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Overcoming imposter syndrome in ecology

This post is an important one for me – because so many people I speak to within the ecology, wildlife research and conservation space struggle to some degree with imposter syndrome – especially early on in their career when their heart is there but they haven’t got the experience or qualifications or affiliations to back them if you will.

So, for anyone out there who doesn’t feel like they are enough, who doesn’t have the confidence to trust that they are worthy of their role and it won’t just get taken away from them or who fears that their inadequacies will expose them as a fraud who doesn’t know as much as they were assumed to – this post is for you.

All of these feelings are commonly associated with something called imposter syndrome. Although you can read on to find more about it and the symptoms that point towards having it – for now, consider it to be metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot…

Overcoming imposter syndrome in ecology | #itsawildlife

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

From my experience, so many people I’ve met in the ecology and wildlife conservation space are compassionate and often empathetic or sensitive to the world and people around them.

While these are such wonderful qualities that should be celebrated and recognized for the thoughtfulness that comes with them.

That thoughtfulness can often lead to overthinking where your brain can second guess and question interpretations of what’s going on.

Especially when we appreciate that we are lucky to be where we are, although this can create positive emotions like happiness, appreciation and relief, sometimes it can have the opposite effect – triggering anxiety and fear of loss or fear of messing everything up.

Have you ever found yourself biting your nails when things are going well, wondering if it’s all too good to be true?

Of course, it’s natural to feel some uncertainty or nervousness when confronted by challenging situations or experiences where you are asked to prove yourself to others. Rather, imposter syndrome is the name given to those deep feelings of fear, inadequacy and self-doubt which often lead to self-sabotage, severe anxiety and your self-confidence hitting rock bottom.

If left unchecked, imposter syndrome can affect all areas of your work, life, downtime, relationships and emotional wellbeing.

RECOGNISING IMPOSTER SYNDROME

Recognising imposter syndrome or feelings of fear and inadequacy in ourselves and others is an important first step to managing it and even overcoming it.

Public service announcement: if this is the first time you’re hearing about it – take it as a sign – to analyse your own thought patterns, and those of your friends and colleagues. Take the opportunity to stop it in its tracks before it leads you any further from where you want to steer your career.

Typical symptoms or feelings associated with imposter syndrome include:

  • Minimising your achievements and avoiding compliments
  • Settling for nothing less than perfectionism
  • Feeling anxiety and discomfort around (new) people
  • Not asking for help out of fear
  • Feeling self-doubt
  • Putting others (and their achievements) on a pedestal
  • Being an unrealistic expert: feeling compelled to know everything before you start
  • Feeling despair and fear in the face of challenges
  • Pushing yourself to work harder or longer to demonstrate your work ethic
  • Feeling extreme anxiety at missing deadlines

If you resonate with any of these feelings then read on – you’re not alone – and learning about imposter syndrome, discussing it and sharing our experiences are important steps towards overcoming it and feeling happier, more confident and comfortable in your skin.

OVERCOMING IMPOSTER SYNDROME

The first step towards overcoming imposter syndrome is acknowledging it. Today we have compiled 6 techniques you can try to manage and even overcome these feelings within yourself.

If you’re feeling anxious just reading this article – take a deep breath. The good news is that you ultimately have full control of your thoughts – and can work on yourself to manage and eliminate any feelings of imposter syndrome that may have built up for you.

Although it might seem like a lot of unnecessary hard work – taking the time to reflect and work on yourself will help you to feel more confident, competent, comfortable and appreciated in both work and life – and ultimately turn your story around.

Please note that I am no psychologist. If you can, seek professional help to talk through these emotions and look at coping strategies. These are purely suggestions from my experience.

1. Learn and acknowledge

Acknowledge the feelings of imposter syndrome that you resonate with (see above) and, with a notebook and pen, write them down and try to identify where they might originate. While reflecting, try to observe your thoughts, rather than engage with them.

2. Identify your feelings and priorities

Speaking to someone you trust (or if there’s no one around that fits that criteria, write in a notebook), share your feelings and your priorities.

3. Celebrate your wins, identify and reframe your failures

Make a list of 5, 10, 15 things you feel inadequate or uncomfortable about. Now make a list with an equal number of your achievements. It is important to acknowledge that there are parts of your life that you are proud of, and parts that you aren’t. Try to reframe your failures as “important lessons” and see them as part of your journey towards making you into the best version of yourself.

4. Detach

We have to let go of perfectionism and accept that there are so many things in life that we can’t control. I like to do this by writing everything down on a piece of paper and then visualizing these thoughts (my baggage) in a backpack that I shrug off and walk away from. Although cheesy, this honestly helps me to feel lighter – just an idea though – find what works for you!

5. Cultivate self-compassion

Treat yourself the way you treat others – often we can be our own biggest bullies. Try to be gentle with yourself, to accept your feelings, to listen to your inner voice and to understand you’re not to blame.

Great techniques to change your story and cultivate self-compassion in the long-term include using affirmations, journaling, feeling gratitude, dedicating time for mindfulness and enforcing your work-life balance. You can use these strategies to give imposter syndrome the boot!

6. Track your progress

Look at what success would look like for you in taking steps to overcome your feelings of self-doubt, fear and inadequacy. How will you feel when these feelings are no longer your automatic response? What will your life look like when you feel the complete confidence and appreciation you have earned? What metrics can you use to demonstrate your progress to yourself?

Personally, imposter syndrome is still a massive vulnerability that affects me at every twist and turn in the road. It’s something I know I need to take responsibility to work on, not only so that I can feel comfortable, confident, competent and appreciated in both life and work, but so I can show up as the best version of myself and do my best for the people and planet around me.

If imposter syndrome is something you recognize in yourself as well – reach out, I’d love to speak more about it – so take this as your invitation to share your experience and start taking steps towards your self-development!

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5 thoughts on “Overcoming imposter syndrome in ecology”

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