager actually told me that she would 'bend over backwards' to somehow keep me on the team and followed up with me after I moved interstate to ask if I would be interested in working remotely for them. So it seems that some of the awful things I'd been telling myself about how inadequate I was were not based in reality, could it be possible that you're also likely being your own worst enemy here?

Is this the first time you've experienced imposter syndrome? Or has it been a bit of a theme for you to worry about underperforming with work/study etc? It's important to remember that if you're not performing to expectations at work, it's very unlikely this would just go unsaid and a manager would likely address this with you. As suggested above by Gems, do you have a good relationship with a supervisor or manager that you could raise your concerns with? Might there be a chance that you could be given some feedback or appraisal on your work? One of my regrets is not having the courage to talk to my supervisor at work about the difficulty I was having with anxiety and imposter syndrome, and I felt that my resignation was somewhat of a shock and quite misunderstood by management because I hadn't disclosed to anyone what I was going through.

I would encourage you to try and take things one day at a time if you can, rather than looking at the whole big picture and how far you have to go like "how will I make it through the next few months". Breaking up your project into a string of short term goals may help things seem less overwhelming for you. Casting your mind ahead into potential future scenarios is often where anxiety arises, there's less space for anxiety when you're focused on your present moment. And drawing on social support from wherever you feel comfortable can also be very helpful.

Wishing you all the best, Em

Hi Gems - yes I do have good leaders around me that can provide guidance but I still feel like I'm not getting it and my low self-esteem just compounds. Then I get stressed and it gets even harder to retain information. I end up feeling even more junior and inadequate than when I started.

Part of me feels like it is far beyond my capability so early in my profession but because I'm in my 30s and was kicking goals in my BAU role, people think I'm a lot more experienced that I am and it's all just a bit embarrassing sometimes. I know owning what you don't know it ok but I feel like I don't know SO much that my new stakeholders have little confidence in me. I'm feeling so much regret for taking this on.

Community Member

HI Em,

I feel like I'm right where you were when you quit. I really want to quit and just go find something with less ambiguity. I neglected to mention that I'm still adjusting to hormone replacement after my thyroid was removed in March which is making me super self-conscious of brain fog and poor memory. Learning new things right now feels impossible and I'm a lot slower at everything than usual and attention to detail is suffering. But the feelings of inadequacy have been with me from very young. Every new job or role has been similar but this is particularly bad this time. I've never wanted to quit a job from feeling like this before.

I do talk to my manager and she's aware of most of my anxieties and assured me they thought I was more than capable but like my response to Gems, I really don't feel like I'm anywhere near experienced enough. I don't know.. I know I'm my own worst enemy but it doesn't change my ability (or lack of).

I'm a compulsive worrier and I have these irrational thoughts that if I don't worry about something that it's asking for a bad outcome. It's stupid I know but I just can't train myself out of that thinking. It's like I think the world is going to punish me for not worrying. Just a vicious cycle that invades every aspect of my life.

I feel like a teenager again just talking about it on here. I'm in a senior position at work and feel so out of my depth.

Community Member

Hi Ash,

Wow, are we the same person?! Haha, similar to you, I'm in my early 30's, experiencing thyroid disease (Hashimoto's for me - but I can totally understand the brain fog, I can't imagine how much this must impact when you've had your thyroid removed and are on HRT), and got to the point where work became unbearable when I started taking on senior roles.

Everything you're feeling is valid. I completely understand how it feels to be receiving positive feedback on your work, and even though there seems no 'evidence' that you're underperforming, you still feel like you are. I totally understand that you feel like you have to worry due to the fear that if you don't worry then everything will get worse. Just before I resigned from my role I felt like I was swimming upstream, like I was putting all my energy into work and constantly worrying but didn't seem to be getting anywhere.

And yes, talking about these issues on a forum does seem strange - good on you for reaching out thought. I have found that by connecting with other people who have similar experiences helps to normalise what I'm going through. I recently read a book called 'First We Make the Beast Beautiful' by Sarah Wilson, she recounts her experience of living with anxiety and also mentions some other high profile successful women who have needed to take time off work due to anxiety - these stories give me hope to know that I'm not the only one feeling the way I do.

If you're operating from a place of survival mode I wonder whether it may be helpful to find some distraction coping mechanisms? I found this was the only way for me to cope when I was in the thick of it - actively trying to apply CBT type strategies, relaxation, mindfulness etc did not work because my anxious thoughts were so compulsive it almost put the spotlight on it all even more. Obviously avoidance and escapism isn't the most constructive of coping mechanisms but it might enable you to cope in the short term while completing this project. Things like finding some hobbies that you can completely immerse yourself in to distract yourself. Hiking in nature, photography, going to yoga classes and a gym (difficult at the moment with restrictions), cooking, reading amazing non-fiction books that took me out of my reality (I specify non-fiction because self-help books made me focus more on my problems which was not helpful at the time) were all activities that allowed me to have little windows of time where work wasn't my focus.

Community Member
Oh and just to clarify, I actually meant fiction, not non-fiction, in the above post. Reading novels with storylines that I could really immerse into - a bit like having a Netflix binge but I found it more rewarding to read rather than watch TV. If you like reading I could recommend 'Where the Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens as a great book to escape into. However there's also nothing wrong with a well timed Netflix binge every now and then!

Community Member
Thanks Em.. That is really good advice thank you. I am obsessed with self help books and at the moment books and podcasts about improving brain function. I agree, I feel like I'm always striving for better and never just zoning out or resting my "be better" hunger.

I'm doing a uni degree in my personal time so limited on time but I just try to cram in some netflix docos and husband time. I've had both Sarah Wilson and where the crawdads sing recommended to me so I think I'll get the audible and allow some personal zone out time this weekend.

I had a big meeting today and managed to make it through without my heart jumping out of my chest. Tried to tell myself unless I quit, I need to just get it done and I have a better chance of doing it well if I don't get nervous about my competence.

I'm going to find a therapist to talk to regularly though. It's just so exhausting worrying all the time and not normal. It's seriously holding me back.

Thanks again x

Community Member
Hi there just felt I needed to put my thoughts and experiences out there because ive never really had the discussion about my imposter syndrome with anyone who understands. At least that’s a start right? I’m brand new here. I’m almost 54 so clearly it can strike at any stage. Had some kind of anxiety most of my life and light medication for a few years now. Always lacked belief in myself but it’s hit a high right now as ive had 1st &2nd interviews recently for a job that sounds fab! The money is WAY above what ive earned before but in all honesty I think ive settled for jobs that underpay me because I think that’s all I can do/ am worth - yet I give them way more than they accept. Im terrified to fail yet I never have before. I know I can do these tasks in this new role and I haven’t exaggerated about my skills or experience. Ive even admitted in the interview that I don’t know everything but i’m not afraid to find out how to fill my skill gaps. Why am I so terrified? I struggle to accept compliments about my work and fear people will discover im useless and don’t really know what im doing. I can’t believe my own rational brain. I’m putting roadblocks in my own way to find a reason not to accept if they offer it - but I might not get this chance again. Do I avoid taking it and stay with jobs i’m not really fulfilled by? I’m scared i’m not worth the $ they are talking. They see something in me that I can’t. This spiral of thinking is consuming my every waking moment.....any helpful advice or tips out here? Why am I more scared than excited? Wow - a lot of negative in this! 😩

@virgo31, i think most of us have felt this way before. I was in a similar situation - I moved up rapidly through the corporate ranks when I was in my 20s. By the age of 31, due to a unique shift in the regulatory landscape, I found myself being hunted for roles that are normally reserved for someone at least 3-4 years my senior. It was terrifying to show up first day of work and have those fears and anxieties that you may actually be an imposter. Relax, it happens to all of us.

There were some initial bumps and I hated going to work everyday. I hated to be called the "subject matter expert" and I hated it when people started asking me for approvals, to "confirm this" or to "approve that". At one point, even the little junior who worked under me seems to know the subject better.

However, the more I worked, the longer I stayed, my reputation grew quickly. And I began to realise that I was indeed the subject matter expert I thought I wasn't. I worked hard, but a lot of it came down to my existing knowledge and experiences in my previous jobs. That was the reason why i was hired!!! My junior, who initially seemed to be more knowledgeable than me, really was because he knew the system inside out. Once I familiarised myself with the system, I quickly became the de facto SME because I had the technical training he didn't.

After a few more months in the job it quickly became apparent that even my own boss suffers from this syndrome. While she may put on a "know-it-all" face, she was actually just as panicky as I am in those high level meetings we attended together.

Everyone suffers from this. So don't feel bad about it. That's really all i can say - hope it helped, even if just a little bit.