Fighting Impostor (Syndrome)?

The voice in my head is asking: ‘Who are you to be writing/talking about …..?’ and the words in the gap can be anything, including teaching, training, writing, course design, launching a project, organizing an event, applying for a grant, creating a new proposal, and many, many more situations. And the voice can keep going with something along the lines of ‘Who told you have a right to…?’ or ‘How can you consider yourself an expert if you can’t even….?’, etc. You get the idea.

It could be an Impostor (Imposter?) Syndrome*, as the post title suggests. According to a simple definition, it is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. By the way, the Wikipedia entry where the definition is from offers a list of famous people who experienced this phenomenon.

*Or Impostor Phenomenon? Sounds so much better! (to me)

Here is one of the articles on the subject by Kim Morgan I saved a while ago. My favorite part is the practical exercises suggested by the author, which can be wonderful classroom activities in a language classroom.

Know Oneself

At the beginning of any new project, and especially if it is/was going 100% ‘solo’, without a team or a partner to exchange ideas with, my strategy is to create what I call ‘My Doubts Page’. It can be a page in a notebook, or a file on my desktop, where I just catch the thoughts like ‘What if … does not work?’ or ‘What could be my ‘plan B’ for …?’ It is interesting to look at those pages from the ‘archived’ projects and compare them, and to see how similar fears and doubts emerge or come back.

Know the enemy

A lot has been written about the phenomenon in the field of ELT. Sharing some posts on the topic I really liked:

In Chia Suan Chong’s post (2018) at ET Professional one of the steps/actions to take is to find people to talk about this. The ‘talking’ can be in writing, or in a blog post. 

From Rachael’s post (2020) I loved these coaching questions from Byron Katie:

  • Is that really true?
  • How do I behave or react when I believe that thought?
  • Who would I be without that thought?

Teresa in her post based on her mini-plenary from Innovate shared 5 categories or types of imposter and wrote about the need to recognize and celebrate our successes more (as a strategy to overcome this state).

Putting the Two Together

Sun Tzu in The Art of War said

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Questions to Readers

  • Have you ever experienced this state? If yes, what were your strategies, if any, of overcoming it?
  • Do you know someone who (often) experiences this psychological pattern?
  • Have you ever talked about it with your colleagues? (Could this be turned into a teacher meeting topic?)
  • What are you celebrating this week?

Thank you for reading! 🙂


About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
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4 Responses to Fighting Impostor (Syndrome)?

  1. Irene Sushko says:

    Zhenya, you once again raised such an interesting question.To be honest this is the first time I am learning about this syndrome in ELT. I had no idea people have been talking about this for a while.
    Of course, I have experienced this state – practically before every training or conference presentation that I do. Sometimes it happens when I start a new course since I am afraid I might not meet the expectations of my students.
    One thing for sure – this syndrome comes with experience – the more experienced you are a teacher or a trainer, the more likely you are to have those thoughts.
    I have never talked about this with a colleague and now that you’ve asked I am not sure if I’d be comfortable talking about this. So ok, I admitted my feelings – what’s next? Should we praise each other for being great teachers? Really, don’t know – but will think about it.
    And I also like the idea of celebrating your small successes. Funny enough, just before I read your post I was thinking back about the psychological workshop which I attended and the homework that the trainer gave us – Write down 10 things or actions that you praise yourself for. And guess what, my notebook page is still blank.
    It’s easier when you are a novice teacher. You have a good lesson and you go out to celebrate this success with your friends. Once you get more experienced you start looking for flaws where there aren’t any.
    This is what I thought and your post helped me to take a very important step – become aware of the syndrome and start thinking about the ways to deal with it.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Irene

      Thank you very much for reading this post and leaving your comment! This topic has been on my mind for some time, and especially so after I listened to Lena Rezanova’s (non-ELT) podcast on the subject: – It is in Russian so I did not include it in the post. She talks about the Syndrome (or, better put, ‘phenomenon’?), and what it is, and how to fight it.

      You said ‘I am not sure if I’d be comfortable talking about [talking to your colleagues about it]’, and I understand. In fact, this post is/was my first attempt to get the conversation going. As you said, with more experience and (supposedly) expertise, it is harder and harder to admit not knowing something, especially in the area we ‘should’ know a lot.

      ‘Should we praise each other for being great teachers?’ – That’s a good question. My guess is that when you experience this ‘impostor’ thing, you are not likely to believe that you are ‘great’. Maybe, a subject for deeper reflections? There are some ideas in the podcast, as well as in the posts by the other ELT-ers. And… noticing and celebrating small successes is a big step in that direction. I am working on this! 🙂
      Thank you for the much-needed conversation!


      • Irene Sushko says:

        Zhenya, thank you for a comment and a podcast recommendation – will definitely check it.
        As you’ve probably noticed a lot of teachers express interest in this topic but noone dares to speak openly:) Let’s keep the conversation going and see where it takes us (and by ‘us’ I mean a community of ELT professionals).

        Liked by 1 person

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