You don’t need us to tell you that the past 15 months have changed the way we work immeasurably. Coronavirus upended our jobs and millions made the abrupt shift to remote working. Our living spaces suddenly became our offices. Our commutes turned into the six-yard stroll from our beds to the kitchen table. Zoom singlehandedly ruled our lives.
But now that lockdown restrictions are easing and normality is – *whisper it* – starting to resume, much of the workforce is planning for the big return to the office. Some of us may have already done so; most of us are preparing to.
While part of us may be looking forward to the office return – seeing our colleagues IRL, proper supportive office chairs, Pret lunches, no more Zoom – there’s a much bigger part of us that is feeling incredibly intimidated.
Searches for ‘imposter syndrome‘ have soared by 150% over the last year, with 85% of us feeling incompetent at work and 90% of women experiencing imposter syndrome (compared to 80% of men). Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe doubt in your own abilities and fear of not being adequate in the workplace. Sound familiar? Same here.
“Whenever we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone, imposter syndrome tends to creep in,” says Tiwalola Ogunlesi, confidence coach and founder of positive psychology platform Confident And Killing It. “Going back to the office is going to be very out of our comfort zone as we’re readjusting back into what we haven’t done for over a year – it’s a really big change.”
As a result, Tiwalola explains, this makes us doubt ourselves and fear the worst possible outcome. ‘What if I’m socially awkward around colleagues?’, ‘What if I’ve lost my presenting skills?’, ‘What if I’m not good at all the things I used to be good at?’, ‘What if I have nothing to wear?’.
“If you try and predict the future and think of all the things that could go wrong, you start to believe you don’t have what it takes to go back to the office,” she adds.
But the good news is you can beat ‘return to office’ imposter syndrome and tell self-doubt to get in the bin. Here are Tiwalola’s top tips to feel your most confident heading back to the workplace.
Imposter syndrome thrives when we pursue perfectionism. We hold ourselves to such high standards – in this case, putting pressure on ourselves to snap back to normality like it’s absolutely nothing – that we’re setting ourselves unrealistic goals which we can never achieve. We’re setting ourselves up to feel like failures.
Instead, try practicing compassion and kind self-talk. Allow yourself time to adjust, and remind yourself that you don’t need to be super skilled at everything straight away. You may be a little rusty at first, and that’s OK.
Avoid comparing the old you to the new you
Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of constantly comparing yourself to the pre-pandemic you. She may have been able to get up at 6am every morning, go to a gym class, put some makeup on, do her commute, grab a Starbucks and be sat at her desk before 8.30 – but you might not be that woman anymore. Again, that is OK. You’ve lived through a pandemic, your body has been through a lot emotionally and physically, and you survived. That is enough.
Reframe your ‘what if?’ thoughts
When you think of your future and returning to the office, instead of wasting your energy worrying about all the things that might go wrong, think of all the things that might go right. It’s all about reframing your thought process. So, replace ‘What if I mess up that presentation?’ with ‘What if I smash that presentation?’ and ‘What if I practice enough that there’s no way that IRL presentation can go wrong?’
Instead of ‘What if I’m cringe and awkward around my colleagues?’, think ‘What if my colleagues and I just pick up where we left off and the energy in the room is great?’
All of these things are also possible, so learn to lean into the positive possibilities.
Be honest with your boss and co-workers
If you’re in a position to do so, try and have an open conversation with your superiors – we have to remember that they’re human beings too, not emotionless robots. A lot of us are afraid of having difficult conversations, but there’s nothing wrong with being open and asking for what we want or need. Don’t be afraid to bring that vulnerability and humaneness to the workplace, because if you’re honest about readjusting, your boss or co-workers may just surprise you.
Use the ‘courthouse analogy’
This is a trick I tell my clients to help overcome imposter syndrome, and it’s a real game-changer.
Imagine you’re in a court room. On one side you have your negative thoughts; the imposter syndrome that is trying to throw you in jail because it believes you’re a fraud. On the other side you have your lawyer; the positive side that needs to try and get you out of the sticky situation.
If your negative thoughts show up with receipts and the facts about how you’ve been a fraud – the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve failed – your positive thoughts (your lawyer) won’t be able to get you off the hook.
So, come with the same facts and receipts on the positive side. If the negative thoughts are telling you you’re an imposter, focus on the positive ones: that you deserve to be where you are. Go and look for the evidence of your accomplishments and successes so that when you’re in that court room, you can come with the facts.
Remember your past successes
Reflect on all the other amazing times when you were working in the office and things were going well – when you nailed that deadline, when your boss praised you, when you got positive feedback on that presentation, when you had great rapport with your colleagues. Remember a time when you were thrown out your comfort zone and survived; when you rose to a challenge.
Remind yourself of all your past wins and accomplishments, because if you did it before, you can do it again.
For more advice on feeling confident in your career, tune in to the Confident And Killing It Podcast every week.