Recently, I was sitting in a meeting with a group of advertising pros. We’ve developed enough of a relationship that there’s not much posturing. We’d let our hair down and were talking about life and how we were doing.
It fell to me to start the conversation around the room. I took a big gulp and talked about the struggles and difficulties that this year had presented. It was hard to begin with complete candor, but it ended up delightful. It’s refreshing and rare to speak transparently about unresolved challenges.
Others in the room talked about how their experience this year followed a similar track. “Struggle” and “difficulty” were common themes. That didn’t surprise me. This year and probably next year will be marked by difficulty and uncertainty. That’s the way things are and will be in the US society, culture and business right now.
The other common theme in the conversation did surprise me. Impostor Syndrome popped up over and over. It’s a bracing reminder to realize that these successful professionals, who can maintain a bulletproof facade of cool confidence, had some of the same feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt that I had (have).
I don’t think about having Impostor Syndrome. It’s just part of who I am. Much like the various scars and injuries I have. “Oh, yeah, that torn rotator cuff does click, and I can’t get my left arm all the way over my head.” It’s the way I am. I don’t think about it.
Maybe you have similar things in your life. They’re just part who you are.
That’s my relationship with Impostor Syndrome. I have it and never pay attention to it. I know how to deal with it.
In case you struggle with Impostor Syndrome or self-confidence, here’s how I learned to deal with it. A friend named Zach taught it to me.
I was coaching and consulting with Zach. He’d jumped into a high-pressure role that he was well-equipped to handle, but he didn’t have much direct experience to draw on. I was helping shepherd him across that experience gap.
Near the end of our work together, I noticed a change in his demeanor. He was more confident. He was making stellar decisions. He was delivering solid results.
I asked him what had changed. What was he doing differently (I wasn’t fishing for a compliment)?
He positively beamed and then blurted, “Here’s what I’ve figured out. Before I let my doubt cycle start, I take a minute and think what would someone who knows what they’re doing say or do? Like…” And he named a couple of people who he knew who are good in his field. And then (I think because he realized I was sitting across the table) he said, “Or I think about what you’d say.”
Long pause. Then he said, “Then I do what I think they would do, and it feels good. It works. It feels so much better.”
I think of that conversation often when I have doubts. I have people I can use as models. I know them and have watched their work enough that I can imagine, “what would they say at this moment.” Or I think about how they would act. Often that mental exercise brings clarity and reinforces that I did know the right path or answer.
Here’s an article from the Harvard Business Review on Imposter Syndrome with some terrific remedies. But, none are as good as my buddy Zach’s idea.
What do you think? Here’s how that works: just email me at sthomas AT wizardofads DOT com. That’ll reach me.
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