On the second session for the Female Leadership Academy, we had the bombastic The Dude from The Big Lebowski Claus Raasted going slide free with us at KPMG. Sometimes the best presentations are the ones that don’t happen on Powerpoint.
Among the many tools discussed involved power posing, curiosity as a tool to wield against fear and gratitude exercises for receiving compliments. However, the biggest takeaway from that evening was about challenging our imposter syndrome. We all know that imposter syndrome is damaging to the self. Instead of being our own cheerleader, we become our greatest naysayer. But did you know that imposter syndrome and downplaying your successes can harm other people as well?
Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, so that if we fail to live up to our high standards, then it’s ok because they were too high anyway. Worse, it is also false humility. How would you feel if a person you admired came out and said they didn’t think that their 3 good ideas per hour wasn’t good enough when you only come up with 1 good idea per hour? Humble bragging is so last season.
We make ourselves feel better by making others feel bad about their own abilities. Doubting ourselves increases self-doubt around others as well. To downplay our abilities also lowers others’ expectations of us. It gives us an excuse that we don’t have to do that well, therefore escaping accountability.
In his speech, Claus told us to face the facts. The stereotype of a consultant recruit is the insecure overachiever, because we will always try to overdeliver. What is ‘average’ is skewed because excelling is the norm. If everyone performs beyond the ordinary, then nobody is.
There are times when I do wonder why should I be advising clients when I don’t have a business degree or PhD level data science experience? Then I spiral and laser in on all my weaknesses. I feel this the most when preparing for the next level. Remembering the anxiety over having to do case interviews when I went from student assistant to first year consultant. I didn’t think they would be something I could do, coming from an untraditional background. But now I run the cases. I have to remind myself that my numbers show I am good at my job.
The last critical feedback I got made me break my professional composure in front of my boss. I blamed it on my impostor syndrome. There it was, the dark side rearing its ugly head for me to use as a scapegoat. However, it is time to grow up and be real. Bad feedback doesn’t validate my negative bias to being an imposter. It just means nobody is perfect. I’m only human and making mistakes does not diminish what I’m good at. Only that I have to keep learning and growing.
I have to remind myself that I can do it. All the previous professional challenges I had, I was able to face. If I did it once, I can do it again. As a senior moving on to more leadership responsibility, it is even more crucial now. That how I champion myself not only affects me, but the people who look up to me and rely on me to champion their progress as well.
If I show them that I don’t believe in myself, then the students who want to follow what I did would be discouraged. And my bosses who supported my growth this whole time would feel like the time has been wasted. Most of all, I would just be doing a disservice to myself.
Imposter syndrome is the polar opposite of narcissism, but they are two sides to the same coin of being self-centred and having a distorted view of one’s self. Individuals with imposter syndrome tend to excessively self-reflect and scrutinize their own abilities, often discounting their achievements. This kind of perspective leads them to believe that they are frauds or that their success is due to luck rather than their own capabilities. They often attribute their accomplishments to external factors rather than acknowledging their own skills and efforts.
So how did I start dealing with my impostor syndrome and increase my confidence?
- Owning up to my superpowers. One thing I started doing was to list all my work wins of the week, both big and small. Over time, this compounds into growing confidence allowing me to take on bigger challenges at work.
- Rewiring my thought patterns from negative to positive. I write one affirmation every morning before going to work. This doesn’t mean that I block out the thoughts completely or that I ignore all criticisms. It just means that I balance them out and view them objectively.
- Signing up for activities outside my comfort zone. This is another brain trick to fool yourself into a new mindset. Last year, I joined the DHL 5km run, never having run that kind of distance in my life. I did training 2 months before and said I would stop after the event. 1 year later, I am still running and I apply my learnings from that to my professional life as well.
- Listen to other people. When I wrote above that imposter syndrome is self-centred, a way to get out of it aside from seeking mentorship, can be to talk to more junior people. They ask you for advice and help and you realize that your experience has made you ready to give back.
There is definitely no one-size fits all for feeling this way. Instead of seeing it as a negative thing, try framing it as a gameplan of growth opportunities for climbing to the next level.
For more on imposter syndrome, you can read Claus’s article here.