Imposter Syndrome 101

May 28, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Brooke LaTurno - EIPA 3.8 - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

What is “Imposter Syndrome”?

Imposter syndrome is characterized by a personal disbelief in one’s own competence, alongside a fear of being discovered by others as a fraud. Studies suggest that most people will experience imposter syndrome during their lifetime. Many notable figures across a myriad of industries who are widely considered to be accomplished, talented, and/or knowledgeable, have recounted their own struggles with imposter syndrome. Professionals in the field of sign language interpreting are no exception. Imposter syndrome can affect individuals of all different backgrounds, skill level, and experience.

Ideas for How to Cope

Examine your inner dialogue

You may find that some of your patterns of thinking exhibit negative self-talk, which can contribute to feelings of inadequacy. The first step to changing your thought patterns is to look closely at the mental script cycling through your mind, to see if the content is helpful or harmful. If you uncover some negativity (e.g. “I’m no good... and once everyone knows what a failure I am, I’ll be fired!”), choose another message to reframe the perspective you are conveying to yourself: “I get better every day, and I’m committed to learning new things,” for example. In the beginning it might feel silly to practice this sort of positive self-talk, however after a while you might notice how dismantling limiting beliefs in this way can have a profound impact on the quality of your mood and self-esteem.

Talk with a friend, peer, or mentor

When experiencing feelings of self-doubt, it can be helpful to admit those worries to someone you feel safe with. You might be surprised to discover that you are not alone in your fear about potentially being a fraud. Sharing your concerns with a trusted confidant can be cathartic and help you along the path to self-compassion and acceptance.

Focus on the positive

Our brains have a natural tendency to focus on negative experiences, so it is important to make a conscious effort to remember especially good days. Start a voice memo or journal to record compliments and positive feedback you receive, to buoy your spirits during tough days. Recognize how far you have come! Surely there are challenges you met head-on, that a less experienced version of yourself would have felt uneasy handling. What is something you were intimidated by a year ago, that now you can do with confidence? Reflect on your growth and notice how your abilities blossom over time.

Set realistic goals to work on

Often people who deal with imposter syndrome also struggle with perfectionism. For those individuals, the idea of making mistakes (let alone failing) can be terrifying. Since perfection is impossible, it may be helpful to instead focus on progress as an alternate goal. Creating an action plan with short-term and long-term goals can help you concentrate on doing the work, even when you worry you are not good enough. If there are specific settings or topics that stress you out, break skill-building activities down into simple steps to gradually develop confidence in those areas. When confronted with those challenges in real life, hopefully they will not be as terrible as the catastrophes you might have pictured in your head. Regardless of the outcome, facing your fears can be an empowering moment. Make a habit of celebrating your victories.

Do something joyful

Sometimes the best thing you can do to pull yourself out of heavy feelings of inadequacy is an activity purely for the fun of it. Make time for hobbies and extracurricular interests that bring you pleasure. You never know when those seemingly unrelated experiences will end up being an asset while on an assignment, and the stress reducing effects of doing something solely for the purpose of enjoyment should not be underestimated.

Pay it forward

Be the compassionate friend/peer/mentor for others, in their moments of need. If you find practices and resources that uplift you, spread the word. When inspired, share messages of support and encouragement with those around you – you never know how your words might transform someone’s day.

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