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Careers Café

Saying no to the imposter syndrome


Last week, I turned down CBC’s The Current. I’d been invited to comment on how job seekers can navigate the world of short-term employment. Instead of jumping at the chance, I immediately said no, offered the names of two other potential panelists, and went back to work. Happily, our PR person took me by the hand, looked me in the eye, and told me to take the opportunity. The very next morning, I was on national radio, mentally smacking myself in the forehead every time I spoke.

Since then, I’ve been wondering where my imposter complex has been hiding all these years. I thought it was gone, but it was obviously close enough to the surface that it took me mere seconds to make the decision that I wasn’t good enough to comment on a topic I’ve advised countless clients on.

It turns out that my imposter syndrome has just been dozing in the background. It felt so much more alert in grad school because, as it turns out, grad students are among the more susceptible to the imposter syndrome, along with people in minority groups and those from families that emphasized the importance of achievement.

Just because I was asleep and let the imposter syndrome seize the wheel doesn’t mean you have to. Take a look at the things you say no to, and see whether there’s a pattern of under-confidence behind your response. Are there jobs you’d apply to, if only you were more qualified? Are there projects you’d put yourself forward for, but there are others you work with who seem more suitable? Heck, are there volunteer roles you’d go for, but you’re convinced no one would want you? (Not that everything boils down to confidence: here’s a different take on reluctance to apply to jobs.)

If you have the time and the inclination, have a look at Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s book Confidence, which questions the connection between confidence and competence. It’s either a dire warning that your confidence might be unwarranted, or a great reassurance that your under-confidence is an asset – as long as it drives you to improve, rather than driving you to automatically turn down opportunities.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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