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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Imposter syndrome and toxic work cultures: an unhealthy marriage requiring skilful intervention

“Should I leave my job?” - a common question for many of us, today. The era of the job for life and secure employment is coming to an end. We’re asked to embrace portfolio careers and start looking for the next opportunity almost as soon as we start one, to stay in the game…but without the support and guidance needed to sustain this approach and make the most of the opportunities in the uncertainty. This week, Dr. Terri Simpkin who specialises in research on Imposter Syndrome (relabelled as Imposter Phenomenon to prevent its medicalisation) and I published a short article in The Conversation UK looking at the interaction between feelings of imposterism and the work cultures that feed on it. It’s complex and simple at the same time. You can have a read here. One dilemma that people can struggle with when they’re unsatisfied in their jobs is whether it’s them or their workplace that’s the problem. We argue that it’s a false dichotomy while steering attention away from individual-level factors.

THREE REASONS YOUR ENVIRONMENT MAY START TO FEEL TOXIC: I encourage people who feel out of place in their job to slow down and find balance before making any rash decisions. This helps to recover clarity and take healthy, well-timed action. Reasons you may suddenly wake up to the fact that your work environment isn’t right for you anymore and start to feel a strong aversion to going into work include:

  1. Something has changed in the environment and things no longer work for you

  2. You made decisions in the past that weren’t right for you and you’re starting to experience the consequences

  3. You’ve outgrown your environment and it’s time to move on (this doesn’t mean the environment is toxic but it may feel that way if you don’t recognise the growing pains for what they are, and therefore start blaming yourself or your workplace rather than facing the reality of the situation)

More often than not, the feeling of toxicity is an accumulation of stress and suboptimal micro-decisions over time that weren’t right for you, either out of misunderstanding or caving into pressure prematurely. The workplace may not support you in making sense of this and finding your next step, other than through remedial performance management / coaching that is more likely to benefit the organisation’s interests. It’s important to reduce reactivity to day-to-day events to start recovering clarity and focus as soon as possible, so you can make the right decisions going forward. THE QUESTION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ANSWER A few years ago, when my career was going pretty well and reaching a transition point, I started feeling in limbo between pushing harder on my career path and taking a step back into the unknown… I had a moment of feeling that I could build this very tall, impressive tower that I could live at the top of, but that it would be hard to come back down into reality. While the tower building looked enticing, it felt unreal, like a mirage. Was this imposterism as my career was starting to blossom or was it a warning sign that I was on the wrong track? In some sense, the answer mattered less than the signpost that the question provided: “What do you really want, Amina?” COMPASSIONATE RUTHLESSNESS In the end, what mattered was that I took time to really feel into what was right for me, even if it looked like there was a cost to my career momentum. A little courage was required to set boundaries with myself and with others as I took time to dig into what was going on for me at a deeper level. I had to act with clarity and swiftness to cut through the noise that could keep me on a hamster wheel and dissatisfied from year to year. I had to be firm with myself whenever my thoughts spun a story of blame and victimisation just as I was firm with people, places and tasks that pulled on me and drained my energy unreasonably. I had to take bold decisive action when the time came and manage my fears and confusion through deep transformational processes including meditation. It was scary at times but that was the price of living in integrity with my truth and having a chance to feel true freedom and fulfilment. Have a good week, Amina

Announcement: Next week is the “What to do when you don’t know what to do” free 60 minute webinar (monthly webinar series). We’ll explore the question and you can see how other people are coached through it. There’ll be time for questions and discussion around:

  • What “I don’t know what to do” really means and the real reason for “stuckness”

  • The easiest way back to clarity

  • 3 things that can prevent this from happening again

Register here to receive the Zoom link: More info on past webinars here: Date: Wednesday October 17th 6pm.

See you there!

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