Imposter Syndrome (IS)…many of us have probably experienced it, either consciously or unconsciously and some of us probably did not even know that what we felt was a real experience, it exists and can be felt. The Imposter Syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. However, the Imposter Syndrome can be defined from different perspectives given the different experiences by different individuals. Well, according to me, the imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings and thoughts of inadequacy, self-doubt, no confidence, and low self-esteem.
As I embarked on a new journey to experience the real world as a newly qualified social worker, I got an opportunity to work as a social work intern at The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). Like any other graduate, I had expectations that as I enter a workplace environment, for the first time, everything would fall into place. I thought I was prepared enough to give it my all, all I have learned and attained during the course of my study.
The transition from being a student social worker to being a qualified and registered social worker is a complex process whose success not only depends on one’s ability to integrate what was learnt during their studies with practical experience, but also requires an understanding of the role and confidence in one’s performance. What usually helps with this process is the induction and orientation period where you slowly get to know the people, the work, and the culture of the organization.
This is where my challenge began as I started my internship during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a newly qualified social worker I expected to undergo an induction or perhaps job shadowing process where I would get introduced to the people and work and get acquainted with the staff. However, due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality was that my experience would be different from what I expected. Working during the pandemic meant that the staff at CSVR were working remotely and I was also expected to work remotely, which meant learning a lot of new information about the work on my own. This experience was daunting as I had no experience on working remotely.
I was designated a supervisor, who also studied social work, who was then a senior practitioner at the organization. This was one person I knew I could relate with in many aspects, professionally, considering our qualification and my assumption of her experience transitioning from being a student to being a qualified social work practitioner. Being inducted remotely took away from my experience of feeling adequately equipped to start the work as I doubted that I could translate what I was learning through the virtual processes to practice with the clients. This is where the Imposter Syndrome crept in, and I struggled with trusting myself and my skills.
I felt I would not even be recognized, in terms of my energy, time and efforts because it almost felt impossible to experience a normal working environment, which I have always envisioned meeting my colleagues in the office, taking about the upcoming work and projects and have those mini de-briefing sessions about work and life in general. As if this was not enough, the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt became intense, I got confused and that is when I realized I was experiencing the Imposter Syndrome. As a way of trying to know the organization better, I engaged more with my colleagues to learn what their roles were and their involvement in different projects. However, this did not help much as I began feeling overwhelmed, feeling like everyone was doing just perfectly and the manager would give those good remarks on the work they have done. I then started second-guessing my appointment as an intern. I felt that I was inadequate, and they did me a favor by hiring me.
As these feelings and thoughts became more intense, I would beat myself up over these negative feelings and thoughts for weeks because I didn’t experience these intensely in other areas of my life. During all of this I would still push myself to manage my tasks, meet deadlines and show up in meetings. As my feelings and thoughts intensified, I could no longer brush them off – they felt real. I just did not know at the time that the experience was conceptualized as the Imposter Syndrome. I knew and felt validated after I came across and read through a colleague’s post about the Imposter Syndrome. I related with the content of the post and felt I needed to know more about what the Imposter Syndrome was and how I could overcome it. I searched through the internet and read about the Imposter Syndrome as I also came across other people’s narrated experience of the Imposter Syndrome. I could relate to their shared experience, and I felt validated about my experience.
When I became aware of the source of these thoughts and feelings, I then focused more on why I was feeling and thinking in that way and how I could possibly overcome the Imposter Syndrome. As a result, I confided in someone who I knew could relate, had my best interest at heart, and was safe enough for me to be vulnerable with. I felt validated and supported even to this day.
Although I still experience that negative inner voice, it has become much better now that I know the source of my experience, and that the voice is not being truthful. My experience of Imposter Syndrome and the research I did on the topic has made me better informed and I have learnt to acknowledge and normalize my experience and not be too hard on myself. I have learnt to trust my skills; use the resources I have to do the best that I can, and ask for help when I need it. I am in a better space now. I realized that part of being an intern is observing and learning from those around you and sometimes that means feeling a bit lost and out of place but eventually you find your footing.
Written by Zanele Zondo
Social Work Intern at the CSVR
Key words: Imposter Syndrome, newly qualified social worker, working remotely, covid-19 pandemic
 Imposter Syndrome: Definition, Symptoms, Traits, Causes, and Coping (verywellmind.com)