Women’s Money Week: Overcoming impostor syndrome – how a virtual stranger opened my eyes to my real worth

How I learned my true professional worth

One of my fears about taking half of 2013 off to travel was that my fill-in at work would totally outshine me.

Fortunately it did the opposite – highlighting how much I juggle every day and how well I do it. It wasn’t just the people I work with every day who noticed but people externally who noticed the difference. That really struck home for me when I was chatting to someone – a person I don’t have much personal, frequent contact with but really respect – who went as far as to say our team had been obviously “screwed” in my absence.

His validation, as an outsider, was the key to altering how I see myself. That marked a real turning point for me.

I’ve always had a strange thing about self-confidence.  I love what I write, at least until I hand it over, at which point I immediately start to hate it. Until very recently, I couldn’t ever stand to read my own work once published. I’ve always gotten good feedback about my work, but my own self-belief has always been patchy. There has never been a solid foundation underpinning it. Hello impostor syndrome!

This is only my second full-time job (although I have learned so very, very much over the past couple years) and I’ve basically always been the most junior on the team. I’m  naturally reserved, I’m quiet in meetings not just because of shyness but because I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.

But I’m firmly mid-20s now. I’m not necessarily always the junior person, or even if I am, I now do increasingly have things to contribute. It’s expected of me – and I shouldn’t hold myself back because of how I feel inside. It’s time to adjust this mental perception I hold about who I am. I’m not 18 and clueless anymore.

I look older than I am, which I think has helped people take me seriously up till now. And I need to take myself seriously too, and not sell myself short.

At what point did you realise you had outgrown the ‘junior’ card and couldn’t play it anymore? Have you ever had a random incident change how you perceived yourself and your professional worth?

14 thoughts on “Women’s Money Week: Overcoming impostor syndrome – how a virtual stranger opened my eyes to my real worth

  • Reply Sense March 8, 2014 at 11:31

    Congrats! It is always awesome when someone realizes your worth–and tells you. That doesn’t happen often enough, but isn’t it so flattering when they do? No matter how successful, I think most people think they are flailing a bit until someone puts their contributions in perspective.

    I kind of have the opposite problem–I look way younger than I am (mid-30’s); I get carded EVERY TIME I buy alcohol, and a few years ago someone thought I was 17. This makes it really hard to be taken seriously at work–everyone thinks I am an undergrad student and I am automatically assumed to be the junior person in every situation. Even when I dress up and wear make up and do everything i can to look professional. It’s crap.

    I also do not speak in meetings unless I feel like my words add value. I HATE meetings for their blathering-on-ness! Let’s just get it DONE.

    I have only recently (like in the last 2 years) started to get really annoyed that I was always the junior staff playing secretary and organiser in meetings (or assumed to be that person), some of that to those younger than me who have a lot more experience. Only recently have I begun to feel like I need to take a more senior and responsible role in my career; til now, I’ve been having a BLAST but it isn’t getting me anywhere.

    Several instances led to that realization/change:

    1) I decided to stop trying to move back to the US and take advantage of all the opportunities I have here in NZ (there are MANY). Once I did that, a world of options opened up, and continues to–even until yesterday. I now have so many amazing opps that I am having to turn some down. As my boss told me yesterday, I am “in demand, girl!” Seeing my potential and everything I COULD do makes me see how far I’ve come. I also realized that I had a duty to the public/world to live up to that potential.

    2) This was followed up by a serious conversation with my ex-ex-boyfriend (not XBF), who is quickly climbing up the career ladder. (I am friends with him now but we see each other only every 3-4 years or so.) He basically checked me and asked WTF I was doing with my life when I described my job and role. That hurt but was necessary.

    3) Nearly simultaneously to 2, a major crush that I also respect professionally wondered why the heck I wasn’t going after Bigger Stuff given my driven personality and talents–and I realized that if I wanted a guy like that, I’d have to do a lot more with myself.

    4) I have started to mentor and supervise folks, and that has shown me how much I know and have accomplished (mostly because they tell me so).

    So I have given myself a ton of new responsibilities (and professional visibility) at work. Plus signed up for a PhD. When it is time, it is just time.

  • Reply SP March 8, 2014 at 12:20

    It has taken a long time for me. First, because they really didn’t hire anyone younger than me at my last company until my last year there. Now I’m brand new to a new industry, so I’m trying to balance being new to the industry with having real valuable experience and input.

    It’s something I actively think about quite a bit. It was quite a while ago that I mentally started using “woman” as opposed to “girl”. Somehow it makes a big difference.

  • Reply Alicia March 8, 2014 at 16:53

    I am working on this like crazy – one year into my first career position where I am 15 years younger than most of my colleagues. I am good at what I do, but you wouldn’t know it the way I talk-down myself. It is one of my 2014 goals… To work on my self-confidence.

  • Reply Kasia March 8, 2014 at 22:25

    I’m guilty of impostor syndrome, especially when it comes to my writing. At work I’m confident in my abilities but when it comes to pursuing self employment opportunities I feel like I’m not experienced enough, not good enough, and end up undermining my own abilities. Unfortunately, until I start taking myself seriously no one else will either.

  • Reply Suburban Finance March 9, 2014 at 06:31

    I think impostor syndrome is quite hard to avoid, since I’m guilty of it myself. I think by ‘believing’ what people believe in you kind of helps though, and just do what you think is the best of you!

  • Reply Jess March 9, 2014 at 13:35

    I’m in my late 20s, and sometimes I still feel like I can’t possibly do anything as well as the “real” adults. Then I remember that I’m supposed to be one of those actual, professional adult people – it doesn’t seem quite right.

  • Reply femmefrugality March 9, 2014 at 18:19

    I’m the same way sometimes when it comes to my writing. I’ve thrown out old journals and depress a few old blog posts because of it.

    I’m glad they gave you some props at work. From what I know you are very good at what you do. I’m still in that junior mindset. Plus being an introvert doesn’t help much.

  • Reply femmefrugality March 9, 2014 at 18:20

    *deleted not depressed. This is why I hardly ever comment from my phone. :p

  • Reply Dear Debt March 11, 2014 at 05:58

    Not finding a job after grad school really plummeted my self worth. I was so confident before. I had a great job and went to a nice school, so it was hard. Now that I’m almost 30, I’m doing fairly well again, but I’m regaining my confidence. I also hate all my work when it is published. I get so bored with what I do. I am trying to build up my confidence to higher than it was (it was never that great) and keep on building a life I want and love. You are not alone and thank you for sharing this piece!

  • Reply Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 12, 2014 at 07:25

    I know exactly what you mean. I still sometimes feel like a little kid in a room full of adults. I think what’s helped me overcome that is just the realization that I actually do good work and that I know as much as the “adults” in the room. Either way, it’s good to feel and know you’re appreciated.

  • Reply Cassie March 12, 2014 at 07:36

    I’m not sure at what point I realized I wasn’t really junior anymore. I think it’s been a slow process over the last few years. As I watched the new people enter the field I realized that I did legitimately know things that they didn’t.

    I think the biggest epiphany I had regarding professional worth came around Christmas this past year. A colleague of mine was crowing over his recent promotion, and I was frustrated listening to him thinking “why you?”, along with thinking about others I knew who had been promoted in the past. Once I had gotten past their arrogance, I realized that the biggest thing they all had in common was their willingness to promote their accomplishments. I know several excellent Engineers that are deserving of promotions who never seem to get them. The biggest thing they have in common is that they play their accomplishments down and promote the people around them instead of themselves. I realized then that if I didn’t value my own professional worth no one else was going to do it for me, so I had better start bumping it up.

  • Reply Deia @ Nomad Wallet March 20, 2014 at 09:27

    I have the same problem. I can’t read what I’ve written after it’s published. Glad I’m not the only one! I wonder if architects have the same problem and take the long way home rather than passing by the buildings they designed. 😉

    • Reply eemusings March 20, 2014 at 09:53

      LOL! Gosh that would be hilarious. Or engineers who take the long way home to avoid the bridges they created?

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