Starting a new career in Canada comes with many positive emotions as you face exciting challenges and fresh opportunities. But it can also raise feelings of fear and self-doubt, especially when difficulties arise. For newcomers to Canada who’re adjusting to a new work environment and team culture, it’s not unusual for these emotions to manifest as “imposter syndrome”.
Unfortunately, if left unchecked, imposter syndrome can cause tremendous personal stress and may even hinder career advancement opportunities—not to mention take the joy out of navigating your new life and job. Here we explain what imposter syndrome is, how it may impact your job, and tips on how to overcome it so you can get back to pursuing the dreams that pushed you to move to Canada, and thriving in your career.
In this article:
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome typically presents as feelings of self-doubt and an irrational belief that you’re not deserving of your job or even the positive feedback you receive in the workplace. You may find yourself thinking you’re a fraud and fearing that people will find out that you’re not as skilled or smart as they believe.
Feelings of imposter syndrome can affect anyone, including the most accomplished and successful people. In such cases, despite your accomplishments, work experience, and education, you may not feel worthy of your success—whether it’s in the form of a promotion, salary increase, or praise in the workplace.
Signs of imposter syndrome
There are many signs that may indicate you suffer from imposter syndrome. Some to look out for are:
- Attributing your success to external factors: Even as a successful professional in your field, you attribute your accomplishments to external factors, such as luck, chance, or other people. Regardless of how many promotions you get or how much positive feedback you receive at work, you’re convinced that you haven’t earned it on your own merit.
- Doubting yourself: You question your decisions and shy away from doing something you believe in simply because you undervalue your own expertise and knowledge.
- Being overly critical of your work: You focus on your mistakes, rather than your accomplishments. No matter how hard you work, you’ve convinced yourself you could always do better and, rather than congratulate yourself for past performance, you only find reasons to criticize.
- Fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as a fraud: Even though you’re good at your job, you are convinced you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before you’re “caught”. You don’t believe you deserve your job and, as a result, often worry about the day everyone else realizes it, too.
- Fear of falling short of expectations: You hold yourself to unreasonably high standards and assume that your peers, colleagues, and managers hold you to these standards as well. You consider anything you do that doesn’t meet these high standards as a failure. You may feel the need to work extra hard (and take on added stress) because of your fear of failure.
- Your accomplishments don’t reassure you: Although you’re determined to ensure you meet the expectations you’ve set for yourself, even your accomplishments don’t reassure you. Instead, you may think they’re part of the “illusion” of success that you’ve created for yourself.
- Being overly sensitive to constructive criticism: Not only do you brush aside positive feedback, you tend to focus on only the negative aspect of constructive criticism. By doing so, you confirm your sense of inferiority or perceived lack of intelligence or experience.
- Downplaying your expertise: You may avoid sharing your knowledge and ideas out of fear that others will second-guess you or laugh at you. And, when others look to you for direction, you struggle to provide it confidently or downplay your level of expertise.
Why newcomers to Canada are more susceptible to imposter syndrome
As someone starting their career in an unfamiliar work culture, you’re often required to prove your qualifications and candidacy—even if you had a flourishing career in your home country. The fear of failure can be heightened under these circumstances as you navigate new pressures, such as learning a new language, understanding a different culture, and establishing your career—all without the security of family and friends nearby.
As you adjust to a new work environment, it’s possible you may feel isolated in your struggle to adapt to Canada, build skills, and connect with your new coworkers. This can be made worse if you feel like an outsider due to cultural differences and don’t yet have an established social network. The likelihood of developing imposter syndrome is also higher for minorities and underrepresented communities in Canada.
For some newcomers, the workplace may be vastly different from what they’d grown used to at home, including how performance is reviewed and appreciated. As a result, you may question the validity of the feedback you receive more often, which can deepen your self-doubt.
Another reason imposter syndrome is more common among newcomers is because many come from countries where self-assessment does not play a role in performance appraisals, whereas in Canada, it’s actually common practice. Many newcomers are unfamiliar with the practice of listing their accomplishments and evaluating their performance through the past quarter or year and feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy can creep in when they face that task.
How imposter syndrome can impact your ability to succeed at work
Imposter syndrome, and the feelings associated with it, can negatively affect your performance at work, as well your overall wellbeing. If you are suffering from imposter syndrome, it could impact your career in a number of ways, such as:
Constant anxiety about performance: It’s not uncommon for people dealing with imposter syndrome to be overachievers in the workplace. This can lead to a heightened level of anxiety and stress to deliver above and beyond at all costs. Not only can this minimize any pleasure and fulfillment you get from your work, it can negatively impact your performance over the long run, as well as limit opportunities to build connections with co-workers.
Staying “hidden” for fear of being exposed: People with imposter syndrome tend to hide themselves at work for fear of being exposed as frauds. You may avoid sharing ideas in meetings, or keep your video turned off during virtual calls. You may also pass up key roles or projects that could help advance your career for fear of being in the spotlight. Such behaviours can negatively affect your career growth.
Aiming for perfection while falling behind: People with imposter syndrome often set unattainable benchmarks for their performance. Aiming for perfection can backfire if you spend too much time trying to meet your high expectations and your perfectionism leads to you being constantly behind on work. Sadly, this can create a vicious cycle of feeling stressed and overworked, potentially leading to burnout.
Undervaluing your work during performance reviews: Many Canadian companies conduct regular performance reviews to help employees progress in their careers and increase their earnings. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you’re more likely to undervalue your work and lose out on opportunities to advocate for yourself, hence potentially shutting the door to promotions and skill building experiences.
Limits your ability to network effectively: Self-doubt and low confidence can negatively impact your ability to build a professional network within your organization, as well as across your field. You may worry that new connections will recognize you as a fraud, and thus, avoid reaching out to potential contacts. Alternatively, if you regularly downplay your skills and expertise, others may feel less compelled to reach out to you as a connection.
10 tips to deal with imposter syndrome as a newcomer
If you believe you may suffer from imposter syndrome, there’s no need to lose hope. You can overcome these uncomfortable feelings of self-doubt and get back to building your confidence, along with your new career in Canada. Here are some useful tips to help you conquer imposter syndrome:
Know that your negative feelings aren’t real
Acknowledge that imposter syndrome distorts your sense of self and your true value to an organization. When thoughts of unworthiness and doubt creep into the workday, remind yourself that these are false statements.
Understand that you aren’t alone
According to the American Psychological Association, as many as 82 per cent of people suffer from feelings of imposter syndrome at some point in their life or career. It can help to know that you’re not alone in your struggles, and that if others have been able to manage their feelings of self-doubt, so can you.
Acknowledge the value of your work
You’ve likely spent years developing expertise in your skills. What you once considered a challenging task is now easy and, as a result, you may undervalue your capabilities. But just because something is easy for you, doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone else. To combat this negativity, it may help to assign a monetary value to your work, such as calculating what your organization would pay to outsource your tasks, or how much revenue your work brought in over a certain timeframe.
Keep track of your accomplishments
Your selective memory may focus exclusively on your small mistakes, and forget all your major accomplishments. Try to get into the habit of jotting down your achievements, both personal and professional, as they occur. Refer to the list when you find yourself losing confidence or attributing your success to luck. Remember, you made your achievements happen through hard work and skill. This list of accomplishments will also come in handy when it’s time to update your resume or prepare for future job interviews.
Go easier on yourself
You likely set a much higher standard for yourself than you do for others. Question why you do that, and make an effort to let go of your need to be perfect; know that not every task requires it. Striving for perfection in everything you do can create unnecessary stress. Sometimes, it’s okay to settle for good enough.
Steer clear of negative thoughts
If you find yourself in a cycle of negative thinking, replace each critical thought with a positive one. You may be able to counter that habit by starting your day with positive affirmations. Return to them throughout the day when your mind wanders into negative territory. For instance, if you find yourself thinking you’re not good enough, remind yourself that the organization chose to hire you after interviewing multiple skilled candidates or that your manager appreciates your work.
Find a mentor who understands
If you have a co-worker, mentor, or manager you trust, speak openly about your struggle with imposter syndrome. They can help keep you grounded by providing a more realistic assessment of your work. Discussing your situation with your manager may also help ensure your workload is manageable and that you’re not devoting too much time perfecting something that’s already well done.
Spend time with friends or colleagues from your community
Although Canada is a diverse country, your team might not be. Exposing yourself to others from similar backgrounds can help you see that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. It can provide reaffirmation that, as a newcomer, you bring more value to an organization and can offer a different perspective based on your experience.
Be open to new challenges
Don’t shy away from challenging work opportunities because you’re afraid of being exposed as a fraud. If you’re hesitant to take on a new project at work, ask yourself why and don’t let fear or self-doubt be the limiting factor. In fact, taking on new challenges can help you build skills and confidence to overcome imposter syndrome.
Seek mental health support, if needed
Sometimes the fear and self-doubt that imposter syndrome brings can be too overwhelming to handle on your own. If you feel your own coping strategies are not improving your situation, consider speaking to a therapist or mental health counselor for advice.
As you start to build your career in Canada in a new work environment, feelings of imposter syndrome can often creep up. Navigating these feelings of inadequacy as you chart a course to success can be difficult, but not impossible. It’s important to step back and take an impartial view of the value you add and your contribution to the organization’s goals. Remember to be kind to yourself and know that there’s no stigma in seeking mental health support if you need it.