Here’s my Imposter Syndrome Ted Talk…

You could say the Imposter manifested due to my lack of assertiveness or self-esteem, but throughout life I’ve often had the feeling that I’ve not been deserving of the opportunities presented to me, achieving them through luck.

Or when I have been successful, I’ve dismissed these victories not from hardwork, persistence and talent, but from being a fluke, merely good circumstances putting me in the right place at the right time.

Often when I’m given a task, I’ll work hard to make sure it excels.  This takes a lot of time and effort, in the workplace I’m often putting aside other priorities because I’m fussing over some small details.

When I perform tasks and fail, or it doesn’t get a perfect score, I’ll often give myself a lot of negative self-talk, doubts which manifest telling me I’m not good enough.

Even in victory, when someone, a manager maybe, has complemented me on an excellent piece of work, I’ll feel embarrassed at the praise heaped on me and insist it was nothing and start down talking my efforts, saying all the ways it could be done better, rather than just saying thank you

Yes, I’ve never actually had any test to see if what I have is Imposter Syndrome, but the more I’ve read up on the definition, it certainly sounds like I’ve got the symptoms.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is when you believe you are not as capable as how others perceive you to be. 

It’s a common trait seen in perfectionists – if you’ve ever been in a role where you feel like a fraud ready to be found out, then it’s likely you have imposter syndrome too.

Because everything they have ever achieved is down to ‘luck,’ they will do overtime in their jobs, so that their work can meet an exceptionally high standard, which has actually been set by the individual, rather than the employer.

Due to these traits, this makes someone with imposter syndrome a good employee, although they may dwell too much on their duties.

It’s been interesting learning more about imposter syndrome, and in many ways I’ve denied, this actually impacts me – I’ve felt it was insulting to throw such a label around when people have genuine problems, but in many ways, I feel this validates that, yes there is a bit of an imposter in me.

Since being more aware of my own struggles battling this vicious cycle, I’ve learnt the following strategies to beat imposter syndrome:

Feelings aren’t facts

  • When you tell yourself, you are no good – that is a feeling not a fact.
  • When you see an opportunity you pass on because you do not think you are experienced enough – that is a feeling not a fact.
  • When you produce a piece of work, then look at it, and decide it’s actually a load of crap – that is a feeling not a fact.

You can see with these examples how troublesome your mindset can be to make you think a certain situation is the truth, when it’s nothing but emotion.

The problem is if you favour the emotions unfavourable towards you, then you are showing bias against those feelings that tell you how good you really are.

You may feel worthless – but that does not necessarily make it correct.  For all those situations you’ve said you’re not good enough, someone else may see things differently and appreciate your efforts.

When you find yourself interpreting situations by your feelings:

  • stop yourself and try and take the view of an outsider.
  • ask if there any real hard facts behind it – would how you feel stand-up in a court of law?

Real threats and perceived threats

I can spend endless hours on a piece of work, because my fear of failure means I want to eliminate all possibilities of making a mistake.

But why?

In my article talking about my venture in open-mic stand-up comedy, I spent ages writing jokes and perfecting a set, but despite this preparation I still had my fair share of moments looking foolish.

It’s important to plan, but it’s even more important to recognise when you’ve done enough to execute, otherwise you’re preparation turns into procrastination. Lots of planning doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it right first time.

This is when recognising the difference between real threats and perceived threats is important. 

Because of how our brains have evolved, we cannot distinguish between what is a real threat (such as getting hit by a car) to the perceived threat (being exposed that you aren’t fit to do the job).

Sure, if you were doing something risky that could result in your death, that’s a good time for the perfectionist to come out, so you can prepare for every eventuality to avoid that happening.

But if it’s something as dumb as your manager returning work with a few bits of red pen pointing out improvements, then you don’t need to waste so much time and energy, it’s perfectly okay to be average.

Do you apply the same standard you put on yourself to everyone else?

  • When a friend makes a mistake, do you call them a stupid idiot?
  • How about at work?  If a colleague presents you with some work that meets the criteria, do you think about all the ways it can be done much better?

Most likely in both situations you’re not as harsh with other people as yourself.

In error, you’re probably more likely to console a friend and offer moral support, and if a colleague presents you with completed work, you’re probably just grateful they’ve done what has been asked!

Therefore, when you are doing tasks:

  • Look at the criteria of what needs to be done.
  • Recognise what is going above and beyond.
  • Manage your time sensibly, so that you are not working extra hours to create minor perfections that won’t really be noticed.

Life is more shades of grey rather than black and white

An assumption made by the imposter is viewing everything with the belief that it is either right or wrong.

Actually, life is built on a foundation of complexities.  When approaching your duties, stop looking at them as either a failure or success but somewhere on a wide range.

It’s liberating to realise how many shades of grey there actually are, because you are approaching tasks for the subjective nature they are rather than viewing them as a pass or fail.

The difference between the imposter and the confident

As someone who will quite happily describe themselves as not confident, it came as massive realisation that those cocky bastards who have all the talk experience the same discomfort and fears.

But these types of people operate differently to the imposter.  Remember what I was saying earlier – feelings aren’t facts.  Well, the confident person is good at realising that and overriding those doubting feelings.

As a result, they are much better at stepping out of their comfort zone, into roles that cause the same stress.  The difference… and this is the key… imposters tell themselves what a fake they are for not being perfect at something they’ve never done before, while the confident realise this discomfort is simply from lacking the experience, recognising by taking this challenge they can grow into the role.

The confident get anxiety too, but are masters of keeping it under control, using it to their advantage to drive them, and even if it doesn’t workout, they don’t see themselves as a fraud, simply learning from the experience, ready to move onto the next challenge.

In my post Aim Higher, I mention a colleague who was performing poorly who ended up getting a promotion because of their belief in themselves.  Just because they were failing in one position, they did not let it talk them out for going for further advancement.

This was a massive learning experience for me because I was excelling in the same role, but talked myself out of applying for the opportunity because I didn’t tick off all of the job criterion!

The lessons is: whatever your thoughts, make sure to process them in the same way someone with lots of self-confidence does.

The fear of not being good enough...

A manager once said to me

“You’re consciousness to do everything to the best of your ability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s because you care so much.”

These words have stuck with me, because despite any of the imposter syndrome traits, it makes me realise how much pride I take in any job given to me.

Everyday I show up, I work really hard putting in the hours from the fear of not being good enough.

This is the wrong attitude because I care about doing a good job, with that I realise I am good enough.

And you are good enough too.

To beat imposter syndrome, please remember:

  • Your feelings aren’t facts, when you say negative things about yourself, stop and think about what an outsider would say about your performance.
  • Recognise what the real threats are and what is just perceived.  When you realise this put these challenges into perspective, so you invest the appropriate effort into the task.
  • Compare the standard you place on yourself with other people.  Apply the same compassion, logic and fairness you do to them.
  • Recognise life as millions shades of grey rather than black and white.  You’re not right or wrong, just somewhere in between.
  • Take lessons from the confident.  They have similar feelings to you, but are just better at ignoring the negativity and rising to challenges.
  • You care about everything you do, which is why you act like this.  Remember you are good enough.

TED Talk: How you can use Imposter Syndrome to your benefit

For further learning, I recommend checking out this TED Talk from entrepreneur and CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, you can see how these feelings were always with him as he paved his way to success. The imposter syndrome was essentially a drive to make him more competent in what he could do:

TED: How you can use impostor syndrome to your benefit | Mike Cannon-Brookes

<<next post: Lessons in Assertiveness: Say What You Want>>


Thanks for reading, wishing you the best in your success.

James @Perfect Manifesto.

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