My heart was pounding as I pressed ‘send’ on the email. My thoughts were racing: ‘What if I come across as impertinent? Who am I to think that I can really do this? Will I really be taken seriously?’ or worse ‘What if I am taken seriously and then get found out as really being a fraud?’.
I was in full flight or fight mode.
What was I doing? Sending a speculative email to a Director of Organisational Development; requesting a meeting to discuss my desire to develop my coaching and facilitation skills further in her department. Pursuing a long cherished dream.
Walking my Talk
In taking this step I was following advice that I often give to my fellow mum coachees who are in career transition and have an interest in working in new areas: go and speak to people who work in the field you are interested in / shadow them/ see what opportunities may arise.
Oh the irony of being a Career Transition Coach in career transition myself!
Having successfully built up my business over the past few years and developed my coaching offering, my value around continuous learning and development was leading me to find other ways to add to my existing skills and expertise.
I’ve written before about Gremlins sabotaging your progress and how to deal with them, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the Mother of all Gremlins I had to face down in taking this step:
The Imposter Syndrome
This syndrome describes a situation where you can feel like an imposter or fraud because you think that your accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around you. Usually your accomplishments are just as good but you are applying an unfairly high standard to yourself (and not to others).
It’s a classic case of ‘comparing your insides with other people’s outsides’ – and it is common in female high fliers – but it’s not something we like to admit to. For fear of being ‘found out’!
If you are experiencing the effects of Imposter Syndrome, you may be less willing to put yourself forward for new career opportunities, feeling that you are not qualified. Signs to look out for include:
• not applying for jobs, promotions and other employment opportunities,
• disclaiming or understating your experience or skill when speaking or writing about yourself using phrases like ‘just a’ or ‘only a’….
• nervousness about talking to others in your field, especially if those others are perceived as highly skilled and experienced
• feeling like a fraud
• attributing your successes to chance or luck
• worrying that someone will find out about your lack of qualifications and fire you.
Stunting our Growth
This syndrome is one of the reasons many capable women don’t take on new challenges in the workplace and hence don’t progress as readily as men.
As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and a fellow sufferer of this syndrome says in her seminal book: ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead’: women ‘worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self fulfilling prophecy since so many abilities are acquired on the job’.
She cites an internal report at Hewlett Packard that revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements.
Her solution: we need to shift our thinking from ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it’.
Combatting Imposter Syndrome
So how can we make this shift?
The most effective technique to overcome Imposter Syndrome is simply to recognise that it exists. Reading about it, talking about it and looking out for the tell tale signs of discounting or minimising your experience helps to put it back into perspective and prevent the syndrome from stopping you from moving forward with your career.
2. Acknowledge your strengths
Remember what you do well, reflect on what comes easily to you and write a list of your skills and strengths. If necessary ask trusted friends and family to point these out to you. Also, keep a record of your achievements and regularly review them. Seeing your strengths and achievements written down can really help to reinforce them.
3. Get support with writing your CV
Reflect these skills and strengths in your CV. Then have someone else review it or, if you find it really hard to write this yourself, have someone else write your CV for you – preferably someone who is good at self promotion.
4. Realise no one is perfect
Stop focusing on perfection and instead try to adopt an attitude of doing a task ‘well enough’. Also take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work – reward yourself for each small success and learn to celebrate.
5. Talk to someone who can help
Imposter Syndrome can be hard to shake off by yourself. Sharing your feelings with a professional mentor or coach can be very beneficial to help you own your accomplishments, build your confidence in your abilities and break the cycle of these unhelpful thoughts and beliefs threatening your career progression.
How about you?
What experience do you have with the Imposter Syndrome? What impact has this had on your career aspirations? What has helped you overcome these fears or doubts to progress in your career? Please share your experiences in the comments box below, I’d love to hear them!