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Impostor Syndrome and the Career Coward Books

Back in the fall, I wrote about overcoming impostor syndrome for financial success. It got a strong response then and ever since writing it I’ve occasionally gotten comments or e-mails from other women who thought it was just them feeling this way.

A short definition of impostor syndrome might be: “Feeling like you’ve never made significant accomplishments and that you’re actually a fraud waiting to be found out and humiliated/punished/exposed.” Women are the most likely to suffer from it

Yet people who feel this way have often made real accomplishments, things that everyone else can see and appreciate. It’s not rational.

While at work recently, I discovered a series of career books which I think are particularly suited to those dealing with impostor syndrome. They’re called the “Career Coward” books.

The premise of these books isn’t necessarily that you have impostor syndrome, as such, but you’re afraid of changing jobs, finding a job, etc. You’re timid, unsure, perhaps even unconvinced of your own skills. Sounds a lot like impostor syndrome feelings, though not everyone feeling this way may also feel like an impostor…she just might be intimidated by more experienced professionals when she thinks about leaving her current position.

I think the power of each books comes from the author’s helpful, reassuring tone, which carries throughout.

In the resume book, for example, every chapter begins with a “Risk It or Run From It” box. The box contains a “Risk Rating,” “Payoff Potential,” “Time to Complete,” “Bailout Strategy,” “The ’20 Percent Extra’ Edge,” and “‘Go For It!’ Bonus Activity.” Reading the box is a great way to prepare for the next chapter. It’s motivational to know that there isn’t (or be prepared because there is) risk around the corner and that this is completely doable…and why it’s valuable.

So the risk rating for doing an alternative resume format might be medium but there’s also a bailout strategy of going with an extremely conventional look.

Chapters all include “How To,” “Why It’s Worth Doing,” “Panic Point!” (troubleshooting), and a “Career Champ Profile” which shows how a Career Coward conquered these issues.

I’ve read two so far, the The Career Coward’s Guide To Resumes and Career Coward’s Guide to Changing Careers and found both quite reassuring. I’m not planning on job hunting right now, but when each crossed my path I still couldn’t resist reading it.

Checking out the resume book was a particularly good idea, since I’m trying to keep mine up-to-date. It’s much more fun to work on them when you don’t need to than when you do.

After reading them, I felt like getting a different job feel achievable. They helped me take better stock of my accomplishments and acknowledge them (if only for a day…). I’m keeping an eye out at work for the other two books in the series: The Career Coward’s Guide to Interviewing and Career Coward’s Guide to Job Searching.

I guess you could say I’m not a Brazen Careerist. I’m just glad that there are books which help someone like me build confidence about career, job hunting, etc.

Whether you’re scared in general by the thought of job hunting or you really feel like you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, I’d suggest checking your local library for these books. They may not be something you need to buy but they’ll certainly be useful.

If you’re looking for more career resources, I suggest this career resouce collection post at Green Panda Treehouse.


{ 2 trackbacks }

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn July 11, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Great post! Thanks for the tips on the books!

frugal zeitgeist July 11, 2008 at 2:36 pm

I think it’s perfectly normal and in fact relatively healthy to feel like a fraud at one’s job, at least for a while. I know I go through cycles of it fairly regularly. I think people who don’t experience that are far more likely to end up with both feet in the brown and floppy.

RacerX July 11, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Fear is the #1 reason people stay in abusive relationships, whether professional or person. Not necessarily fear of violence but fear of the unknown. Read Sartre’s “Room” sometime it describes it perfectly.

But after you take a small step, each step is easier and wider!

Make the first step…you deserve it!

Dad July 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm

You certainly are not an imposter nor are you a career brazenist. I’m glad you find something that might encourage you. Pursuing a career and, particularly, developing one are challenging efforts. I’m glad you found an author that is helpful to you in this. I’ve had much advice from ‘experts’ who might as well be talking Chinese (of which I speak not a word) and tell me what to do when their advice doesn’t even begin to fit the field I’m in. These are people I have, in the past, spoken with face to face. The woman who wrote that resume for me back in 2000 was a great help. After I had been ‘helped’ by a number of career professionals on writing a resume (person to person help) and getting nowhere, she simply interviewed me and from what she gathered she wrote me a decent resume (It got me the job :) )

It is good that you are examining this now. Things are relatively stable I understand and that is often the best time to think about these things. Best wishes.

Frugalchick July 12, 2008 at 1:10 pm

We could all use a little confidence boost especially when it involves change. For the most part, I feel good about my skills but there are times when I feel so unsure and needs reassurance. I’ll be checking these books out.

Funny about Money July 12, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Hmm…. We need these for our RAs, who soon will be taking wing. Think I’ll see if I can get the dean’s office to foot the bill for an addition to our unit’s library. Thanks for the lead!

Cath Lawson July 13, 2008 at 7:06 am

Mrs M – this topic has intrigued me since you first wrote about it. I often find myself feeling the way you described. I really question anything good I’ve achieved – then I accuse myself of exaggerating it. Sometimes I get to the point where I wonder if I’ve dreamed some of the things I’ve done.

I’ll be checking out those books. I think I’m going to have to take a job for a while if I want a visa for another country.

deepali July 15, 2008 at 3:37 pm

I feel this. Sometimes I feel like an imposter at life too (like when people think you are really awesome). But sometimes I wonder if it’s not a bad thing to feel that way (adds humility?)….

Laura July 18, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Thanks for the link!

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