Managing Up. Blog 3. Tackling Imposter Syndrome
The third of a series of video and written conversations between creative coach Auriel Majumdar and journalist Nell Block discussing the challenges of managing up and internal agency. Auriel and Nell discuss the challenges of facing our Inner Critic and give practical ways to conquer Imposter Syndrome.
Today, I’ve been trying to ignore that little voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough and aren’t talented enough to be a really great writer. Imposter syndrome—I’m sure gets all of us at some point. Who hasn’t ever had that thought that they don’t belong in a certain room or they don’t have the skills to do something? There are plenty of times I’ve experienced this in my career (and continue to fight it!) but one memory I think is particularly pertinent to this subject.
Nearly 10 years ago, I was a writer for a men’s magazine. There were six of us and everyone else was a man. Every morning we would have a meeting to discuss the day’s news and any potential stories we could get out of it. I somehow was able to articulate what I thought we should cover, despite how intimidating I found it. I definitely tried the old “fake it till you make it” worked for me here.
However that doesn’t mean that I didn’t walk into that room everyday worried that I wasn’t as funny or as good as these men and that I would be found out. In fact, I still worry about that—they were and continue to be some of the most talented people that I’ve ever worked with. None of them, I should add, made me feel like I shouldn’t be there—if anything they were encouraging—but I still couldn’t shake that voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough. I have no doubt that this probably affected the way I wrote and that I was unwilling to take risks as a result.
The way I got though it though was to push those thoughts aside, very consciously, and work as hard as I could and try to ignore what everyone else was doing around me.
But I’m not alone in feeling this way. In 2017, research by a career development agency found that a third of Millennials suffer from imposter syndrome at work. I have a theory that imposter syndrome is exacerbated by the fact that everyone has an opportunity to broadcast their achievements on social media—therefore our comparison with other people’s successes can further fuel our issues with our own apparent lack of talent. I know that I often have to spend time away from social media to ensure I don’t get wrapped up in comparing and then imagining I don’t have any talent whatsoever.
The thing is, I’m much luckier than others. I’ve found editors, managers, peers and a partner who have encouraged me and made me feel valued with what work I do. And while I still struggle at times, I know I can always think about the people who have also encouraged me. What must it be like for those who aren’t as fortunate?
So, what’s your role in tackling imposter syndrome and how much is it your employer’s? Is it a vital part of striving to be the best? Does it help push us forward? Is there a sure-fire method you use to silence the voice in your head telling you, you aren’t good enough? I’d honestly love to know.
Thank you so much for opening up and being so honest about this important issue. It never ceases to amaze me that even the most successful, high achieving professionals like you can struggle with Imposter Syndrome. I’ve had plenty of experience of feeling this way myself and spent years full of doubt that I was good enough at my job, worrying that somehow, I was going to be ‘found out’. Things have changed for me and hand on heart I can honestly say that I’m never troubled by these thoughts now. You’ve asked me for advice so in this blog I’m going to focus on the practical and share some things that have helped me feel more confident and assured.
Let’s start with that horrible little voice that you mention. It’s really common to have an unhelpful dialogue running through your mind. Imagine trying to give a presentation or speak up at a meeting with someone standing next to you whispering negative things in your ear – you wouldn’t stand a chance. This is what our Inner Critic does – distracting and undermining so that we feel insecure and don’t always do the best we’re capable of.
The coach Tim Gallwey in his book "The Inner Game" offers a formula: Performance = Potential – Interference where the term Interference captures the critical inner voice. The formula suggests the more you can reduce interference the better you can perform and the more you can realise your potential. This can’t be as easy as it sounds or we’d all be achieving our full potential and nobody would be talking about Imposter Syndrome. So, what are the steps we can take to reduce that negative voice that gets in the way so much? Here’s what worked for me and what seems to help my coaching clients:
Stop Ignoring Your Inner Critic
1, The first and most important step is to stop ignoring your Inner Critic or trying to push it away. This feels counter-intuitive but if you ignore the voice it still has power and nagging doubts will steal back in to distract you. A better approach is to face the voice and logically assess what it says to you. Is it actually true that you shouldn’t be in the room? Is it true that you’ll fall flat on your face if you try something new? What’s the very worst that could happen anyway and how would you deal with it? Getting logical can help you fight your Inner Critic better than anything else.
Be kind to yourself
2. Facing your deep fears that you aren’t good enough takes courage though and it also takes a willingness to suspend your own harsh judgement of yourself. Negative self-beliefs are often learned in childhood and it can take practice to overcome them. Start gently by just noticing when they pop up. Name it ‘ah there’s my Inner Critic again’ and don’t try to change anything at first. When you get comfortable with facing the voices you might notice that they have less power over you and then eventually you’ll be able to logically dismantle them as I suggest above. Above all, be kind to yourself – no one will ever judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. Treat yourself as kindly as you would treat a friend and see what a difference it makes.
Identify each element that is troubling you
3. Here’s another equation that might help if you’re feeling the wobble: Confidence = Competence + Self Worth where competence means your skill level and self-worth means how you feel about your own value. In a situation where you notice feeling a lack of confidence, think about which element is troubling you. If its competence then you need to skill up – get some training, read a book, practice, learn from others. If its self-worth then consider how you’re working on your own self-development and supporting yourself. Are you getting enough rest and making to time to reflect?
Surround yourself with people who respect and encourage you.
Maybe work with a coach or a mentor to explore your self-limiting beliefs. Breaking things down like this should give you some purchase and a sense of control when lack of confidence can feel overwhelming.
These are just some of the things that have helped me conquer Imposter Syndrome.
It takes effort and intentionality to confront our fears that we are not worthy but I know you can do it.
Above all remember that each of us is unique in our knowledge and experience. We all have something to offer and we are all enough, just as we are.
Auriel and Nell Blog 1: New Year, New You
Auriel and Nell Blog 2: Letting Go of Perfection