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Who do you think you are?
  1. Penny Barker

Abstract

Ever found yourself convinced you’re a fraud, on the brink of being exposed as having fluked your way through your veterinary career? Imposter syndrome is far from a rare phenomenon but, as Penny Barker explains, there are ways to fight back.

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Penny Barker is a vet, a coach, and a trainer at VDS Training

You’re focused, engrossed, concentrating hard on the next step of the surgery when from nowhere a little voice says: ‘What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do this!’ Or perhaps you’ve walked into a meeting, onto a farm or into a consulting room and felt the other person can see right through you. This is it: you’re about to be exposed as the fraud you are.

At best, what we refer to as imposter syndrome is a familiar but unwelcome irritation as we go about our job; at worst it can be crippling. And it’s not just a problem in the moment. If left unchecked it can not only affect mental wellbeing but also prevent sufferers from realising their true potential.

If you know your own monkey is quietly reading this over your shoulder, then you are not alone. Research proves that those working in the veterinary profession are often inclined to perfectionism and thus we can be our own harshest critics.

Here are five proven strategies for dealing with this sort of self-doubt:

1. Breathe

Simple but effective. Slow, deep breaths engage our parasympathetic nervous system and help to decrease sympathetic tone. This brings our rational frontal cortex back online, enabling us to respond to self-doubt from a place of logic rather than one of emotion.

2. Call it out

In the moment, mentally shine a light on your fear so it can’t hide away in a dark corner of your mind. Name the emotions you’re feeling; the thoughts you’re thinking. If you can, say them aloud or write them down. By voicing them, even to yourself, your rational mind can see them for what they are and they become less compelling.

3. Ask yourself some evidence-based questions

Have you done the necessary preparation and considered the options? Which of your skills and strengths are relevant here? What would someone else say to you if you were to voice your fears? Would you think someone else with your level of experience and skill was competent to handle this situation? What do you need to do now?

4. Get perspective

Ask for evidence-based feedback from people whose opinion you value and then pay attention to it. Feedback keeps us in reality, rather than in our perception of it. Build a culture of reciprocal feedback with your team – and remember that for a younger member of the team hearing a senior colleague also has doubts and worries can be incredibly empowering.

Feedback keeps us in reality, rather than in our perception of it

5. Challenge yourself

The drive to achieve and to do the best job we can means that there will be always be times when we doubt ourselves. But we should continue to stretch ourselves – to try and not be afraid to fail, to learn and to grow.

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