Have you heard of imposter syndrome? Originally coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 (Clance, 1985), the term describes the self-doubt that they are underqualified. People experiencing the imposter syndrome often feel they do not deserve the respect or recognition they receive. Instead of attributing success to knowledge or skill, these individuals incorrectly attribute it to good timing or luck. The imposter syndrome was originally thought to only occur in women, but researchers have found these feelings also impact men at equivalent rates.
For many instructional designers or learning/development professionals, we often utilize our own knowledge, understanding, and experiences to build out courses and lessons. We may not be experts in project management or performance management, but we are able to leverage our understanding to make these subjects trainable. Many of us also must train others in person or online. While we may be subject matter experts, our knowledge does not always prevent us from feeling underqualified.
These self-doubts may manifest themselves when in the planning phases for instructional projects. We may often over prepare for meetings with experts, stakeholders, or clients. We may mentally rehearse our response when someone asks about our credentials or challenges our design methodology. It can be overwhelming.
So, how do you overcome these feelings? Here are three tricks to overcome the imposter syndrome.
Authentically represent yourself and your knowledge. In Hamlet, Polonius says “This above all: to thine own self be true…” This is great advice to follow in all aspects of your life, but especially when attempting to overcome the imposter syndrome. Whether you have a PhD or a high school diploma, you are in an instructional design role for a reason. Whatever your background or experiences, you will do better in life if you are authentic about your skillsets.
As a word of clarification: There is a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect in which, eventually, a person with more knowledge becomes humble about their knowledge. Being humble is different than the imposter syndrome.
Have articulable backup. Having quantitative support is always better than not. Utilizing pre- and post-training measures to document improvement can showcase your instruction’s reliability. Having subject matter experts complete your training and give you critiques can increase your instruction’s validity. Knowing both and how to articulate both can be the difference between a new contract and a hard pass. This will help you demonstrate your worth when faced with imposter syndrome doubts.
Utilize your support network. We all have both friends and colleagues. Use them. If you are really having a bad day or really being impacted by doubts, talk to them. Their encouragement is often what is needed to help you overcome these fears.
Have you experienced imposter syndrome before? How did you handle it?