Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP
You may have been working for a few days, weeks, or months by now. Please know, that if you are feeling scared or nervous, or even wholly panicked, you are not alone. In some extreme cases, you may feel like a fraud, a person who doesn’t even know what to do. This state is often described as the Imposter Syndrome. You may mistakenly believe that you are not actually qualified for the job. These deep fears and intense feelings are entirely expected – this is actually a relatively normal state for a new job. In fact, though it may be hard to believe, it is a sign that you are a conscientious and knowledgeable individual. Recognizing what you will need to learn to be a competent service provider is a high level metacognitive skill. Your uncertainty is a mirrored reflection of your intense desire to learn and achieve.
Many, if not all, new clinicians felt your fear once. Even seasoned professionals may feel these same sensations of ineptitude when they accept new positions or change to a new area of their field. We don’t talk about these feelings much anymore, because it is in the past. As human beings we tend not to remember the actual internal sensations associated with painful or uncertain situations. Our bodies can no longer replicate the physiological manifestations of unease – rapid pulse, flushed cheeks, jitters, nausea, etc., when we think back to our early days. We become nostalgic and laugh about our foibles. We have forgotten crying in the parking lot outside of our work site at the end of the day or calling a colleague in desperation ten minutes before a crucial meeting. Just because we may not be able to remember it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Know this to be true: You may feel alone, but you are not alone. Every supportive and nurturing mentor who you have ever met in your life is standing by your side. All the people who recognized your strengths and showed you how to give what is best of you are with you. If you listen to your own inner voice you will hear the advice that they have given you, at your practicum sites, in your classes, passing in the hallway, and at any rare moment when you knew that you were heard and recognized for the unique individual that you are.
Many years ago, in my early days of clinical training, I had the privilege of participating in an interprofessional team in a medical setting. At that time, in the role of graduate student, I had limited access to providing direct services fully independently. There was a highly skilled Occupational Therapist who had a warm approach with everyone, and a keen eye for identifying people’s needs. I confided my secret fears to her that I would not be competent when I was a professional. Her response rings true to me today and fills me with the same warmth as if she were here smiling at me:
“When it is your turn, you will know what to do.”
Her absolute confidence in me was inspirational. She was a seasoned professional who had worked in the medical setting for years, on multiple teams, with physicians, specialists, families, clients, and the whole city of staff who make a hospital run efficiently. I am continually grateful to her and to all of the other mentors whose passing comments shined a light on my emerging skills.
Our words are immensely powerful. We all have the ability to observe and identify strengths. Supportive words can be given freely – they are not in limited supply. Focused and positive words are a continually replenishing commodity. Lifting up other people does not reduce your own standing, but shows the generousness of spirit and the acute observational skills that you possess. Hear the good that has been said of you and continue to model strength-based relationships with others.
All of your mentors know that you are ready. It is your turn and you know what to do.
About the Author: Teresa Roberts, MS, CCC-SLP, works as a Speech Language Pathologist in a public school setting, provides clinical mentorship, and teaches as adjunct faculty in Portland, Oregon. She is committed to making connections between knowledge and practice.