ISCP team member Andrew Hale offers a free emotional and mental support service for our members.

I have been running the support service for the ISCP for several months, and I have been amazed at both the uptake and the depth and breadth of issues that people have come forward with. It has proven to me the importance of providing this sort of service. Regardless of the main issue people have contacted me about, there has been one underlying issue that many have shared – the feeling that they were not good enough to do the job and had doubts about their ability to do it. There is a name for this, and it is Imposter Syndrome. I believe a large majority of people in our industry suffer from it, with many of us feeling we are not qualified enough, accredited enough, experienced enough, etc. I have written this short article to address some of the key causes of Imposter syndrome and some suggestions about how to manage it.

The term Imposter syndrome (I.S) was first used in a study looking into why so many women felt inferior in the work place, especially in relation to men. This was despite their often high intellect, academic background and general achievements. The effects of I.S is to make us feel inadequate, inferior and often internally labelling ourselves as a fraud. The studies around I.S show that there are usually external influences that trigger those thoughts of self-doubt. This is very much the case in relation to dog professionals, and I will touch on some possible causes below.

  1. We work within an unregulated industry. This means that there are many different ways into the industry, so many different methodologies, and numerous career paths to follow. This invariably means that there is always the risk of us comparing ourselves to our peers, and instinctively we are going to mentally lock on to those who seem to be more ‘qualified’ to do the job. I know professionals with qualifications galore who still feel inadequate because they don’t have the same experience as another trainer. Imposter Syndrome really does affect people from all ends of the professional spectrum.
  2. On a similar point to the one above, is the dizzying amount of education providers in the market now. Each one is (of course) selling themselves as the only one to offer the best education, the best qualification, etc. This in turn can only lead to more of the ‘I’m better than you because I went to so and so’ which is another feeder into I.S.
  3. The advent of celebrity in our industry. This, I believe, is big factor. There have always been well known faces in the industry, but the last 5 years has seen an explosion of new ‘celebrity’ trainers. This has been driven mainly by social media. We attend their seminars, watch their videos and read their books. We always feel inspired at the time, but then often struggle to emulate these things ourselves.
  4. This brings me on to Social Media as a point in its own right. If we are feeling a little insecure, social media can easily bombard us with different opinions and information that may serve to confuse us and challenge us, which may then lead to us doubting ourselves and our approach.
  5. Setting unrealistic expectations. This is always a big stressor we put on ourselves. If we try and over sell ourselves to clients or in our own training plans we heighten the risk of failure.

So, having looked at some possible reasons why so many of us can suffer from Imposter Syndrome, below are some pointers to help deal with it.

  1. Remember most of us will suffer from this at varying levels over our career. Take some heart from knowing it is a ‘thing’. When you get those doubts, tell yourself – ‘Just a bit of imposter syndrome kicking in’.
  2. Admit, out loud and proud, that you don’t know it all! We are ALL still learning, whether we want to admit it or not.
  3. Be the best YOU can. This is important. As long as we are always making sure we are giving our all, then that is all we can give. If we can be satisfied we are doing our best then we should be content with that.
  4. Be prepared to always be better! Yes, be the best you can but ALWAYS look to how you can become better. Knowing that we are striving to be better helps us to feel we are always moving forward.
  5. Know your limitations. Sometimes we are out of our comfort zone, and although this isn’t always a bad thing, it is important we acknowledge this both to ourselves and those around us.
  6. Getting things wrong or making mistakes does not make you a fraud! We all get it wrong sometimes, and that is an important part of the learning process. As long as we take ownership of our errors and learn from them, we can become stronger as a result of making them. Hiding them, especially from ourselves, is when the damage gets caused.
  7. Beware of labels! Just because someone says they are an expert, that only means someone (usually that person!) has decided to have that label; it doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about! If someone has a higher level qualification than you, that can just mean they have studied longer in a formal institution than you have, it doesn’t mean they KNOW more than you do.
  8. It is great to have our favourite trainers. We can learn from them and be inspired by them, but should never feel inferior to them. The reality is we don’t really know them, their faults or how they function in the ‘real’ world. Often we only get to see the good videos, to hear the ‘text book’ way to do things, rarely do we see anything to challenge their own skill set. Totally be in awe of them if you want, but never compare yourself to them.
  9. This leads me on to the final point. Embrace who you are – warts and all. You cannot be anyone else, so don’t even try. Yes, be influenced by others. Be inspired by them. Ultimately, though, you have to stay true to yourself. Remember – you can never be an imposter if you are always being you!