overcoming imposter syndrome

Is Imposter Syndrome Holding You Back? 

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Save 40% on Unlimited Medbridge CEUs with promo code TNCPT!
Save 40% on Unlimited Medbridge CEUs with promo code TNCPT!

As a rehab therapist, you’ve gotten used to talking and having people listen to you. It feels good to be a professional in your field. 

But, remember back to when you first started? How self conscious and nervous you felt? How, just below the surface of every interaction, you were convinced you sounded like a total fraud?

Thankfully, your confidence quickly improved. You began to realize you actually DID know what you were talking about and doing. You found your rhythm as a clinician. 

And, while your career never got easy, you did feel more comfortable handling a variety of situations and people. “I got this,” you told yourself, as you handled yet another fastball issue. 

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Change is scary

Now, this level of comfort feels like a double-edged sword. After all, you’re realizing you want to leave clinical work behind—but that means you’re also leaving behind the confidence of experience. 

Even though you know clinical care doesn’t suit you anymore, it’s so scary to consider doing something different…because that means you’ll be a newbie all over again. (Shudder.)

Just thinking about it brings up all kinds of feelings, most of which make you want to run right back into the safety of the career you may not love but that at least you can do with your eyes closed. 

You’re so scared of revisiting those old feelings of fraudulence and fear that you’re paralyzed and unable to make a change you really want to make. 

Why can’t you just get out of your own way?!

If this sounds like you, don’t worry—because you’re not alone. 

In fact, it’s such a common issue, it’s been extensively studied by psychologists.

imposter blocks

They call it imposter syndrome. Whether you’re a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, or assistant, it can affect you.

But what is it? And how can you stop it from derailing your non-clinical dreams?

What does imposter syndrome feel like? 

When you suffer from imposter syndrome, you constantly doubt your abilities and accomplishments. You feel like a fraud. There’s a nagging voice in your head, convinced everybody’s about to find out you’re secretly a huge fake!

Be honest: did your pulse pick up a bit just reading that last sentence? Yup. Mine too. 

The truth is, most of us have felt this way at some point. 

But, are you ready to hear another super important fact about imposter syndrome—one that may help you understand and overcome it? 

Imposter syndrome has to do with FEELING incompetent without actually BEING incompetent. It’s believing you don’t know anything if you don’t know everything. 

It’s the little voice in your head that whispers, “Who do you think you are?” when you’re about to hit SEND on that killer email or finally share the course you’ve worked so hard to create.

Basically, imposter syndrome is what would happen if your middle school bully crawled inside your head and tried to sucker punch you every time you were on the verge of greatness. 

It’s like letting that little jerk live rent-free in your head. 

Except imposter syndrome uses your own thoughts and voice, so it can be extra hard to recognize it for what it truly is when it rears its ugly head.

Who can you trust, if you can’t trust yourself? 

So, what is imposter syndrome?

Way back in the 1970s, some psychologists did a study that was aimed at investigating how common this issue was among high-achieving women.

The women in the study all had piles of accolades and accomplishments, yet they still reported regularly feeling like frauds rather than experts. Many felt anxious and fearful that they would be “found out” and exposed for the frauds they believed they were.

(See? Told you you’re not alone!)

More recent studies have gone on to learn that the imposter syndrome phenomenon is not only super common among women, but is widely found across gender, race, and careers.

Even folks like Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou reported experiencing imposter syndrome. 

So…yeah. It’s a thing.

But why?

What causes imposter syndrome?

Now that you know how common imposter syndrome is, let’s dive deeper into some research on the issue. 

After the initial study in the ’70s, several folks were inspired to learn more about imposter syndrome. Today, there’s a growing body of research on the topic. And the term, itself, has made its way into our cultural dictionary. 

Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford, picked up the proverbial torch in the 1980s with her studies about mindset and students’ attitudes around failure

At the time, her work suggested those with a certain mindset tended to internalize feelings of inadequacy and to view any mistakes, limitations, or missteps as further evidence of this narrative. 

These folks (having what Dr. Dweck termed a fixed mindset) fear failure above all—and they are always checking to see how they measure up to the rigid set of standards they’ve set. Believing achievement is crucial to self worth, anything less than perfection is cause for shame and withdrawal.  

Building on Dr. Dweck’s work, Dr. Valerie Young has also made many contributions to imposter syndrome research. Her work helps us understand why imposter syndrome is such a pervasive issue, particularly among successful women. 

According to Dr. Young, it’s no big mystery why imposter syndrome tends to impact high achieving folks.

When you hold yourself to very high personal expectations, self-doubt and judgment are a natural counterbalance—especially when you believe you’re not meeting your standards.  

So, you beat yourself up. Rather than reassessing your expectations to see if they’re actually realistic and achievable, you feel ashamed and deem yourself a failure. 

That’s part of the imposter syndrome equation. Here’s the other:

Even when receiving recognition, imposter syndrome sufferers learn to dismiss and minimize the praise given for a job well done, feeling undeserving. 

As Dr. Young puts it:

No matter how well you did or how loud the applause, you find a way to explain them away.

– Dr. Young

Imposter syndrome is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. A vicious cycle fueled by feelings of unworthiness. A real dream killer. 

Though they may share common feelings, It’s helpful to understand not all “imposters” are created equal. In fact, they’re a pretty diverse group. 

Understanding which type you are is helpful in recognizing and eliminating imposter syndrome’s undue influence on your life.

The five types of “imposters”

As part of her work, Dr. Young classified “imposter” subtypes to better understand the underlying beliefs that fuel people’s experiences with the phenomenon.

Here’s a breakdown of Young’s five types of “imposters”:

  • Perfectionists: Imagine you’re a concert cellist who just gave an unbelievable performance. Standing ovation good. But, instead of soaking up the well-deserved praise, you obsess about the mistake you made in the fifth measure. One tiny flaw in an otherwise stellar effort, and you’re ready to toss the whole experience in the trash. 
  • Soloists: If it’s not done by you, it’s not gonna get done right. Asking for and accepting help is a sign of weakness, which is NOT ok. You believe it doesn’t count unless you did it 100% by yourself. You should be able to handle it all, all alone
  • Superheroes: Faster than a speeding bullet! Able to juggle all the things and still have an organic gourmet meal on the table every night at 6 pm sharp! You gotta keep all those plates spinning while making it all look effortless for the crowd. You believe you should be able to handle everything, all the time.
  • Experts: If you don’t know every single thing about a given subject, you might as well know nothing about it. How can you speak about something you don’t understand front, back and sideways? I mean, how dare you?! Everyone else probably knows more about it than you. Just keep quiet and don’t embarrass yourself by trying to sound informed.
  • Natural Geniuses: You shouldn’t have to learn, because you should already know. And, if you don’t get it right on your first try, you might as well hang your head in shame. Trial and error is not an option. Everybody else could probably pick it up more quickly than you. If it doesn’t come easy, it’s probably because you’re just a huge failure.

So, how about it? Did you see yourself in any of these examples? Knowing your imposter type can be really helpful info in your efforts to recognize and overcome it. AND it can help you see where you might get stumped when you try to leave patient care.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

triumphant professional overcoming imposter syndrome

Now that you know more about how and why imposter syndrome happens—and maybe even recognize your type—let’s look at how to beat imposter syndrome, so those nagging feelings of inadequacy stop keeping you from pursuing your non-clinical dreams.

As with most internal struggles (like anxiety and depression), an important first step is simply being aware an issue exists. 

Hopefully, this article has already helped you to normalize your feelings of imposter syndrome, and to realize you’re far from alone in experiencing them.

In fact, if you deal with imposter syndrome, the research shows you’re likely to be a driven, successful achiever. You’ve already got that going for you 🙂

Now, you just need to recognize these feelings are all part of pushing beyond your existing comfort zone. Think of them as growing pains.

At first, change is scary. But, soon, you find your comfort zone adjusts and expands, to accommodate for all the new space you need to dream and play. Awesome! 

Here are some other strategies to help you overcome these self-limiting beliefs!

Affirmations

Your therapy background means you probably already know you can literally rewire your neural pathways when you consistently choose different thoughts. This comes in handy when you’re dealing with imposter syndrome. 

Mindset is HUGE when it comes to making lasting changes! Supercharge yours by using positive affirmations and gratitude meditations. Try using “I am” statements, followed by statements of the feelings and things you want to achieve.

Here are some tips on getting started with your mindset routine. 

Fear isn’t the enemy

Your fear is a part of you. You may not like it, but it’s really only trying to protect you and keep you safe.

That’s not to say your fear gets to call the shots—because it doesn’t.

However, acknowledging that fear is present (and it’s trying to help you in the best way it knows how) is a powerful tool in keeping it out of the proverbial driver’s seat. 

Banish perfectionism

You’re wise enough to know that the world isn’t black and white.

So why are you holding yourself to such an impossible standard of being perfect? You wouldn’t expect perfection for anyone else, right?

Perfection is BORING! Human beings are fascinating creatures, and that’s more due to our imperfections than anything. Leave room for happy accidents. And remember this piece of advice:

Done is better than perfect.

Get some help!

Another thing to remember when you’re grappling with imposter syndrome while trying to forge ahead with something new is: you don’t have to face it alone

Maybe you’re so used to breaking your own trail and helping others that you’ve almost forgotten how to accept help for yourself, but know this:

You’re just as worthy of support and assistance as anyone else.

So, where can you turn?

Luckily, you’re in the right place! Here at The Non-Clinical PT, we know exactly how to transition out of clinical work into a new, fulfilling career where you’re using your inherent strengths and existing experience.

We have helped countless PTs, OTs, SLPs, and assistants just like you.

We’ve made our site a treasure trove of actionable advice and info for clinicians like you. We realize that if you’re here, you’re ready to make the leap away from clinical work—but there’s a good chance you’re being held back by the twin bullies of analysis paralysis and imposter syndrome.

Our flagship course, Non-Clinical 101, has helped countless rehab professionals find thriving non-clinical careers they love, without all the hassles and false starts to get there. This course also grants you instant access to our exclusive alumni community. In other words, you’re joining a supportive group who gets what it’s like to be you!

And because we want to help you overcome imposter syndrome as quickly as possible, we’re giving you 20% off Non-Clinical 101 using coupon code IMPOSTER. 🙂

We put together our resources because we believe in you.

We know it’s possible to do a bang-up job using your skills outside the clinic. To feel happy and valued at work.

We also know what it’s like to be in your shoes. To feel like you have to do this alone. To tell yourself you can’t justify spending another dime on education. To assume you’ll never know enough to be valuable outside the clinic.

The Non-Clinical PT mission is to give you the resources, guidance, and community support to help you make this transition with confidence. Not only can you absolutely land the non-clinical job of your dreams, you can (and will) do an incredible job once you get there.

Let’s banish imposter syndrome to the backseat where it belongs! We’ll give it a juice box and some snacks to keep it quiet—and we’ll crank up the tunes and roll off into the sunlight of your bright, shiny non-clinical future, together! Because you’ve got this!

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