Dr Alice Deasy

Imposter syndrome: Just clouds in the sky…

12th June 2020

We have just finished a Trailblazer session with Susy Stirling exploring ideas around the Imposter Syndrome and how this might show up in our lives and affect our thinking and decision making. In the latter part of the session we considered how we might understand and manage these thoughts.

I have been deeply affected by the session and wanted to share my thoughts. Firstly, to reflect that I never imagined that three hours over an online platform, even with a skilled facilitator and eleven excellent colleagues, could allow for such rich thinking, self realisation and understanding. These are grandiose words, but I use them deliberately.

I have been aware of the concepts around Imposter Syndrome (‘the self perception of intellectual phoniness despite consistent external validation’) for some time. I knew I experienced it to some extent but I have previously been reluctant to be labeled with it. I certainly experience thoughts and behaviours related to imposter syndrome such as; ‘one day they will discover I am not as good as they think I am’ and, ‘other people make better decisions that I do’ and I do have a tendency to ‘overwork or ‘polish’ something beyond requirements’ (which may mean this blog never gets finished!). Today gave me the opportunity to unpack and understand these thoughts, and recognise that it probably plays a greater role in my thinking that I had previously wanted to acknowledge.

One thing I found particularly interesting was to understand what experiences might have contributed to this ‘imposter’ thinking. For me, though it may already have been part of me, I think my insecurities increased at medical school. Medical school was a very impersonal environment where there were lots of very bright individuals who I felt all seemed to know more and understand more than I did. External validation such as passing exams and getting good grades did little to challenge this narrative in me which persisted through early years as a doctor. I wonder if my current narrative would be different if there had been more opportunities during medical school and early career years for personal reflection and development, helping me understand my strengths and value. Medical school was also the time that I had few or no persistent mentoring relationships (which I am lucky to have had in the latter part of my career), and, though I had good friends I did not have a significant other to challenge my narrative or my sense of self.

During the second half of the session we discussed ways to challenge any unhelpful narratives that we carry. We considered some of the techniques from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) about how to distance ourselves from unhelpful and negative thoughts, moving from fixed ideas to fleeting thoughts. One lovely analogy that I will take forward was thinking about our thoughts as moving clouds in a sky, they are constant, they pass over and we can let go of them.

Finally we considered the importance of self awareness and purpose. ‘When we know and understand what we are here for we can better manage our feeling of being an imposter’. We considered how our core values might align with our current roles. In my case more recently my sense of being an imposter has diminished by working with a friendly, skilled, committed team in a place with a vibrant multicultural population with significant health and life challenges. A place I feel fits with my core values.

Dr Alice Deasy (Trailblazer GP 2019/20)