Rejuvenate Series – The Imposter Syndrome

Welcome to the sixth and final installment of the Rejuvenate Series. We hope that the series has delivered on its promise to bring you thought provoking subject matter designed to make your everyday work life more rewarding. I’d appreciate hearing from you if you have any comments or feedback on the series. My contact information is in the byline at the end of this post. Enjoy!

The prevalence of The Imposter Syndrome is far more common among your colleagues than you may realize. In fact, if you take an honest look inward, you may recall times in your career when you were secretly dogged by feelings of self-doubt and anxiety regarding your ability to perform at levels that would sufficiently impress colleagues and bosses.

It’s no wonder. We live in a competitive culture. For example, job seekers are coached by career counsellors to genericize their resumes so that HR gatekeepers have fewer reasons to reject their application. Consciously or unconsciously, we wonder if there is a similar set of criteria at play in the company culture. “If I’m not favored, I’ll get the axe.”

The Imposter Syndrome in action sounds like this in your head: “If I ask my question in this meeting, others may judge me as being unqualified or naïve.”

In her inspiring book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, author Valerie Young, ED. D., enumerates seven reasons why you might feel like a fraud. Those reasons are familial expectations and early messages, being a student, working in an organizational culture that feeds self-doubt, working alone, working in a creative field, feeling like a stranger in a strange land and having to represent your entire social group. I would add another. Accepting a position that may to some degree be beyond your level of previous experience.

If you’re haunted by The Imposter Syndrome, there is a way out. It begins by understanding that regardless of gender, many people share the same self-doubts as you do. Once you recognize that you’re not alone, you can frame your own Imposter feelings in less personal and more situational terms.

Young identifies five competence personality types that are most likely to suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. To mitigate self-doubt, Young makes the following suggestions for each competence type:

  • Perfectionist – hold on to your pursuit of high standards, but shed the shame you feel when you fall short.
  • Natural Genius – keep your desire for mastery, as long as you recognize the time and effort that’s required to get there.
  • Expert – value the importance of knowledge, but ditch the unrealistic expectation that you should know it all.
  • Rugged Individualist – take pride in the knowledge that you can go it alone if you have to, just stop thinking you must.
  • Superwoman/Man/Student – honor your desire to be the very best you can on multiple fronts, but abandon the idea that you have to do it all.

Here are some suggestions for applying this wisdom to the ordinary work day:

  • If you’re reluctant to ask a question, explain first that you have learned it is better to ask what may seem to some as being obvious, because doing so has uncovered misunderstandings in the past.
  • Work on noticing your impulse to harshly judge your own performance – You are only gathering false evidence against yourself that may appear real.
  • Verbally designate greenfield or brainstorming sessions as judgement-free zones. Tailor brainstorming to foster the creative process. Save the analyst and the critic for a different meeting entirely.
  • Cultivate a more collaborative work style. If you think you already do, be even more collaborative.
  • Someone else in the room may come up with the idea that wins consensus. That’s how group energy flows.
  • Reach out to colleagues and ask for any tips they may have to share on a given project or obstacle. If humility is not recognized in your organization, it’s time to move on.
  • Set an example by partnering up with someone who is not as experienced in a certain discipline as you are, and vice versa, team up with someone who may be stronger in one particular area than you are.
  • We all have strong aptitudes in different areas. Know what yours are so you can proactively identify and fill gaps in teams and projects.
  • Be the person who states the key takeaways of a meeting.
  • Remember that all of us at one time or another have suffered from pangs of insecurity.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to the success of a project, team or enterprise by filling in with your strengths and supporting those who may be struggling.
  • We’re all in this together. Continually develop relatedness with clients, colleagues and collaborators. Make this a practice.
  • If you experience a setback, analyze it objectively. Replay for yourself what actually happened. Allow yourself to touch on how it made you feel. Then begin to plan what needs to be done about it. Don’t disasterize.

Most importantly, remember that you are never alone. It is not up to you to see that every detail is correct and in place. Don’t take it all on. Clearly share responsibilities amongst team members based on skill level, interests and aptitude.

By Mark Leach, Marketing Strategist at www.innatemarketing.com, a Colorado based marketing firm serving startups and bootstrapped businesses.