Do you ever feel like a fraud? Worry you’re not qualified to do your job? Wonder when others will find out the truth about you?
You’re not alone. These feelings, which some might refer to as “imposter syndrome,” can hit anyone facing new challenges, such as practicing under a supervisor’s license one day and your own the next. “People often feel it’s just them,” says Jay Witherell, PhD, a psychologist at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry near Detroit. “But it’s a normal part of adjustment. To some extent, everyone has it.”
“Imposter syndrome” is not a syndrome at all but rather the emotional transition that occurs when a student becomes a professional, and may reoccur with any new professional challenge.
These feelings aren’t necessarily always bad: They can increase your conscientiousness when you’re tackling new tasks, says Laura Niver, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Taking some extra time to double-check things and do more research helps Niver feel she’s providing optimal care to her patients, for example.
But strong doubts and worries about your professional competency can mean pushing that conscientiousness to extremes, such as obsessively double-checking everything you do. That means subjecting yourself to unnecessary stress. It also means you’re focusing on yourself at the expense of your patients or others in your professional orbit, Niver says. When supervising interns, for instance, Niver sometimes feels tempted to provide citations for everything she tells them. That would be a mistake, she says. “If I’m so focused on trying to project a particular image for myself, I’d miss out on being able to assess where they are developmentally,” she says.
Niver and others offer tips for overcoming self-doubt: