Unlocking Your Career Potential: Identifying the Five Imposter Syndrome Archetypes
In our Researcher Live webinar series, we bring together experts and thought leaders to discuss the hottest research and industry topics.
In our recent episode, we were joined by Michael Sadek, Medical Advisor with Organon Pharmaceutical, where he shared his secrets to success in the Pharma industry. One important step in this success was not only acknowledging the very real role Imposter Syndrome can have on one’s professional life, but also categorizing some of the primary behaviors associated with Imposter Syndrome in order to better identify when those behaviors are being exhibited and to provide a way to communicate about them.
According to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, as much as 82 percent of the population could have imposter syndrome. A survey of our own network of researchers and industry professionals corroborated this finding, with 81 percent reporting that they had suffered from Imposter Syndrome at some stage throughout their careers.
We had the opportunity to speak with Michael about his personal journey to help professionals advance their careers at whatever stage they may be.
Where It All Began
RS: So, what led you to become an expert in the pharmaceutical industry? How did it all begin?
MS: When I’m reflecting on my career, I remember myself as a new graduate, joining the Pharma industry with little real-world experience under my belt. I had been told that Pharma companies were a great place to start one’s career, particularly with my academic background, and I was excited to dive in. However, I never thought that my career journey would take me to where I am right now or that I would have gained the experiences.
I started out in Pharma back in 2009, working as a Sales Rep directly post-graduation and then briefly moved to a position as a Marketing Associate. Then, in 2015, I moved into Medical Affairs. This is where I really saw the most potential for my career. I had the opportunity to work with major organizations, such as MSD/Merck, as a Medical Science Liaison.
In 2021, I moved to Organon Pharmaceutical. As many of you may know, Organon is a spin-off company of MSD/Merck established in 2021, so at that time there were many people moving over to Organon to launch the new company.
I knew this would be a great opportunity for me, so after almost 12 years, I determined it was time to change gears!
Now as a leader in Organon, I'm working as Associate Director of Medical Affairs, responsible for Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. I have found a great deal of professional satisfaction within this role, making a true impact on patients’ lives. I am able to get close to doctors and patients, and listen to their needs to develop solutions that can improve patient health and outcomes.
The Five Imposter Syndrome Archetypes
RS: This sounds like an incredible journey with so many unique experiences and opportunities. Where did Imposter Syndrome come into play?
MS: Well, for those who may not be as familiar with imposter syndrome, I wanted to first provide an introduction. What does it mean exactly? Imposter syndrome is basically a perceived self-fraudulence or perceiving yourself as a fraud.
This syndrome involves different symptoms and thoughts, much like low self-esteem, where you often question your self-worth and your personal competence. And these feelings and thoughts usually persist despite your education, your background, or your career achievements.
Many of us have had that moment of not wanting to say anything in a meeting or speak up during a call, thinking, “If I say anything or call attention to myself, people will truly see me for who I am. They will understand that I am a complete fraud and that I am not fit for this position.”
This persistent questioning can cause people to try to overcompensate, pushing themselves to work harder, to the point of burnout, or hold themselves to unobtainable standards.
RS: So, it’s clear those who experience Imposter Syndrome can do so in a wide range of settings. How does this usually manifest for individuals?
MS: While there are a wide variety of symptoms, to make things a little bit more structured, we’ll discuss five main types of Imposter Syndrome:
1. The Perfectionist
I think lots of us know the Perfectionist, or have been experiencing it themselves, including myself. The Perfectionist is a person who feels compelled to do everything flawlessly. Everything must be 100 percent. “No” is not in their vocabulary. They can’t handle delays or any shortcomings. Everything must go smoothly and perfectly from start to the finish. If there are slight errors or challenges along the way, even if they are very minute or inconsequential, the Perfectionist beats themselves up and starts operating under the mindset that they’ve completely failed.
“This event was a complete disaster.” “This meeting was a complete failure.” “This initiative did not succeed at all.”
All these feelings of guilt and shame can arise even if you’ve achieved 99 percent instead of 100 percent.
2. The Superhero
The Superhero is also a sort of all-or-nothing mindset. “If I am successful, I must be successful on all fronts.” To be a successful parent, spouse, child, colleague, manager, teammate, they must be doing well in each of these roles and there cannot be, at any time, any kind of imbalance between them.
This might look like: “I'm a very bad employee. I've not been focusing on work for the last couple of months because I've been dealing with a stressful personal issue.” Or: “I'm not a good spouse and parent because I’ve not been able to give my family the time and attention they need right now due to work pressures.”
Any kind of shortcoming, even if purely imagined or circumstantial and perfectly understandable, initiates a slippery slope for the Superhero of feeling like they are doing poorly at everything they do and are a complete failure.
3. The Natural Genius
The Natural Genius is the person who assumes that they “have it all” from the beginning, that nothing will be too difficult for them. They assume they will master any learning process in a matter of days; they assume they will be able to transition perfectly and seamlessly to any new system implemented at their company.
Then, when anything is difficult, they feel ashamed, feeling like they are not knowledgeable enough or that they have fallen short of their own expectations. Even though others understand that the learning process is a gradual one, rife with ups and downs, the Natural Genius tends to ignore that fact and always feel they should have done better.
4. The Expert
This is the person who seeks to know everything and seeks to show that they know everything. The Expert is the one in the meeting room who has always done it before, who always has an answer for everything. They expect that they are on top of their business at all times. If there is a lack of knowledge in any capacity, or even if there is someone in the room that is more knowledgeable or who has more experience, they feel like a failure.
5. The Soloist
As a result of all the negative thoughts and feelings, the Soloist tends to play it safe and not be as much of a team player with their colleagues. They want to do it all on their own. They will put all the work on their own shoulders because they feel if they ask for help, others will see them as not competent or knowledgeable enough. They fear perhaps their colleagues will even feel that they don’t deserve to be at the company or that the assignment they are working on is above them and that it should be taken away.
They believe others are on a constant lookout for any sign that they are lacking something related to the work to be done, so they tend to work on their own and put all responsibilities on their own shoulders. This predictably ends with the Soloist getting overloaded and burnt out.
RS: This provides such a great language framework to discuss of how Imposter Syndrome can present itself. Do you think people identify with just one of these types, or could they identify with several?
MS: I think most of us can identify with multiple roles at any given time. And when we use the types above to discuss how we might be experiencing Imposter Syndrome, it helps us reach a deeper understanding and helps us realize that lots of us feel the same way.
And this is good news! The more we talk about it, the better equipped we are to process and overcome that way of thinking. You don’t have to be ashamed or beat yourself up, and you certainly aren’t a complete fraud. We all go through those emotions and these thoughts.
Unfortunately, this is increasing in recent years, especially with all the challenges we are facing globally. The silver lining there is that with increased reporting of Imposter Syndrome, we are also talking about it more and inherently removing the associated stigma.
The key is to remember that you are not alone and to take time to actively reflect in order to better understand exactly how thoughts and feelings of Imposter Syndrome affect you and your working habits. By stepping back and asking, “what is really going on here?” with an open, curious mindset - you can significantly weaken the hold that Imposter Syndrome has over your workplace performance. This type of transformation begins inside each one of us individually, but its impact should not be underestimated by businesses as a whole.
Don't miss the next installment of this interview with Michael Sadek where he'll reveal some personal reflections for dealing with imposter syndrome! Tune in and prepare for insights on how you can understand and manage your thoughts and feelings as you navigate through your career journey.
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