“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” — Maya Angelou
My posts are usually inspired by the coaching sessions I have with clients or moments in my life that compels me to stop, think, and analyze. Being a career and mindset coach, I have coached corporate employees, business owners, or leaders in their own right who are well educated and fairly successful in their field.
But a few weeks back, I saw a pattern in my clients that made me halt and pause for a few seconds. Some of the things that my clients told me prompted this post.
“What if people find out I am educated but have no clue what I am doing?”
“I have a Ph.D. but really don’t think I have enough knowledge.”
“I may look like I know stuff, but I really am not that confident.”
“I am not as educated and I only have years of experience, that makes me feel vulnerable in front of my colleagues.”
You can probably guess where I am going with this. Yes, it is imposter syndrome. If Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, and the like can feel like a swindler because of their success and the recognition they received because of their success, then so can many of us. Imposter syndrome makes a person feel like a fraud even when they have proven to be high achievers. It worsens if the people around you induce it by questioning your work or knowledge. The moment of vulnerability can trigger more self-doubt and lead to a lack of confidence that can affect the way you behave in a work environment.
A client of mine, let us call her Rose, a director-level employee with a Master’s degree in a corporate office, would feel petrified when she is questioned about her work or any project she is on, especially if her work is altered by her boss. She would think she is caught red-handed as a fraud. She would assume she is put on the spot because of her lack of knowledge and experience. Rose was relieved to know that this feeling has a name and that many feel the same way.
The simple truth is we will never have a comprehensive knowledge of any discipline. We, humans, evolve, and learn. We must train our minds to learn and unlearn. It is also true that we are naturally good at some things. For me, it is consulting and coaching. I have always been contacted many times in my life, way before I have been a coach by my friends when they were feeling down or had a dilemma they needed to discuss.
I started my entrepreneurship with immense apprehension, even after my psychology training and coaching certification. It took me a while to realize that coaching comes naturally for me because I had it in me all the time. I undervalued my ‘gift’ initially. I am using minimal energy and effort to do this job because this is easier for me to execute. It goes back to the law of parsimony, also known as Occam’s razor, that states that the simplest form of explanation must be executed as opposed to a complex form.
Subsequently, in my client Rose’s case, if her boss alters her work, isn’t it best to use the simplest explanation possible which could be that a change was needed to fit the project goals better unless otherwise mentioned by her boss?
Could we not eliminate all other possibilities such as…
-Rose has less knowledge
-Rose lacks experience
-Rose lacks confidence
-Rose is a fraud and the list goes on…
Now, it is important to note that avoiding an issue that is dwelling in our minds is not the best solution to our problems. If Rose still feels like an imposter, it is important that she addresses it. The first step is to admit what it is called and why. The second would be to accept that this happens to the best of us including CEOs and Presidents.
Next, stop and think about your proficiencies, achievements, and how you have successfully overcome situations like these in the past.
What strategies did you implement?
Which of your strengths were used?
It is a fact that we may come across imposter syndrome in the future but it is important to acknowledge it for what it is – a syndrome. If you wait to be perfect in your knowledge and skills, you may never start. We increase our knowledge, skills, and experience along the way in our journey of personal growth.
It is completely normal to experience doubts. What is important is to navigate these doubts and train your mind to reflect a positive thought by focusing on your area of expertise. The imposter feeling may linger around or may come and go but it is important to not let it control your life. It is helpful to get help from an expert to help you dig into these feelings and discover where this is coming from.
Hamna Siddique is a career and leadership coach focusing on confidence and personal development.
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