To ESL professionals wanting to manage their Impostor Syndrome

You may experience the “Impostor Syndrome” like that belief and body sensation that you don’t belong or don’t deserve your success. In my case, at the beginning of my career I often felt like my manager did me some sort of favor by hiring me. Never fully believing I deserved to be where I was. My evidence against myself: I was young newbie and the biggie I was a newcomer with very strong Spanish accent.

Working with people more experienced than me (in some case +20years) I often felt both blessed and very dumb. Like I was playing catch up and I was missing something. Feeding that feeling that someone made a mistake by hiring me.

At the time, I didn’t understand, that of course they will be more knowledgeable because that was the whole point of being a professional with +20 years of experience. Eventually. I fought my way up, cultivating new skills and closing the knowledge gap.

About speaking English as a Second Language, that was the most painful reminder of me being an impostor. I want to clarify I’m blessed to work surrounded of wonderful, open minded and patient people. Toronto is a City where +50% of its residents were born outside Canada. But daily challenges to communicate in English had its toll on my confidence.

I grew up in a small and humble town back in Venezuela. Everyone around me spoke in Spanish. Being very analytical and practical by nature I never understood why was necessary for me to speak English.

At the time (10 years ago) I held limiting beliefs about why learning English wasn’t for me:

  1. Learning English wasn’t for me. It was for the privilege kids, those whom traveled abroad every year to English summer camps.
  2. It wasn’t for me since I never planned or even dreamed to traveled outside Venezuela. Travelling abroad seemed impossible for the younger version of myself.

And fast forwarding to the future, there I was during my first year as a newcomer, working late on my project at my new job in Canada. At some point I found myself with the task of spelling a series of acronyms to my colleague. Nightmare! Spelling in English is the most challenging thing, even today. To my horror the next batch of words to spell included series of the letter V and B. If you do not understand my concern, let me explain myself. In my native “Venezuelan” Spanish the sounds of the letters V and letter B are the same. To the point that when kids learn to spell, they call the letter B “big B” and the letter V “small V”.

Since their sound is the same, they use the adjective big and small to differentiate. But of course, that was not how spelling was done in English. For English speakers, the sound of V and B are different. So, you can imagine the face of confusion of my colleague when I started to spell like small V, big B and so on. When I realize my spelling gaps, I felt like I total fraud, disappointed of myself.

Today all that spelling confusion seems very hilarious and funny, but I did not feel like that day. With the pass of the time, my hard work and the support I received from my community I learnt to relax. A great example of my newly found chill attitude happened the other day. I was explaining to a colleague that I did kayaking over the weekend. With my Spanish accent, I mispronounced the word ka-ya-king and he understood I was saying car-jac-king. The word Car Jacking wasn’t in my vocabulary, so I wasn’t sure what was happening. After a moment of confusion all got cleared out.

It was hilarious exchange about watersports. But the best part for me was I didn’t feel ashamed nor did I questioned if I was worthy or not of my current role because of my accent. I just took it with humor and congratulated myself for saying bye-bye to the impostor syndrome in the ESL context. 

I took me me a long time to reframe my mindset my mindset about daily life challenges. Slowly, my challenges transformed from being opportunities to disclosed that I was a fraud (impostor syndrome) to opportunities for learning and humor (growth mindset).

Today I’m sharing my lessons learnt. Strategies that helped me to manage my impostor syndrome. I still practice most of these ideas since they are important to sustain for a healthier relationship with life.

1)     Finding support in your community: I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to have people to cheer you up when you feel low. This could be a friend at work, your partner, your mom, etc. But having that peer support where you can be vulnerable and safely share your pain is very important.

2)     Supporting others: The impostor syndrome present itself in different areas of life. So, if you ever see someone struggling with believing they are not good enough (for work, cooking, parenting, travelling, making money, etc.) give them kind words of support. And if you honestly believe they are doing a good job, say it aloud!!! We all need to be reminded we add value to others.

3)     Continues learning: My personal favourite. I describe myself as a “course lover” and having a passion for learning. Education have been the gift that enabled me to progress in my life and support my family and community. When we learn and practice new stuff, we gain confidence and in the long run that show up in our performance.

4)     Be kind to yourself: Self-criticism is painful and energy consuming. A better use of your energy is giving kind words to yourself in the moment of difficulties. In that way you will become your own best friend. You can use language like: “this is a difficult moment, may I be kind to myself, may I be safe”

5)     WE NEED YOUR TALENT at its fullest: How I see it having the impostor syndrome is the sign you are a good person. You believe you have things to learn and space for improvement. Humility and respect for others are both great values and they make strong leaders. That’s why we need you! Our society need your talents and gifts at its fullest, do not let the impostor syndrome to diminish the value you can add.

If you have more ideas about how to manage the impostor syndrome, please do share them!

Also, if you want to connect 1:1 with me to share experiences, learning and ideas please reach out.


Aracelys Sunico

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