Working With Anxiety: Imposter Syndrome

By now everyone knows that I have anxiety.

While I talk a lot about how it impacts my personal life, I haven’t discussed how it can bleed into my work life as well. Until recently, I’ve not had much of an issue. I work from home, as part of a small team, that doing straight forward and easy to assess tasks. I never had to question my ability to perform in this roll, because the QA metrics were clear. I know that I know how to audit a website for SEO compatibility. I know that I know how to audit an SEO campaign for viability. I have been done thousands of audits of this kind. I was willing and ready to expand my skill set, so when my team was picked to beta test a new product for the company I was eager to get started. But that’s when the anxiety started to creep back into work.

I didn’t just want to succeed, I wanted to excel.

I always did well in school. I always made good grades and I was always a teacher favorite, without ever really trying. However, like many gifted students, this eventually lead to a fear of failure. Those same fears, buried since graduating 2 years ago, found their way back into my life. I couldn’t just learn the material, I had to master it. I had to prove that I was capable of doing, and learning, and being anything I set my mind to. But who was I trying to prove this to? Because I quickly found that proving my abilities to others didn’t make me feel accomplished. It made me feel like a fraud.

No matter what I do, It’s never enough for my anxiety.

We all started on the same level with this training: level 1. My 2 teammates, myself, our direct manager, a manager from a different department, and an employee from the client team, were all going into this project blind. The goal was to complete the training for a potentially new product from start to finish, so we could best determine how we would implement the product, and train a team in the future. There was no expectations set for any of us. There is no grade to make, no bonus on the line, no risk to my job or my income. In short, there is no reason to get worked up over any of it. Yet, I am stressing over my notes and homework- to the point of dreaming about studying- and I don’t even know why. I’ve already been singled out by the two managers going through the training with us as the”go-to” trainee, but I feel like a fraud. I’ve convinced the beta team I know what I’m doing, but I can’t convince myself.

I feel like a student again.

I always loved school. I always loved the process of learning and processing new information. Outwardly, I’ve always been confident in my knowledge, but inwardly I was always unsatisfied. Each new fact I learned just lead to more questions. I never felt like I knew enough, understood enough, or studied enough to call myself an expert in anything. No matter how well I did, the lingering feeling that I could do better never went away. There’s always a feeling that there is some potential just out of reach. When teachers praised by work I was happy for just a moment, but inevitably my thoughts reverted to dark ruminations of my own perceived deceit: “They think this is good, but you know it’s not. You tricked them into thinking your know what you’re talking about. You fooled them believing you are smart. You know this wasn’t good work. You know this was just bullshit you spout out on the page…” My own inner critic had always been my harshest judge.

On one hand, I’m pushed to secceed.

My fear of being called out as a fraud pushes me to work harder. Once someone identifies me as knowledgeable, I cannot allow myself to rest until I have met that expectation. On more than one occasion this has led to burnout. For this new training, the pressure began by lesson 3. I always intended to do well in this skill training for my own love of learning, but now I feel that I need to do so to live up to the recognition I was given. The dark truth is, I know I will never feel that I succeeded, no matter how well I do. Nothing will shake the feeling that I’m just a phony.

I don’t know how to get over this.

I graduated college feeling with the feeling that I didn’t fully deserve the GPA and degree I got. I started a career with the feeling that I bluffed my way into the job. It took months of consistently high QA scores, strategy discussion, independent study, and independent skill testing to convince me that I was fully competent in my current roll– and even then I still have doubts about my overall competency in the field. In short, I never did get over my imposter syndrome. I simply shifted it’s manifestation in my life. From school to work, from work to training, I may always feel like a fraud. That is the lasting legacy of my anxiety.

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