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Impostor Syndrome

March 2nd, 2020

I have been reading a lot about impostor syndrome on my social channels lately.

I think the old me would have said,

“YOU ARE AWESOME! Get over your self-doubt and negative talk and see yourself the way everyone else sees you!”

If I were coaching you I’d say,

“They hired you for a reason! You were the best candidate! Now do the job we all know you can do!”

They had confidence in you… why don’t you have confidence in you?

JibberJobber Impostor Syndrome

I saw someone say impostor syndrome is more common in women. I imagine there are statistics out there that prove that, but I’m hear to tell you, plenty of guys feel impostor syndrome. Unfortunately, this syndrome doesn’t discriminate.

Almost a year ago I wrote My Life Is Impostor Syndrome. I talked about working in a company that I had been following for years. It was really a dream job, with a super boss. But I spent months working through the weird feelings of not being the right person for the job.

Last fall I wrote Why You May Hate Your Next Dream Job. If you have impostor syndrome you will dread going to work. You might feel paranoid that it really isn’t a syndrome, and that everyone else feels the same way (they don’t!).

When I get on stage I sometimes feel like I have impostor syndrome. When I do my courses for Pluralsight I think “why am I doing this course? There are two hundred people who are more qualified than I am!” When I wrote my first book on LinkedIn I could have named you two dozen people who should have written the book (alas, they didn’t).

Sitting here, hiding behind my keyboard, writing a post about YOUR career, I feel like I have a bit of impostor syndrome. Who am I to tell you how to have a great career?

The truth is, these self-doubts creep into our brain and sometimes they settle in comfortably. They grow, and spew their lies.

JibberJobber Impostor Syndrome Self Reflection

A few months into that dream job, the one from the first link, I was in my office with my very smart and capable boss. By this point I was thinking he had all the knowledge he needed, I wasn’t bringing any smarts to the table. He also could do all of the things he wanted me to do… if he lost me it wouldn’t be a big deal. For over a decade I was used to being the chief visionary and strategist, as well as having to do a fair amount of roll-up-your-sleeves work. And here I was, not able to contribute any strategy or vision (because he had that all figured out), and in the learning curve part of doing real work…

So I’m in this meeting and I realize that indeed I did bring value. A lot of value. I was a doer. I was someone who could be giving a vision, and work towards that vision. I could understand the direction and strategy and get the job done. I could work with the right teams, I could represent my own teams in meetings, and I was smart enough to (generally) keep up with what we were doing.

My ability to do all of this was valuable in critical. It allowed my boss to hand over a lot of work, so he could make progress in other areas. I walked out of that meeting finally feeling like yes, indeed, I was the right person for the job. Perhaps there were others who would have been also, but I was just as capable. And for various reasons, I was the chosen one.

It didn’t last, which is okay. I learned a ton from that job, and boss, and opportunity. I had some really great experiences and I had a handful of yucky experiences. What I learned has helped me since then. They got value out of me and I certainly got value out of working there.

When we go into an organization, we’ll have those deceitful feelings known as impostor syndrome. Here’s how I suggest you work through it:

Have patience

Everyone knows, especially your boss and the executives, that there will be a learning curve to go through. They might not tell you that, but if you were being honest with yourself, you would admit you would have to learn stuff… whether it is their software, their processes, the industry, the company culture, etc. I didn’t even mention the tasks you do in your job.

Allow yourself to go through the learning curve. Give yourself time. When I bring on a new person I, as the boss, realize they will need three to six months to work through learning curves. I expect them to be slow, and make mistakes, but within 6 or so months I hope they are up to speed and contributing well.

If I am going to have patience with you for this first 6 or so months, why not have patience with yourself?

Study up

Having patience doesn’t mean just skating along and doing things without intention. I just don’t want you to stress out unreasonably as you ramp up. But some stress is okay… just don’t let it eat into your very soul.

Remember I said you’ll go through learning curves? Well, what can YOU DO to get you through those learning curves? Do you need to read books or articles, or watch courses? What would help you feel like you are learning the right things, at the right pace?

Before you take the drastic step of bowing out, giving up, quitting, do me a favor and WORK ON YOURSELF. You should always be learning, always growing, always improving, even when you don’t feel confident in your abilities.

Please, figure out what you should work on, and then spend time outside of the office to get better. Your boss or colleagues might provide you with some excellent learning materials.

Talk to someone

Fortunately I could talk to my boss. We had some very open conversations where he helped me calm my fears. I wasn’t out of control outwardly, but I was concerned about some things. Getting these things into our regular conversation was helpful for me to realize that some of my worries were mine alone, and didn’t even faze him. That was super important for me to understand.

You might not have a boss like that. Or you might not be ready to have that conversation with your boss. In that case, find a trusted colleague, friend, or even a coach that you can talk through these things with. Sometimes our perspective is biased and skewed in unfair ways, and we just need to talk out loud and maybe get real, grounded insight to help us work through it.

How do YOU fight impostor syndrome? I hope by now you realize it is not just you… this is almost a normal part of onboarding yourself.

JibberJobber Impostor Syndrome Confidence

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One response to “Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Susan Hahn says:

    10 years ago, three colleagues and I conducted a study of the Impostor Phenomenon (also known as the Impostor Syndrome). the study included use of a 10 question survey administered to both men and women. We went into the study with the assumption that the frequency, duration, and intensity of IP would be greater for women. Wrong!!! On all scales, men rated higher.

    We realize our study was a snapshot in time, of a relatively small sample size (247); positions of VP or above in companies across the US. Our findings were published, with updates coming soon. “The Impostor Phenomenon; When Perceptions Override Reality”.
    Susan M. Hahn, PCC, LCSW-C smHahn@SwanConsulting.com

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