Whenever I talk about my time selling cars, I always say that I felt with some customers (usually, but not always, men,) that I felt like I had to prove I could do my job before I could get on and do it. It was like being tested. How could I possibly know enough to be able to sell all these different cars? I’d sit and read brochures in my spare time and was always the person in the team to read all the releases from the manufacturer and pass the important bits on. Really. My emails were always headed: “I read this, so you don’t have to.” I was nicknamed the Queen of Product Knowledge (to my face, at least!)
I had to know enough. I had to learn everything. I was terrified of anyone finding a hole in my knowledge while I was there and being found out for not being the expert I thought I needed to be in order to do my job properly. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was suffering from a case of Imposter Syndrome.
It’s a common issue, especially for women. Sheryl Sandberg, billionaire and COO of Facebook, talks about it in Lean In, pointing out that successful men will often attribute their success to their own natural skills and talents, but women will talk about how they “worked really hard,” or “had help from others.” If she could suffer from it, then what hope do the rest of us have? We only have to look around us to see that it’s a norm that’s reinforced all the time and it’s no wonder that so many of us suffer from it. Just look at the headlines: “Successful Man Succeeds Successfully at Thing,” as opposed to “Wife of Successful Man Involved in Team Effort to Complete Task.”
Different types of Impostor Syndrome
Until I read through the Ladies Life Lounge download on imposter syndrome, I didn’t realise that it could manifest itself in different ways. I didn’t see how I was acting in car sales as imposter syndrome at all. How could it be, if all I was trying to do was improve my knowledge so that I could do better? Reading through the different types though, it’s clear that I was “The Expert.” Towards the end of working there, I was actually spending more time on training courses than I was in the showroom in an attempt to make sure I had every single scrap of knowledge available to me. My training was my comfort blanket, my way of proving to myself that I was worthy of being in the career I’d found myself in.
Telling the inner critic where to go
In my current job, in automotive marketing, it’s been a lot easier to spot it in myself and notice it. I’m often feeling like a fraud, that I’m only there by some sort of fluke of timing and opportunity and that at some point my superiors will notice that I’m not particularly talented and wonder why they gave me a job in the first place.
It’s that little voice in my head at it again. The “you’re not good enough, why are you even bothering?” inner critic that tries to bring me down about everything I try to do. She’s at it now: “No point bothering writing that, nobody will read it anyway.” It’s utter rubbish, but rubbish that I continue to tell myself, nonetheless. But there is another way of looking at it.
In the Member’s Club, one thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t have to listen to that inner critic. I don’t even see her as me any longer. She’s got her own name and identity and her only goal is to convince me that I’m not good enough. Now, whenever she pipes up, I can tell her to get lost and remind myself that I am perfectly capable and don’t have to listen to her crap! (This is still a work in progress.)
So – are you an impostor too?
There’s a quiz on the download that will help pinpoint if impostor syndrome is something that you’re suffering from. I scored a 17 – pretty high on the scale. The difference is that now I know what’s causing those negative thoughts about my ability, I have a way of trying to tackle it. I know my tendency is to want to have gathered every little bit of learning before I need to use it, but now I’ll try to adopt a strategy to learn-in-time for when I need it and focus more of my energy on what I’m actually supposed to be doing.
Fiona is currently training to be a mental health therapist after spending 9 years working in the motor trade. She is a stationery addict, who enjoys writing and buying books faster than she can read them.
Have you done the quiz? We’d love you to pop on over to our Facebook Page and share your score with us.
If you’re not already a member of Ladies Life Lounge, you can find out more here. We have the whole topic of career skills covered in our Pretty Ambitious section – and directly in our Career Club.