Breaking the Impostor Syndrome.

I was coaching Suzy last week as she is trying to craft the message she wants to use with some impending consultations with a client.  Suzy wants to get clear on her message and figure out what will resonate with this potential client.  As with most coaching calls, we needed to clean out the road blocks before we can really get to  the work.  And then  she  dropped the I bomb; I feel like an Impostor “Hmmm, tell me more about that”, I respond.  So Suzy  started talking about  even though she works for a major (I mean top ten in the world major) university, she is only part time.  I chuckle.  “So part time at ______University makes you an impostor?”   She chuckles.  “OK.  Yes.  I’m not an impostor”.  So now we can move on.  The path is clear.  Now we can craft the message.  Now we can make some magic.  Glad we got that out of the way. impostor

The surprising thing is that 70% of folks feel like an  impostor at some point in their life.  Usually, it’s the first few months at a new job or the first semester in College.   I remember my first Human Resource job after completing my Master’s in Human Resource and Organization Development.  I.was.terrified that I’d be found out! Just because I had a piece of paper did not mean I knew all the nuances of Human Resources.   I was working for a food manufacturer and we were hiring madly for a season holiday product.  I hired some 40 new employees.  I didn’t realize that I had to lay off all 40 after 4 months.  Trial by fire; but at least I wasn’t an impostor anymore.

So how do we get past it?  How do we break the cycle?  Here are some tips:

1. Risk.  Assess whether you are more likely to be at risk.  Rule of thumb – If:

·        you are a minority,

·        you are a first generation professional (i.e. dad was a butcher and you are a doctor),

·        your parents were over achievers (i.e. your last name is Kennedy),

·        you’re  a ground breaker (i.e. male nurse or female stock broker),

·         you’re a solopreneur (you work alone all day), 

·        Or an artist (i.e. actor, painter, writer, etc.) and

·        any student whether grad school or community college. 

Or if you hear your parents’ voices in your head being hyper-critical; most people do.  Realize that you are at high risk for feeling like an impostor.

2. Imperfection.  Embrace imperfection.  Let go of 100% perfection.  You might even want to make sure there is an error or two. As Seth Godin says, “Ship it”.  Sitting around procrastinating or gnashing your teeth over every detail to make sure it is flawless is debilitating.  Maybe the logo is not exactly what you wanted, maybe the slides are too  cute, and maybe you aren’t sure about the font.  Let go and ship it; sign off on it  Embrace imperfection.

3. Hard work.  It’s going to take work.  There are no natural born consultants , artists or college students.  Everything takes hard work.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something.  So spend some of those 10,000 hours on hard work.  Start the book, study for the test until 2 AM, practice your clarinet.  Stressing over it or beating yourself up does not count towards the 10,000 hours!  Doing the work does.  Get started.

4. I don’t know.  Admit when you don’t know something but don’t assume this means you know nothing.  I can remember being in grade school and the teacher asking me a question.  I looked up at the ceiling.  She said, “The answer isn’t on the ceiling”.  These are the types of situations where kids learn it’s not OK to be vulnerable.  We’ve all been embarrassed when we don’t know something.  Get over it.  We all can’t be Ken Jennings or Watson.  Don’t let not knowing something in your field diminish your self worth.  It’s OK to not know.

5. Yardstick.  Calibrate your yardstick.  As Dr. Valerie Young suggests in her article, “What is the Impostor Syndrome”, answer this question: If I were really smart, talented, qualified, competent, I would …  Most people who answer this figure out that what they view as competency is WAY beyond even Ken Jennings.  Quit trying to be an over achiever.  Or, as my friend Janine says, “Fake it till ya make it”.  Recalibrate your yardstick.

6. Teamwork.  Don’t go it alone.  I can remember starting this blog some 2 years ago.  I definitely struggled with, “Who do you think you are?” or “No one is going to want to read this” (yes, I suffer from being an impostor as well).  But I reached out to some old college roommates, my family and my favorite English major to put together “Cathy’s Brain Trust”.  I send every post past them to get feedback and for some much needed grammatical corrections.  It helps me feel supported and, more importantly, competent.  Put together a team.  Let your team hold you up as you start to fly.

7. Coaching.  Get a coach.  There is so much power in having someone open up the pathways in your head.  I had a recent client that spent over two months planning to clean out a closet.  She didn’t make any progress, she made great strides in her other action items but with the closet she was stuck. Finally after 10 weeks, she realized that all she had to do was take 15 minutes to work on it.  She didn’t need to get it done all in one day.  Chunking it into 15 minute pieces made all the difference.   She can now hang coats in that closet.  Whew…Get a coach!

I felt chills in my spine earlier today (which prompted me to write this post).  Suzy sent me an email.  Subject: your coaching made a big diff.  I used several things we crafted… and, they asked if I’d consider a partner position!… boy, no more impostor for me!!! No more impostor for me. 

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