Overcoming imposter syndrome

Written by Alan Gow

Overcoming imposter syndrome – professional paraplanner – view article

Everyone can have moments of self-doubt but are they a bad thing? Alan Gow, director Argonaut Paraplanning and PFS Paraplanner Panel member, looks at what we can learn from those feelings and how we can address them for the better.

We all have a bad day at the office from time to time. It might be because of a colleague, the boss, or a case you’re working on. Sometimes the reason can be clearly identified, but on other occasions you might have a general sense of discontent and you can’t quite put a finger on the cause.

One particular source of consternation for me is a topic that’s getting talked about more and more – and I don’t think I’m alone in saying – I sometimes find myself wrestling with imposter syndrome.

For me, right now, as my business has grown to a great little team of five paraplanners, imposter syndrome has taken the form of self-doubt around my management skills. After all, I’m a paraplanner, not a manager. On other days, it might be something else. I’m a bit of a worrier at the best of times, but as far as I can tell, this is something lots of people experience. Is anyone immune to self-doubt?

We work in a complex industry, with lots of moving parts. FCA papers, guidance, legislation, court cases; things seem to be changing all the time. There are lots of trip hazards out there. Sometimes your confidence takes a knock. Maybe you made a mistake on a case. Maybe there are complex technical points you don’t fully understand yet. Perhaps you’ve never written a report for (insert your nightmare planning scenario here) and one day soon, you’re going to get found out.

Unless you’re some kind of super-paraplanner with a photographic memory and an ego of reinforced concrete, you’ve probably found your internal monologue telling you you’re not as good as the next person. Maybe it’s rare, or maybe your self-doubt eats away at you almost daily.

To add to this, and the pressure of work, our days are topped and tailed by personal issues and worries. Some days you wonder how come you’re an adult now, responsible for paying rent / mortgage, maybe raising kids – and you’ve generally had no formal training for that stuff. It’s a bit much isn’t it?

It’s only in recent years, as we’ve become both more open and more tolerant in society (at least in terms of mental health) that I’ve realised imposter syndrome is common. Widespread, even.

It’s good to have self-doubt. It keeps our feet on the ground. It opens our eyes. It motivates us to engage. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, remind yourself of the following:

  • Absolutely everyone gets stuff wrong. Sometimes badly wrong. This might not make it ok, but at least you’re not alone.
  • There’s a constant push and pull between accepting who you are and trying to be better. As I learned at a recent event aimed at improving my management skills – seek progress, not perfection.
  • There’s no benefit in comparing your weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.
  • Everyone has room for growth.
  • You don’t need to know everything; but it helps to know where to look for answers.

It’s also helpful to surround yourself with your peers by attending events such as the PFS Paraplanner HQ monthly networking sessions and the Purely Paraplanning conferences. As I see it, the three main benefits are:

  • Learning new things, whether it’s technical point or ways to work smarter.
  • Sharing stuff that you know with other people.
  • Re-establishing the areas where you’re pretty solid and which don’t really need your attention.

There’s a cycle here, because the more you learn, the more you can share, and the more you share, the more your sense of achievement, and the more confident you become.

Of course, I don’t really know how anyone else feels inside, and I’m not sure what gives me the right to write an article on imposter syndrome; I’m just an imposter after all. Like you.