As you read last month in Part I, Impostor Syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.” Breaking this mindset is difficult, but it is worth the effort!
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Impostor syndrome might prevent a veterinarian from applying to a job they are well-qualified for, or prevent them from marketing their abilities to clients, causing lowered earnings. Doctors might turn down job offers, refuse to see certain kinds of cases, or even decide to leave the position they have due to the stress they feel. Some practitioners with Impostor Syndrome refer cases quickly before they have done the workup/treatment that they are capable of performing. When a promotion or partnership buy-in proposal arises, they might feel inadequate and turn down those offers.
All of these situations lead to missed opportunities, including those of gaining experience and becoming recognized as an “expert” by clients, colleagues and perhaps most importantly, by themselves. Lower financial gain and lower professional status eventually can affect workplace morale, motivation and happiness. The end result might be a change of careers, or simply burnout.
Start With Self-Awareness
Overcoming the challenges of Impostor Syndrome begins with self-awareness and understanding the prevalence of Imposter Syndrome among high achievers. In order to achieve the goal of becoming a veterinarian, external validation in the form of excellent grades and recommendations from established practitioners was required. After entering practice, one’s feelings of worthiness might depend on the fullness of the work schedule or the competitive success of the horses one treats.
But the more one’s self-worth is internal, the less one has to look to others for validation and the less susceptible one is to Imposter Syndrome.
Working with a therapist can be helpful in alleviating the condition of Imposter Syndrome. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has resulted in positive outcomes. CBT challenges the individual’s perceptions surrounding feedback and performance to bring about recognition of true abilities. Group therapy can be especially effective, as other participants’ negative self-perceptions can often be clearly seen as unrealistic, prompting recognition that their own feelings of inadequacy are not substantiated by reality either.
Some veterinarians appear to be addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself. When a person possesses inner confidence that states that they are competent and skilled, it is much easier to feel how much work is reasonable. Internalizing the idea that there is no shame in asking for help when it is needed— either to learn a new skill or when the workload is overwhelming—is important. Mentoring interns or younger colleagues can be a great way to become more comfortable being in a position of expertise. When a person shares his or her knowledge, fraudulent feelings diminish.
A Work In Progress
To move past feelings of being an imposter, people must see themselves as a work in progress. Individuals experiencing Impostor Syndrome often perceive themselves as being the only one having these feelings, resulting in isolation. Networking groups of peers that provide a psychologically safe environment can be instrumental in allowing professionals to see that they are not alone in these struggles.
By redefining “failures” as “learning opportunities”, forgiving themselves for mistakes, and noticing all the important things they got right, practitioners can start to overcome their feelings of inadequacy.
It can help to remember that “Emotions aren’t facts.” “You can’t know everything—nobody does,” and “Asking for help or guidance does not mean you’ve failed,”
Mentors can intentionally steer conversations in these directions and repeat these phrases to reset mentees self-perceptions.
Self-talk can be remarkably valuable. Questions that should be asked include: What are my core strengths? Am I trying to impress others with perfection? How much does the approval of others matter to me? Who am I really disappointing and why?
Additional recommendations include avoiding comparison to others, sharing feelings with colleagues and seeking professional help if needed.
Learning to accept compliments by simply saying “Thank you” in response is a deliberate move to stop crediting success to other factors. Mentors can create discussions with others about things they themselves do not know to help establish the “I’m not alone” feeling.
In summary, knowledge is power. Understanding the broad prevalence of Impostor Syndrome among all ages and genders, especially in high achieving professionals, can assist veterinarians in diminishing its effects. Adopting strategies for limiting the associated negative thoughts and behaviors can help individuals be more successful and satisfied in their careers.
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