Feel like an imposter?

In the world of Assistants, where you are so often stepping in for someone else, imposter feelings can be rife and the source of real stress.

If you feel like an imposter, to understand how to feel better you need to first get clear on what you are experiencing.

Are you experiencing Imposter Syndrome, or are you an unintentional imposter (ie, thinking you need to be an executive)?

In either case, there are ways you can start to feel more in control.

Imposter Syndrome

More accurately known as Imposter Phenomenon, Imposter Syndrome is not a medical condition. It is an internal experience that means you feel like an imposter.

You are likely performing extremely well as an Assistant and have all the right qualifications and experience. However, despite this evidence, inside you feel like an imposter and are scared you will be exposed as incompetent at any moment.

Maybe you think you have fooled your employer into believing you are a highly talented Assistant.

Maybe you put success at getting a promotion or performing on a project down to sheer luck.
Put simply, you cannot internalise your success as an Assistant.


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

A good place to start is to talk about your feelings with people you trust. This takes away the secrecy element which often contributes to the intensity of imposter feelings. You can also build your own mini support network, benefitting from others sharing their imposter feelings too.

Also, give up on perfection. No one is perfect, and you (unfortunately or fortunately) are no exception. Enjoy your achievements instead, knowing that you can be a fantastic Assistant while still making a few mistakes and having room to grow (don’t we all?).

Accidental imposter

Lines can get blurred easily for Assistants. When working closely with an executive, you might be ‘deputising’ for them on a frequent basis – sending emails, managing stakeholders, attending events, and everything between.

You can fall into the trap of feeling like you need to be doing their job – being on top of the detail and performing to the same standard. You may be overestimating what is expected of you as an Assistant and putting pressure on yourself to deliver what is expected of the executive themselves.

In your honest bid to be an outstanding Assistant, you may find you have inadvertently been trying to be something else – an executive. Naturally, you may therefore feel like an imposter.

Embrace your role

It is important to adjust the expectations you have of yourself. Job sharing with the executive is not part of your job description, so stop trying to do it. When you are stressed, ask yourself ‘what is reasonable to expect of myself here, given my role as the Assistant?’.

Also spend some time becoming really comfortable with your own fantastic skillset. Grab some paper and colour pens and brainstorm all the incredible strengths you bring to the team. They are different to an executive’s, and they need to be – that is a great thing. An executive can’t be expected to do your job, and you can’t expect yourself to do theirs.

Take the pressure off

Whether you see yourself as an imposter because you do not recognise what a talented Assistant you are (Imposter Syndrome), or whether you see yourself as an imposter because you are unconsciously trying to do someone else’s job (an imposter executive), the key starting point is always kindness. Adopting kinder, more realistic and sustainable expectations of yourself is your route to more happiness at work. Good luck!

Nazish Bhaiwala
Founder and Career Coach at Red Arbre

Nazish Bhaiwala is a former employment lawyer and qualified workplace mediator who coaches professionals on being happier at work.

She has been fortunate to have worked with a variety of professionals from both the corporate and international NGO sectors, including lawyers, management consultants, UN personnel, entrepreneurs, and finance professionals.

In 2018 Nazish carried out a series of interviews of female international human rights lawyers from all over the world about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome. Combining this global scale learning with her own coaching experience means she has an in-depth and unique understanding of Imposter Syndrome and the coaching tools and strategies that can help to overcome it.