Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

with Pauline Sargent, founder of DigiWomen
Dublin Science Gallery, January 17th 2017

This talk on Imposter Syndrome was about that feeling that many of us get when we are faced with a challenge. Even if we know that we have the right skills, qualifications or whatever it should take to complete this task, or take on this new job, sometimes we find ourselves crippled with self-doubt about our capability. Pauline Sargent, who is the founder of Irish company DigiWomen and lecturer in Digital Marketing at Dublin Business School, knows this feeling only too well. Although the term Imposter Syndrome was coined in the 1970s, by two psychologists, Pauline had not come across it until she volunteered to hold a TEDx conference in Drimnagh, Dublin, and found herself feeling that she couldn’t handle it. All manner of things went wrong and eventually the conference had to be cancelled. One positive thing was that, after doing some research, Pauline realised that she was not the only one suffering from this feeling of being undeserving or too inexperienced to succeed. Hence, she came up with this presentation to share her findings with others and to help women in particular to overcome Imposter Syndrome when it threatens to strike.

After establishing from a show of hands that almost everyone in the room had experienced this phenomenon at one time or another, Pauline got the audience started with a hands-on exercise. In small groups, we each thought of a challenge that we had coming up, and shared our feelings and any doubts that we had about facing it. Some of the stories were shared among the wider audience then. Some examples were of fear of speaking at client meetings, of feeling that you didn’t know everything at work, of not being good enough to get a new desired job, and of not ticking every box when applying for jobs.

I think most of us felt better having heard others share their experiences of self-doubt! Pauline explained that especially in the age of social media, it’s easy to feel that everyone else ‘has it together’ and that we are the only one struggling. She showed us some quotes from famous people who experience feelings of being a fraud, from movie stars to writers and sports people. It seems that Imposter Syndrome can be felt by almost anyone, even those who appear to be at the top of their field.

Some of the advice given during the presentation for dealing with Imposter Syndrome was not to worry about aiming for absolute perfection, as ‘done is better than perfect’; to be an ordinary hard-worker, as opposed to a super-star, but to be consistent; to focus on day-to-day tasks instead of always looking to the end goal.

Next, we were given our second exercise designed to get us to tackle our own Imposter Syndrome tendencies: in our small groups again, we had to pick a challenge that we want to get done in the next 3-6 months, and plan out the steps that we would need to complete in order for that to happen. This was really useful, as it made the ideas and advice more concrete, and invited each of us to face our self-doubts and knock them away using practical steps chosen by us.

Further advice from Pauline was to make sure to lean on people around you, and not just anyone, but the right people, those who will support you in your goals. This is exactly what WITS is there for, and other professional organisations could also be useful, depending on your particular challenge. She also warned us not to compare ourselves to anyone, as it is not helpful and you never really know what is happening below the surface of what someone else chooses to project out into the world. Her final advice before this event concluded was to be realistic about what you can do, take stock of your skills and talents and be honest about them. This will help you to feel confident about taking on the right task, while not falling into the trap of doing too much and saying yes to absolutely everything.

We hope that everyone got something out of this event, and that it has helped some of those facing exciting/daunting challenges to be tackled in 2017. Look out for our future events at witsireland.com.

By Jane O’Hara