Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
When you find yourself believing that you lack the competence to do the job you were hired for, what can you do to combat this?
In my previous post on the subject of Impostor Syndrome I talked about how Impostor Syndrome is a tendency for very capable people to somehow completely misjudge their own competence. As hard as it can be to prove to recruiters that we have what it takes to do the job, it can be doubly hard to stand there, with the contract in hand, and disbelieve that we got this far on our own merits.
We start believing that we got the job because of a fluke, some lucky shot, and that the people who hired us will find out soon enough that we are not capable of success in our new jobs. And once they do, we will be fired, and that will be a blemish on our resume forever.
The first step to overcome this situation is to realize and accept that this is how you feel. Many people with Impostor Syndrome try to compensate by working extra hard, and take on even more responsibility, until they finally burn out. And once they do, they will fail, and they acknowledge their own defeat. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a trap you must beware not to fall in to.
If you think anyone can do your job, guess again. You got your job because you had the credentials for it and convinced your recruiter that you could do it. Given the amount of time and analysis spent on job interviews, if you did not deliberately deceived them you were judged on your proper merits. If you think anyone should be able to do your job and it’s really easy…you simply might have found the job you are perfect for. After all, other people see the results of your actions and judge you by that, not by the effort you feel went into achieving that. If it was easy, all the better! It means you have energy left over for other things.
If you think they will find out you are incompetent, calm down. Incompetence is an analysis based on failure to meet criteria, and you should have a good list of criteria in your job description. Do you meet those criteria? If yes, you are not incompetent. You are achieving what they ask of you. Could you do more? That is great, but that is an extra, a service you may perform out of loyalty. The foundation of a job is getting paid for services rendered as requested. Do not worry about this until it somehow comes up at a performance review.
If you do not deserve praise, step back. Look at the work you have done and the steps you have taken to get the job done. This was unlikely pure luck, this was not because others worked hard and you got the credit for it. As long as you properly acknowledge the work of others, then any praise you receive is also appropriate. I always say, receive praise from others as you would give praise to them.
Look in the mirror and see that you are not a charlatan who cons other people into believing you are a competent individual with unique talents that are useful and valuable to a company. You have that value, you have those talents – that is why you have that job. And if you believe you are not worthy, take it from me that your job will get all the better once you accept that this is not smoke and mirrors, but the image others have of you based on your ability.
Just imagine, what image you would cut once you allow your true competence to run the show, instead of self-defeatism and false modesty.
If you are worried about your competence in your job, it means you are committed and loyal to your company. Why else would you care if you did your job right? Who would care for the effects of their actions other than people with integrity and character? A trap many people with Impostor Syndrome fall into is deriving satisfaction from undermining themselves, to the point that they are not honest with themselves. At that point, you have a vested interest to see yourself fail.
Keep a diary for yourself, with on the left page the actions you take in your job, and on the right page developments you see in your vicinity and the comments you receive on your performance. Every day, try and connect lines between actions on the left page with results on the right. Reinforce the link between your actions and their outcomes.
This serves both to remove the feelings of guilt (I got this without earning it) and the externalization of the feelings of accomplishment (Luck, Team Efforts). At the end of a month, review your diary and put a number on the first page tallying the number of connections you made that month. After a year, check your tallies, and you will find that number has steadily increased. Hopefully, you will also feel happier and more complete than before.
Find a trusted judgement
Once you have been hit by Impostor Syndrome you will have difficulty objectively recording and measuring your own achievements. You regard what you do as simple, anyone could do it – but they didn’t. You were just lucky, right place right time – except it wasn’t. But one thing you can trust in, is someone else who has proven to be reliable and honest to tell you as it is.
Find a person near you, family or friend or coworker, who spends enough time around you to know what you do and how you work, and who is honest to a fault. Someone who will and does comment if you make a mistake or misjudgement, and does not sugar coat it. That person will value you as you really are – then trust their judgement on your work. If they say that your actions are responsible for the positive outcomes, perhaps then the realization will stick that you are not a fraud or fake, but a competent individual who has had a brush with negativity and self-doubt. (Incidentally, I believe that Impostor Syndrome cleaves relatively close to the results of a person being Gaslighted, so it might pay to check your past and see if this applies to you).
Roll with it
The final piece of advice I can give you, is to roll with it. If nothing else can convince you that you are a person with the competence to do your job, then simply do your job for as long as you can, until you are found out and fired. Maybe (Likely!) this will never happen. But if it does, it makes no sense to worry about it.
If you feel that somehow you are a charming rogue who utilizes cunning deceptions and lucky breaks to get ahead in life, isn’t that also a pretty good tagline for your memoirs later on in life?