The imposter at work

I have recently become a fan of Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales’ podcast, Chat 10 Looks 3. They have been recording it for about a year in an unashamedly amateur way, often while locked away in a car, a parents room at the ABC studios or even one of their living rooms. Most of the time their conversation prevails over noises of planes flying overhead, their children making requests of them and admirers approaching them to say hello.

I really enjoy how normal and humble these two very competent and successful women sound as they chat away each episode. They’re not trying to appear perfect or super human, but instead as themselves. This is what makes the podcast such enjoyable listening.

And like Jenny Brockie, who I marvel at on Insight, Leigh Sales is an idol of mine.

So when my brother recently directed me to an interview in which Leigh Sales talks about self-doubt, I was especially interested. Speaking to Richard Fidler in 2009, Sales said the reason she seems so crisp and well prepared on live television is because she is “full of doubt and worried that I’m going to stuff it up”. She freely admits to spending more time than she needs to preparing in order to quell this doubt. Sales goes onto to talk about the downsides of having a doubtful mind and the challenge of managing the voice inside your head that questions whether you are actually capable of something.

You may have heard of a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. Most of the literature on it paints it negatively, as a condition of chronic self-doubt and persistent feelings of being a fraud. It’s sometimes explained as a prevailing belief that you are unworthy of success and is said to be particularly prevalent in a select sample of high achieving women. It is these women who are said to harbor beliefs that none of their success is due to their own capabilities or hard work but instead pure luck or fortuitous timing.

Despite this common definition, I once had imposter syndrome explained to me in a positive light. It was proposed that some feelings of inadequacy and the thought that at any moment you might be tapped on the shoulder and told, “we have just realised you’re not qualified for this”, can be helpful indicators that you are challenging yourself the right amount. In other words, if you don’t feel like a fraud to some degree, you’re not where you should be.

While self-doubt can be uncomfortable it can also help to keep us grounded. We want to hold on to our humility and ability to reflect, seek feedback and examine our actions against the expectations we have of ourselves and others have of us. But we don’t want to let it take over and stop as from seeking out new opportunities at work.

I have thought about this phenomenon when I have applied for jobs I wasn’t completely qualified for and when I have offered to speak in public about my experience of something or other. I have often reminded myself that a little bit of fear can be a healthy motivator.

In my teaching career so far I have put my hand up for positions of responsibility that I knew would require me to do a lot of learning on the job. Whilst this has been daunting, I don’t regret seeking out those experiences as the challenge has been both satisfying and rewarding.

Do you often talk yourself out of these kinds of opportunities, thinking someone else is surely more qualified than you?

Is it time for you to seek out a new role in your school?

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