Tackling Imposter Syndrome in STM: Personal Insights from an Industry Expert
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We had the recent honor of being joined by Michael Sadek, Medical Advisor with Organon Pharmaceutical, to discuss tangible strategies for tackling imposter syndrome in the workplace. When you're a success, but deep down all your doubts and insecurities keep telling you otherwise - that's Imposter Syndrome. It can be the constant fear of being 'found out' as an inadequate fraud despite everyone else seeing something to celebrate!
In part one, Michael had shared with us details of his own journey and the five Imposter Syndrome archetypes to help identify symptoms and resulting behaviors. Below, he takes us a step further and outlines how to tackle Imposter Syndrome head on.
Unlocking Our Career Potential
RS: With the vast prevalence of Imposter Syndrome, and related symptoms, what does that mean for unlocking potential within ourselves?
MS: Great question! Yes, since so many of us feel this way, imagine the amount of hidden potential we have or the amount of talent we could deliver in the workplace, and in our personal lives, if we are not held back by these thoughts and feelings.
There is huge opportunity for improvement if we can control our negative thoughts and emotions.
It helps me to think about the many famous individuals, people who are super productive and successful in their lives and careers, who have been vocal about experiencing these symptoms:
- Maya Angelou, famous American civil rights activist and poet
- Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister for New Zealand and a key figure in the global political landscape globally
- Tom Hanks, beloved Hollywood actor
- Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States
- Emma Watson, English actress and activist
All have mentioned facing the challenges of Imposter Syndrome in articles and interviews, saying that deep down inside that they are not competent enough or not good at what they do. It will be the next book I write, the next movie I make, the next public speech I deliver, that will be what makes people think I am a complete fraud, always have been, and they will lose trust in me.
Try to keep in mind, if people at this level of success and influence can still feel those kinds of negative thoughts or beliefs about themselves, you don’t need to be so hard on yourself. Who knows? You could be the next Tom Hanks or Michelle Obama! Perhaps look at this as a sign that you are on the right track.
RS: How did your own challenges with Imposter Syndrome take shape?
MS: Absolutely! At the beginning of my career, I joined the sales team in my company, and then I moved to the marketing team. Oftentimes, depending on the industry, marketers are considered the “big guns” within the company. They are the stars; the ones that are coming up with one million innovative ideas while delivering successful initiatives and campaigns to grow the business.
Therefore, during this time, I felt as though I was constantly in a competition to prove myself. I told myself I had to be perfect on day one, although I was still very early in my career journey (I was channeling my inner Natural Genius Imposter Syndrome type). As time went on, I started to put increasingly unrealistic expectations on my shoulders, and I started to experience some negative consequences along the way.
The first manifestation was the feeling of guilt and shame because I didn't get everything right the first time. From challenges accommodating my mindset to learning new things about financial forecasting, the slightest thing I didn’t know “well enough” I viewed as a complete disaster and failure. I put all the weight on my shoulders and planned to do everything on my own (much like the Soloist Imposter Syndrome type). But what really played out was that I stayed under the radar and developed a very low resilience; I wanted to quit.
Three Strategies for Facing Imposter Syndrome
RS: That sounds like a challenging time in your career! What strategies did you apply to handle and move past that pressure and stress?
MS: It takes a few different approaches and, unfortunately, there’s no magical solution. No spell that will instantly get rid of those ideas and thoughts. No magical potion you drink and then, POOF, you will have completely mastered Imposter Syndrome.
In reality, it's a long journey; one of learning and self-development. It’s a journey with both failures and successes along the way. And you will have to grow into this journey.
But I can share three ideas to keep in mind that will hopefully help you while you are on this journey, just as they helped me:
1. Humans Are Built for Connections
As we’ve mentioned, lots of people who feel impacted by Imposter Syndrome, myself included, keep a low profile in the workplace. They may not talk as much and, in a sense, self-isolate. Connecting with people might sound a bit cheesy, or that it can be performative or superficial. However, we as humans are built for connections. They are important and meaningful to our sense of self-worth. And your colleagues want to get to know you. It’s very beneficial to the team dynamic to get to know who people are and what they enjoy doing. For managers, it’s an opportunity to better understand and develop their employee. No manger is going to hire someone just to embarrass them. They hired and trusted you for a reason, just as they may also want to develop you for a specific reason.
And that’s a good thing! Without that development, you remain stagnant.
Managers are actively seeking to find those that will be their successors (that is, any manager with a company that’s built on a sustainable model). For such companies and their managers, success means finding, developing, and supporting their next generation of leaders.
Everyone around you is looking to connect with people, including yourself.
So don’t be shy! Be proactive and start initiating those connections yourself. It could be as simple as reaching out for a colleague’s birthday or a message Christmas, Chinese New Year, Diwali, or Ramadan, whatever the occasion they may celebrate. Just a simple message is a great way to connect with people and, at the same time, connect them with the business as well.
2. Tell Your Own Story, On Your Own Terms
Imagine you are shopping and were given the choice between two stores. In the first store, none of the store’s offerings are on display. Everything is in the store’s back storage, but the manager says you are welcome to go and search to find whatever you are looking for. The second store, on the other hand, has a full catalog on display with different colors, designs, and sizes. You can browse, ask questions, and easily find what you are looking to purchase. Which store would you prefer to patronize?
From above, we understand the importance of interpersonal connection, but then the next step is deciding how to talk about yourself. Much like the stores above, how will you brand yourself? What's the image that you're projecting? If you do not put yourself out there, if you don’t tell your own story, you have left people to wonder and draw their own conclusions. This is one of the most self-destructive ideas you can do to yourself and your career.
Therefore, tell your own story!
Start simply and ask yourself: What are you doing right now in the business? Why do you really like doing what you're doing? What ideas do you have to improve the processes or the policies currently in place? What brought you to this place? What is your aspiration for your career?
These are the important stories to share with people, whether in passing or in a more formal setting. And you don't need to feel the pressure or the stress to do this perfectly; no one expects you to be perfect all the time. At the end of the day, your colleagues and managers are much like that shopper faced with the different stores. Make sure they know what you have to offer and project your brand image in a positive way. Even if it’s not “perfect,” you will be remembered and will be top of mind when it comes to development opportunities and project leads.
3. Go Easy on Yourself
We're all humans. We are facing a lot, every one of us. Whether it's your personal or professional life, we are all dealing with some challenging situation or obstacle.
Because of this, doing your best will look different every day. And this is completely normal.
Some days, our best can be 100% of what we're able to do, and some days it might be 80%. Some days, it may even be 20%. On those days, just give that 20% and understand that nothing stays the same. Even if it's a bad day, a bad month, a bad year, it will not be like that for the rest of your life.
We all have our limitations, our vulnerabilities, and our weaknesses to develop. Acknowledge these and allow them to help you. I encourage you to be easy on yourself. Recognize that you are on a journey with a long road. There will be times you are overwhelmed and times you might not be able to control your career advancement. But remember it is the full journey that defines you, and not one particular moment.
RS: Thank you so much for sharing these insights. It has given us so much to think about. Are there any final words of advice or encouragement as we all set forth on our own journeys of tackling Imposter Syndrome?
MS: I’ll reiterate that there is not one singular tip or trick that will fix all your troubles. You will have to continuously develop yourself in this aspect. But this is an exciting opportunity to keep evolving. Start exploring what you are passionate about and what excites you about your work. Keep yourself open to listening, understanding, and learning from those around you, absorbing whatever comes your way. This enthusiasm goes a long way into demonstrating to yourself and others who you are as a professional and helps to tell that voice of Imposter Syndrome in the back of your mind to step aside. I wish you all the best of luck on your journeys!
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