I have a few areas in my life where I call myself a leader or an expert, and sometimes, it feels like a big label to live up to. Every now and then I’ll find myself on a roller coaster of self-doubt and then a great result, which in the end was expected by everyone else, and yet, I act throughout like I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.
Imposter syndrome apparently refers to people – often women and high achievers (I laughed out loud when I read that bit) – who doubt their accomplishments or fear being discovered as a fraud. Put another way by a psychologist, “A series of experiences characterised by feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalise success and genuinely hold onto the belief that you’re competent and capable.”
And I feel quite lucky that I don’t live in this space, I only experience it every now and then.
The 10,000 hour rule
You may have heard of the 10,000-hour rule – it says that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, albeit in the correct way, for at least 10,000 hours.
Further study has shown that it’s a bit more complicated than just putting in the time. Another factor is how good a student’s teacher is. A teacher will be able to determine what the next step is for a student to develop and improve, thereby getting to a result quicker.
I think that in our careers, life and employing our skills in real-work opportunities is the teacher. You must course-correct to get the best results in what you do. You are forever learning and honing what works for individuals or businesses.
So, with what you do, whatever the skill, industry, or talent, would you call yourself an expert?
Are you an expert?
Yes. Of course. That’s what we get paid for and we must convince people that we are, to continue getting paid. But there’s that little bit of self-doubt where sometimes you’re just bluffing your way through, or you may even call it luck.
For me, it plays out with a big ask – like a very big company asking me to do their marketing, or a top roller skater asking me to be their coach. I can talk a good game; I’ve been in it long enough to know what to say to ‘close’. But the cycle for me looks like this.
- I come away from the meeting excited that I have the opportunity but within 24 hours I start doubting that I’m the right person for the job. What if I miss something or go down the wrong track? All the ‘what ifs’ start kicking in.
- Then I start overthinking to ensure I’ve covered everything, going into rabbit warrens of thoughts. I start putting it all down in writing and rewriting and trying to get it perfect. I feel anxious. I need other people to look at it and say ‘yeah, that looks great’.
- I finally send out the offer, plan, commitment, or finished work and then wait to hear back. They love it, they’re over the moon and give me compliments on how amazing it is, or talented I am, and they look forward to working with me again.
- I breathe a sigh of relief and feel good for a moment or two. But then I downplay it in my head. Anyone else could’ve done just as well. I make excuses for why it worked out so well, maybe they didn’t really know much in the first place, and I was just explaining what I thought was common sense.
I have slowly whittled down the number of times I experience imposter syndrome, and honestly, it’s only because I’ve kept putting myself out there more and more as the expert. 10,000 hours of getting over it, haha.
Ways to deal with imposter syndrome
Know the signs – recognise what is going on in the moment, and you’ll be able to get positive quicker without wallowing in it. Know that you’re not alone, it is common, and many people go through this.
- Let go.
Let go of perfectionism, get started and you’ll find the rest follows easier than you thought. Get perspective on the situation – observe the thoughts, don’t engage with them. Talk with your manager or mentor and you’ll be quickly assured by someone outside of your head that those thoughts are simply not true.
- Track your success.
There’s nothing like proof of success to prove your doubts wrong. So, when you do a good job, ensure you celebrate it by marking the moment – drinks out with colleagues, lunch with a friend, etc. Otherwise, you’ll get over it too quickly and back to self-doubt.
- Say “yes”.
Embrace new opportunities and the feelings they bring. As you repeat the cycle, you’ll get better at each step, so don’t let the opportunity pass you by because you don’t think you can – you’ll find a way. And in fact, it will often help you to do a better job and be the expert you really are.
Lastly, when you acknowledge that you don’t know everything, you’ve reached an understanding where you know you are always learning. So, whatever you don’t know, you can learn, and this puts you in a great place to be confident.