Do you really belong at the spot in your career where you are right now? Aren´t you secretly a bit under-qualified for that new job and don´t you think they kind of made a mistake when they promoted you? I mean, on paper you have the right qualifications. But, if you are really honest with yourself, the grades you got in university were kind of lucky shots and that client that you won last year…well, the client just really liked you. Any time now your boss will find out that you are not cut out for the job…
Would you ever raise those questions to your friends? I don´t think so. Then why is it that we often question ourselves and actually think we get caught as a fraud any second now? I know I asked myself those questions every time I started a new job, I asked them when I started writing this blog and at many other occasions. You might be surprised to find that these thoughts even have an impressive name: The Imposter Syndrome. You might be even more surprised to know that well-known figures such as Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, WHO CEO Margaret Chan and successful actresses such as Kate Winslet and Natalie Portman all talked about the challenges of having those feelings.
The Imposter Syndrome does not help you to get a seat on the (men’s) table…
The problem with this behaviour is manifold. Besides the obvious mistake that we put ourselves through too much negative thoughts and do not give ourselves credit for our achievements, we actually also downgrade ourselves in the face of others. As Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book ‘Lean in’, by constantly not taking credit for our achievements and calling it ‘ Luck’ or ‘ Like-ability’ (note: men more often do take credit for their successes), we let others believe we are less good than we actually are, letting new opportunities pass by. It is therefore one of the causes of women’s inequality that lies with ourselves! Another consequence of the Imposter Syndrome is that we get into a stressful vicious circle. We worry about our capabilities, so we work hard to cover it up. Consequently we perform well, get a temporary good feeling, but then start to worry even more about our intelligence. We get afraid to be exposed as frauds, and we double our workload again. In any which way that you see it, it is not a healthy behaviour.
So what can I do about it?
The Harvard Business Review posted a very interesting article on this last month. A good starting point is to realize that these thoughts occur at many, if not at all of us. It is a perfectly normal thing to sometimes feel insecure. As Howard Schultz puts it: ‘That level of insecurity, is a strength not a weakness’. It makes you less cocky, it makes you more careful. Actually, many management techniques advocate showing your insecurity. Secondly, if you notice yourself doubting, stop, take a moment and question the reasons why. It even helps to say those reasons out loud, perhaps discuss them with a friend. In that way you can actually hear how ridiculous they sound outside of your head. Natalie Portman offers another solution: Recognizing that it is a benefit to be a novice in a certain field, allows you to make many more mistakes. Moreover, she says in her commencement speech at Harvard, instead focus on what you are learning, not on what you are achieving.
Whether you have those thoughts often or not, the above techniques might help you to think less insecure. Remember, you are in this point of your life for a reason.
And I do not believe that you just had luck at every step of the way!