I am 39, I am a director and I feel like an impostor.
Do you often feel like you are simply not good enough? Do you often feel unsure of your skills, competences or accomplishments? Do you wake up in the morning thinking of ways you will prove yourself in the coming day at work? Do you sit in meetings worried and agonizing on what clever thing you should say? Do you playback conversations trying to assess if what you said was good enough? I don’t know about you, but I do. Every day, I go to work ready to give my best and every day I worry it won’t be good enough. Like so many others, although I hide it well, I struggle with a heavy case of impostor syndrome. Today, I am a 39 years old director in a large multinational firm, but I still wake up in the morning often wondering if I am good enough.
Over the years, I have learned to manage my impostor syndrome. I have learned a few tricks, which have enabled me to recognize that I am often plenty good enough. Although impostor syndrome is very common (up to 70% of the population feels this way at one time or another), managers rarely talk about their impostor syndrome openly to their employees, colleagues and peers. Therefore, as a manager myself, I have decided that I would take the leap and talk openly about feeling like an impostor. I think it is important to acknowledge that everyone, no matter the success, competences and capabilities can struggle to feel good enough.
Impostor syndrome can take multiple forms. The perfectionist, the superhuman, the natural genius, the soloist or the expert. I won’t elaborate on each impostor type, their characteristics and attributes. If you want to know more, I strongly recommend a bit of google research as there is a ton of content on the matter available out there. Today, I want to talk about the impostor that I am and how debilitating it has been for me to feel this way. I want to talk about when the impostor shows up and what I have learned to cope with it. By doing so I hope that this will resonate with some of you and that you will realize that no one has life figured out.
My impostor I am not a perfectionist and never tried to be. That is not the impostor I am. I am the opposite of a perfectionist. As a child, I thought school was quite easy so instead of doing all the homework, I only did the minimum required to make sure I understood the concepts. Instead, I studied all subjects and more topics that the curriculum entailed. I didn’t want to be an expert or a genius, I wanted to be a super student and do it all. As I grew up and left the school benches to enroll into professional life, I have continued on the same path. I don’t feel good enough unless I am a superhuman who can juggle and excel in as many roles as possible. I am not good enough unless I am a great parent, partner, friend, employee, manager, etc. And to achieve being good enough, I work harder than most. It is not easy to feel pressured to excel across all roles and to fear the shame of failure. In my professional career, I have taken on all challenges thrown my way. Not because I am competitive or because I wanted to show off, but simply because I always felt that I needed to deliver on all aspects or I would be discovered as a fraud, as not good enough… Some people go to work and when they deliver, they feel like they have gained a point. I have never felt that way. I have always felt that when I get to work, I am in minus and I need to deliver simply to reach the break-even point. I am not delivering to exceed expectations, I am delivering because I feel that I don’t meet expectations. This is a hard burden to carry each day. I have attended meetings where I couldn’t focus on what was being discussed as all my attention was directed towards finding something intelligent to say. I have left meetings feeling defeated because I didn’t find the courage to say what I thought fearing what others would think of my viewpoints. I have not dared ask critical questions in fear that people would realize I didn’t know something they knew. The list goes on.
Now if you ask my manager, my colleagues or my employees, they will tell you that this is silly. I am good at what I do, I deliver and I am talented, but that doesn’t mean I feel that way. Over the years, feeling always in minus has been hard on me. I have constantly doubted myself, my competences, my capabilities to perform and my abilities to connect with others. But as I have grown in my role and matured, I have also realized that this constant fear of being a fraud is extremely taxing and although it pushes me to excel, it creates stress and a huge amount of negativity. Therefore, I have spent the last few years, months and weeks working hard on learning to tame my impostor syndrome. Through this journey, I have learned a few things I wanted to share with you in case it can help one of you deal with their impostor syndrome too.
Dealing with my impostor: To tone down my impostor syndrome, which is an ongoing journey, I have learned a few tricks. Here they are:
Internalizing my successes. It’s easy to deliver and quickly move on to the next task. But by doing so, one forgets to recognize and internalize successes. To tame my impostor syndrome, I have learned that internalizing my successes is critical. Every time I complete something I should be proud of, I take time to reflect upon the accomplishment and internalize it so that it becomes mine to own. This allows me to grasp and realize, at least for a brief moment, that I am good enough.
Focusing on the value I give and not what people think. I spent most of my life worrying about what people think. Will they like me? Will they like the work I do? Am I a good manager? Am I a good person? Although difficult to admit, I will never be for everyone. For example, I am sure someone reading this text finds this article ridiculous and uninteresting. They probably didn’t even make it to this part and quit reading all together after the first few lines. I am not for everyone. This has been a difficult but needed realization for me. Instead of focusing on what people will think of me, I make a conscious effort to focus on the value I bring. If only one person reading this article finds value in what I write, then I have accomplished my goal. It’s not about being liked but about giving what I have to give and letting the receivers receive it the way they see fit.
Ask for feedback. As an impostor, I have always feared what people thought of me. Am I good enough? Did I say the right thing in the last meeting? Did I come across the right way? Am I delivering to expectations? I spent years asking myself these questions and second guessing the answers. But why? Why second guess and not just ask? I have learned that one of the greatest ways to stop feeling like an impostor is to ask for feedback. I admit humbly that it is extremely scary to ask for feedback as you might be met with criticism, but there is nothing more empowering that knowing how you are perceived and understanding how what you give is received. Therefore, I strongly urge anyone struggling from impostor syndrome to ask for feedback. You will stop second guessing yourself wondering if you are enough and you will know. The more you ask for feedback, the easier it gets and you learn what to improve and what you should keep doing.
Humanizing myself. We are all human. Everyone is trying to figure out how to live life and no one has their life fully figured out. Don’t believe all the polished Instagram posts you see, we are all struggling to live and to be happy. We all have flaws and we all make mistakes. It’s ok to change your mind, see your opinions evolve overtime and make decisions that you wouldn’t have made before. For me, realizing that my human experience is legitimate has been a great help in dealing with impostor syndrome. I am human like everyone else and no one can take my humanity away from me.
I show up. A few days back I wrote another post about consistency and showing up (you can read it here). I have learned overtime that another great way to work with my impostor syndrome was to show up and be consistent. It doesn’t matter the results, as long as you show up and give your best consistently. Over time you will see results and realize that showing up is what matters.
Forget the credentials. We live in a world, especially on LinkedIn, where people plaster their credentials. But what are credentials? Degrees, certifications, titles? What about all the experiences I have lived, the losses I have faced, the resilience I have found in me to get myself back up? Those I can’t advertise on my LinkedIn profile and yet they make me who I am. They make me good at what I do and they allow me to be more than enough at times. Credentials can be important at times, but they are a fraction of who people are so if you suffer from impostor syndrome, stop focusing on other people’s credentials and yours. Remember your humanity, your experiences and what makes you you.
Reward myself. When I do good or great, I just remember to reward myself. If I don’t take the time to do it, then who will?
I know that many of you will read this finding what I write cliché and to some extent it might be. My impostor syndrome is worrying that this article might not be good enough to publish and that most readers will find what I bring forward banal. But I will apply the rules I laid above and publish this anyway. I won’t focus on what others might think, but focus on the value I try to bring forward. Most importantly, I will focus on the fact that, as a manager, talking about struggling with impostor syndrome is not common and I think we need to break the taboo. I am 39 years old, I am a director, I feel like an impostor and I wanted all of you to know.
Please comment below or on my original post on LinkedIn here.