What is “Imposter Syndrome”?

Recently I saw a post from a long-time, former employee who pursued a new career with a comment referring to imposter syndrome. This was not a term I had heard of before so decided to research it.

According to webmd.com, Psychology Today and other sources, doubting your own skills and accomplishments, despite what others think, can possibly qualify you to say you may have imposter syndrome. Although, professional sources concur on the definition, it’s not an actual mental health condition, or an official diagnosis. It is a serious form of self-doubt which can be accompanied with anxiety and depression, and if not addressed can be debilitating in the workplace.

Those that exhibit imposter syndrome typically are over-achievers yet may doubt their abilities and see themselves as less than others despite the credentials and abilities they do have. You can learn more about this topic in an article on imposter syndrome from webmd.com, the article states “In 1978, psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first described imposter syndrome in high-achieving professional women. More recently, experts have found that it’s common among both men and women in many lines of work. One study found that about 70% of all people have felt like an imposter at some point. Imposter syndrome often affects those who are highly capable perfectionists. Among those reported to have felt this kind of self-doubt are scientist Albert Einstein, athlete Serena Williams, singer Jennifer Lopez, and actors Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Tom Hanks.”

Although I had never heard the term, at times as a mother, wife, and employer, I have for sure felt intense anxiety. I can relate to the “over-achiever” and perfectionism that they refer to as an accompanying trait. Thankfully, I have not experienced symptoms to the extreme which I will attribute to my solid earthly support system and my daily prayer time with God.

The construction industry can be full of stressors including heavy workloads and long working hours, communication challenges, travel and family separation, job instability and competitiveness. Both men and women in the industry tend to be over-achievers and many strive for perfection. Every project is varying in nature and new associates are introduced to the team for the duration of a project or as a permanent addition to the company roster. Self-doubt, self-esteem, and self-worth is often hidden in fear of appearing to be the weak link on the team.

The term “fake it until you make it” is an adage which suggests that by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset, a person can recognize those qualities in their real life and achieve the results they seek. The construction industry is full of those that exude confidence and competence, yet popular feedback we receive from employers is “Does (he or she) know what they don’t know?” As far as an optimistic mindset, that can be portrayed when a construction manager has never been the person ultimately responsible for the risk associated with a project and/or running a construction company.  There is a humble confidence that accompanies a construction manager who has experienced seeing a losing project to conclusion, having a serious injury or fatality on their jobsite or a business owner that had a company that was forced to close. This is similar to those you meet who are more personally compassionate as they have experienced loss in relationships, possessions or faced death’s door.

How do you avoid this serious form of self-doubt that could cause abnormal anxiety in the workplace?

Dependent on what level of experience you are hired for, there will be a baseline of knowledge and soft skills expected. Those who take initiative at any level to study a baseline on the topic at hand and combine it with a positive attitude and their aptitude to converse and build on that baseline are those who will excel and will be called on to take on more challenge and responsibility in our industry.

  • Learn how to ask a question without planting doubt in the other party of whom you are not confident to move forward with, or does not own the responsibility. You do this by learning your communication style and how what you say can be interpreted by others with a different communication style.

DiSC is an excellent tool to aide in development of your communication skills. Construction is all about results; meeting the time, budget and schedule set forth. Learning how to speak in terms of results will help you gain buy-in and confidence in others that will help you receive the assurance you need for mental stability in the workplace.

  • Recognize your motivators and stressors. Your stressors in the workplace are triggered when you feel like something is uncomfortable to you. Your reaction to those stressors is what causes you to hit emotional processing extremes, also known as anxiety. Page 6 of the DiSC profile helps individuals define their motivators and stressors.

Example: It may be stressful for you to deal with angry, pushy or argumentative people, or to give others what you perceive to be negative feedback yet for another their stressor may be partnering with overly cautious or indecisive people or people that don’t openly express their stance.

Extremes in behavior from either demure or cautious individuals or the opposite individuals who are outgoing risktakers may cause stress to you and others. Developing both communication and coping methods will help you avoid extreme anxiety in the workplace and enable you to communicate your boundaries and align your expectations in the workplace with others.

Do you ever feel like an imposter in our industry or in your current workplace? Do you want to overcome feelings of “less than” that can create anxiety for you in the workplace? An industry-familiar mentor or a coach can help you with prospective, build confidence and provide direction to ease anxiety. (insert  We are always here to get you started and encourage you along the way. (link to contact form for career coaching)

Temporary anxiety is natural. On-going, extreme anxiety is not. If it follows you from workplace to workplace and you are not reaching out for help, please do. The construction industry is full of opportunities, and we need and want you – the healthiest you!

To Eliminating Unnecessary Anxiety,

Suzanne Breistol


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