Feeling like an imposter is prevalent in the veterinary profession, especially amongst new veterinarians. That feeling of being a fraud, and of one day being found out, leaving your world to come crashing down, is relentless and anxiety-inducing.
It can feel like there is a tiny guard living in your brain, who can see everything you do through the one-way glass of your cranium. You can’t see them, but you just know they are watching. They always tell you that you do not have the same levels of knowledge and skills as your peers, and one day you will be exposed, then worse, struck off! What’s more, the moment you make a mistake – the operation took longer than you expected, you misdiagnose – they always say ‘I told you so.’
This relentless imposter can invoke harmful reactions to ‘failure’, generate a ghost train of negative thought and can stop us from approaching new opportunities. I can guarantee that everyone reading this has at least one experience of feeling like a fish out of water. In this post I explain three ways of tackling your inner imposter. By the end, you really will be able to look that critter in the eyes.
1) Recognise Negative Storytelling
The feeling of being an imposter often arises after a perceived failure. If you have low self-esteem anyway, then you mess up a spay, you are at risk of perceiving this failure as confirmation of incompetence. In reality, this feeling of incompetence is a story you are telling yourself. You have entered the event – the operation – into a story of negativity that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you do not isolate it.
As a new veterinarian, you are probably used to academic success and throughout your education have likely had a supportive family who acted as a safety buffer against failure. But now, you are in practice and this is REAL. Mistakes can have REAL consequences and you might feel alone. It can become all too easy to take a mistake and internalise it, letting it consume what’s left of your self-worth.
Therefore, if you make a mistake, do not enter it into a grand narrative of negativity. Rather, try to view the issue in isolation. Reflect on it with curiosity and self-empathy as opposed to blame and self-judgement. Ask yourself, ‘what happened?’, ‘why did this happen?’, ‘what changes can I make next time to stop this from happening?’
2) Re-frame Failure
A negative story in your head can be so damaging because it may prevent you from exploring new opportunities and growing. Imagine you are offered an opportunity to master a new skill in keyhole surgery, totally out of your comfort zone in dentistry. That pesky inner imposter instantly replies, ‘do you remember the last time you tried to branch out? It was a disaster! You are not capable of doing this.’ That mistake has turned into a negative story, which is now holding you back.
Thus, before approaching a new situation, re-frame failure. Obviously, you are going to make mistakes. If you didn’t make mistakes, you would not truly be learning something out of your comfort zone. Think of failure as a learning opportunity. Failure should not mark the end of an endeavour, but the beginning. With each failure, you can assess it, learn and progress using the storytelling technique above.
The journey to awesome starts with the first footstep being awful!
Although many veterinarians, new and experienced, feel like imposters, the profession does not take mentoring seriously. Curious, eh?
Do not underestimate it, mentors are so powerful and can help you quash your inner imposter! Let us take negative storytelling. If you are struggling with internalising your mistakes, a mentor can help you to step outside of the situation and assess it rationally. New veterinarians also have a tendency to retreat back into the comfort zone after failure, suppressing the failure deep within the confines of their minds, never to be tackled head on. This tendency to run away from a problem rather than reflecting on it can be harmful because, guess who has it stored in their back pocket? Your inner imposter! And, they are merely waiting to whip it out the next time you face a new and challenging opportunity.
Mentors can help you with this. By offloading the failure to someone you trust, you are literally resisting the tendency to suppress it. Furthermore, as experts in the profession, mentors can give you practical advice as to how you may ameliorate the issue or approach a similar situation in the future. As a result, finding a mentor is one of the most worthwhile things you can do for psychological and practical reasons.
We hope these methods will help you to quash your inner imposter. Remember, having a sense of being an imposter is a natural reaction to new situations. It means you are growing. To some extent, everyone feels like an imposter when they try something new, even experienced vets! However, success comes in how you deal with the feeling. Notice the imposter, look them in the eyes and…high-five them, why not? Step outside of your comfort zone and don’t let the imposter rob you of opportunity.
If you found this advice useful, you will definitely enjoy our free webinar, 4 Steps to a Happy and Successful Career as a Veterinarian which contains some more stellar information to help you succeed.