So, you feel like an imposter?
Welcome to the club.
You're not alone. Upwards of 70% of the population have felt this way at some point in their life, and likely the numbers are even higher. It's not just a vet 'thing', it's all professions and walks of life. Your peers, colleagues, friends, mentors, bosses, and tutors will have likely felt this way at some point too. There are things that can help.
It's important to remember, imposter syndrome is not a diagnosis (can also be spelled impostor by the way, either is fine). It's not a label or fault, it's an experience. "A psychological pattern in response to stimuli". Often it is when we are growing or achieving, and we just don't feel deserving, we tune into and believe that inner critic that tells us why we aren't good enough. This might be at work for case outcomes, when we gain new qualifications, promotions or whilst training too. It can happen at any point in our careers. When we zone into it and believe it, we can feel like phoneys. The reality is that behind that inner critic is a valuable, unique person that is deserving of their achievements, we just need a little reminder to zone back into that person.
What can we do about imposter syndrome?
Step 1: Realise you're not alone. It's ok, there are things that can help. Also, take note of the above point, it's not a fault or a label, it's an experience. I hear many people decide they have imposter syndrome, and that it's a fault - please don't. You're not broken. Sometimes we need to take a little pressure off ourselves. Nobody knows everything. Everyone makes mistakes. We're allowed to ask for help. Imposter thoughts often pipe up as we're growing and pushing comfort zones.
Step 2: Whilst imposter syndrome is not a diagnosis, it does have the potential for a small number of people to be comorbid with depression, burnout, reduced job satisfaction and anxiety (Bravata et al, 2019), and leave us feeling exhausted, low and not ourselves.
If feeling this way has a continuous, negative effect on your life, then seeking medical advice, speaking to a GP, therapist or a counsellor can be very helpful - it might have progressed past imposter syndrome (I'm speaking from experience). By all means please do try the other suggested pieces on this page, but keep your mind open to this option. Talking often helps, so those in the veterinary profession remember Vetlife is available 24/7 and helplines such as Papyrus and The Samaritans.
Step 3: Here are some free resources for you. I've been through the depths of imposter syndrome to some pretty dark places as a vet, despite externally looking like I had everything sorted. I've also trained as a coach, with further study into mindfulness and CBT.
I am very passionate about raising awareness on this area, whilst reminding vet professionals of their value, and I'm pleased to give you some pointers to start with:
I have made a FREE 1 hour webinar which is available at Elearning.vet (go to 'watch now').
In these videos you'll find lots of tangible tips on what you can do, and actions that you can take.
Could you speak with a friend and see if you can keep each other accountable?
Remember how many times we read books, and think "yes, that's a good idea!" and don't action it?
Take notes and plan how you can make it work for you (keep reading this page as well, there's lots more).
For a shorter snippets, below is 20minutes of short tips you can look at from when I spoke at the Global Veterinary Career Summit 2020 (and there's another just underneath too!):
I also gave a talk in February 2021 for EmpVet Teams, which is FREE and I cover "10 Things to Take Control of Imposter Syndrome". This is a super toolkit to use if you're feeling like a fraud right now and need some pointers. Grab a pen and paper, rinse and repeat:
The above resources give you lots of places to start, but as ever, there are more options out there. You're not a fraud, honestly. BUT, sometimes we need more help and support than a webinar alone. I want to guide you through what is available:
Option 1: Group work was shown to be very powerful when Clance and Imes discovered Imposter Syndrome in the 1970s. They found that connecting with others who felt the same had an unmasking effect and helped to break down the limiting beliefs of individuals too. I offer a 12 week group programme alongside Claire Grigson for those within the veterinary profession, you can find out more at www.vetempowered.com.
Option 2: Coaching can be really helpful, both to help break down the beliefs that we hold about not being good enough, but also to help realign you on what is really important; sometimes we can feel like an imposter if we are chasing someone else's dreams, and not our own. I offer transformational coaching 1:1 with limited spaces for those in the entrepreneur space and via Vet Empowered for the veterinary space, and coach on a level of identity because that drives everything else. However there are many other brilliant coaches out there. The important thing is finding a coach that suits you, and that you believe in their methods and align with their values. I'd always recommend having a discovery call with a coach to see what they can offer, and find someone that you resonate with. A good coach won't be afraid to redirect you towards other sources of help where appropriate, with the potential to regroup at a later date. I could sit here and hard sell you my own coaching all day, but I work with specific people who are the right fit and who resonate with my methods, I'm far more passionate about helping people get help that works for them than persuading.
There are likely a number of other imposter syndrome courses online, I would not feel comfortable recommending them without having done them myself, but that does not mean they aren't good. I stick true to my values in explaining what truly worked for me, and then I can be authentic.
Which one is best for me?
Always remember that everyone is an individual, and different things will work for different people. Looking up topics such as mindfulness and realising we don't have to believe everything that we think can be truly helpful, but there is more to it than that. You are valuable, unique, and worthy of your successes.
(In fact in 2011 Binazar figured out the odds of us being here, as us, was 1 in 400 trillion. Pretty incredible, right? But that's a bit much for some to take in at this stage).
As ever, any questions or concerns, please contact me at email@example.com. I can help point you in the right direction.
Don't forget to follow me on social media for lots more boosts and tips regularly (@katiefordvet).
Which of your successes are you now ready to own?
Lots of people ask me about books. I love books, I own hundreds of them and I'm always reading...BUT, completely honestly? No book completely changed my life. Therapy, coaching and group programmes did, those things keep us accountable and provide a support for our new beliefs and true identity. I'd read a book, it helped for a while, then I'd slip back into older ways or I'd stop using the methods. I cannot recommend investing in yourself enough more than books alone, you are totally worth it.
I've listed a few books that I found very helpful on my own journey though, as I realise not everyone is ready for taking a leap into self-investment yet, feel free to check them out. They're not directly imposter syndrome based, but genuinely some of the methods outlined did provide insights.
Bravata, Dena & Watts, Sharon & Keefer, Autumn & Madhusudhan, Divya & Taylor, Katie & Clark, Dani & Nelson, Ross & Cokley, Kevin & Hagg, Heather. (2019). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine. 35. 10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1.
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.
LaDonna, K. A., Ginsburg, S., & Watling, C. (2018). “Rising to the level of your incompetence”: what physicians’ self-assessment of their performance reveals about the imposter syndrome in medicine. Academic Medicine, 93(5), 763-768.
Villwock, J. A., Sobin, L. B., Koester, L. A., & Harris, T. M. (2016). Impostor syndrome and burnout among American medical students: a pilot study. International journal of medical education, 7, 364–369. https://doi.org/10.5116/ijme.5801.eac4