I’m starting this blog by doing the thing you aren’t supposed to do – going off topic. Slightly.
If you speak to people who know me professionally, they will tell you I am confident, opinionated, passionate, tenacious and fight my corner to achieve and be the best I can (I hope). That’s my work persona, Professional Pete.
The reality is different. I am a socially awkward, slightly anxious, low confidence and low self esteem individual. Often found hiding in corners or kitchens at parties. Always with people I know, very awkward when meeting new people. Slight sufferer (self diagnosed) of Social Anxiety Disorder and Imposter Syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Back on track now, Imposter Syndrome is something that a lot of people suffer with, but a large number of people haven’t heard of.
It is a lack of confidence, a fear of being found out, failure to see achievements, comparison to others and not attributing success to yourself.
I will give some real life examples that have affected me.
My career has been varied, I have changed roles, industries, cities and countries. Luckily, I have been relatively successful and held some fairly senior positions. So, I should be gaining some of that confidence and congratulating myself on my success. Right?
So how does my IS manifest?
Every time my boss walks towards my desk, wondering if this is it. What have I done wrong? Have I been found out? Has someone told them I don’t know what I am doing.
Even worse, a meeting request, with my boss and a peer or senior, with no detail, a few days in the future. This is it, I should clear my desk and resign now. Save the embarrassment of having to have ‘the’ conversation.
In meetings, being confident, knowing my position, taking part in a discussion. While simultaneously looking around the room, gauging body language, what are their faces saying. Even when the meetings go well, approval is gained, suggestions signed off, compliments given. The questions in my head continue. Why did they praise that? Why didn’t they comment on this?
To add to this, why can’t they see, it wasn’t my success or my suggestion. It was this, that or the other person who had given the suggestion to me, taken the action, written the plan.
You get the idea, I have hundreds more examples I could give. Instead I link at the end to some more ‘professional’ explanations.
How did I overcome my Imposter Syndrome?
This is the part where I would love to be able to say about a series of steps that cured me. But I can’t. I can however say that I am getting better, but on some levels, I am just as bad.
However, things that I have done that have helped me include:
- Not comparing myself to others, instead asking myself what it is that person does that I would like to emulate, then compare myself to that.
This then allows me to target the comparison and be able to identify areas for improvement and track progress.
- Reflect on successes, attribute different parts of the journey to the people who had input, supported, did the work. But allow myself to be included in that, what part did I play, how did I support, what was my input.
This allows me to identify the team achievement (added benefit is that this then allows me to give praise to team members) but also to allow myself to validate (or break) my feelings of not being of value.
- Seek the opinion of others, find a trusted friend.
I ask for feedback on my progress, take guidance from other attendees of meetings, taking time to debrief with colleagues. Take the time to gain a valid overview of performance, negate my opinions and judgements on how people reacted or behaved in a session.
- Surround myself with role models.
I am really lucky on this one, not just at work, but in my life there are some great people. Some have taken the leap to give up on established careers and do something they love. Others have such belief in their career that they inspire. Some just come to work every day and work really hard to deliver their best. Even better some surprise me by challenging my beliefs and judgement, changing my opinions on the way.
- Take a step back.
My current role (in fact my last two) have been several levels below my last ‘career’ role. This has allowed me time to reconnect, find my successes. More importantly work out what is important to me, where my skills lie and what direction I want to take next.
Imposter Syndrome may not be well known, but it is widespread. Stats are different but range between 40-70% of successful people suffering. It used to be thought that more women suffered with the condition, but more men are now stating that they are too.
It is ongoing. I went to a conference with my boss last week. She is great, she already knew a lot of people there. By the time we left she knew a lot more. She worked the space, introduced herself to lots of people, and made lots of connections. Me? I followed her or hid in corners answering emails on my phone.
As I said above, surround yourself with role models.
I have a long way to go, but I have come a long way already.
Being kind to myself and recognising that I have come a long way is a good step on the road to overcoming this.
My final conclusion, when I started this blog I struggled to write my about me, so I asked friends for a list of words to describe me. Reading them made me happy, gave me confidence and also affirmed that a lot of the negative thoughts are not true.
Why not try doing the same, see yourself through the eyes of others?