Impostor syndrome has nothing to do with skills
2 fundamental errors we make when thinking about "success"
We make two fundamental errors when thinking about success in our (professional) life:
We grossly overestimate how much (and what) skill you need to have to be "good" at something.
We think that a way to deal with our impostor syndrome is to get more skilled and that this somehow deals with it. This is patently false.
Most people I met understand that their impostor syndrome is keeping them from doing something.
Let's say you want to create your brand and become trusted in a topic on LinkedIn, your job, or wherever.
You know how to write a post. You might even understand the basic inner workings of LinkedIn and how to avoid the most common mistakes when posting.
"Yeah, but I have nothing interesting to say. Yet."
"I'm not good enough. Yet."
I can say that in the past 3 years, I have amassed a lot of skills in many areas when it comes to senior product leadership for example.
Impostor syndrome cannot be “dealt” with.
Do I have less impostor syndrome as a result? Am I less insecure? No. I'm not. I just replaced these insecurities about that topic with other ones.
30 years ago I went to a new school. "Will they notice how bad I am at reading? What If they don't accept me? I'm not good enough for them. Yet."
15 years ago I got my first direct report. A young intern. I was terrified. Do I know enough to guide him? What if I mess up? I'm not good enough. Yet.
Would this situation terrify me today? No, it wouldn't. But my insecurity is now a different one. I get into a strategy meeting with a Sales-Led business with hundreds of employees, they are preparing their next funding round. They want me to help them.
“Do I know enough to guide them? What if I mess up? Am I good enough? Maybe not. Yet.”
So when does this impostor syndrome go away? It doesn't. There is no amount of skill that makes you get over it. So why do we believe that this is how it all works?
Our fundamental attribution error when it comes to what “success” looks like
We materialize success for instance in sports by putting people next to each other and then "measuring" their skills.
How fast someone is.
How high they jump.
That works in sports but not in real life. You can take someone with equal skill as me and replace me in my current job. They won't do a better job. Why? What's different?
They don't have the trust that I built. My skills are a factor for sure, but trust is not inherited. It's earned and built. And it's far more important than whether you have 10% more skill in something.
They have to rebuild the same amount of trust before they have a chance to succeed the same amount.
Dependability and respect are earned. It's very much desired because we try to summon it constantly. The way we dress, the titles we have. How we express ourselves, advertise.
The false security of “getting there”
So why do we get it wrong? Because we love to attach simple facts to complex interactions. I can work on "skills". I can read a book and that "gets" me there. I can follow "5 tips on how to write on LinkedIn" and then I'm competent enough.
Except, you can't. These tips are only good for those that already pushed through their impostor syndrome. Those that are already consistently posting. Those that found a way to trust the process more than their constant nagging voice "you're not good enough".
Another compounding fact is that we overestimate others. You don’t need a study to know how this works. Social networks are built on the fact that we curate our best abilities of ourselves and only those.
We create pictures of others and how good they are creating a completely wrong image and impossible standards towards ourselves as result. The goal line becomes unrealistic.
Learn how to “start”
Unfortunately, the only way I found “dealing” with it is to admit to myself that I have to drop this charade.
Admit to myself where my gaps are.
Admit to others where my gaps are.
Ask for advice and learn. Go back to 1 and judge me on the outcomes of my learnings, not my own opinion and perception of others.
Don't diminish the voice of the impostor, find a louder one. On the example of building a brand on Linkedin:
Post for 2 weeks despite how horrible you will feel. Judge it by the outcome. Take the learnings and repeat. Don't expect that you ever will feel good about others judging you. Chances are, it never will go away.
You overestimate them and underestimate what makes you valuable.
Think about it. If you talk about the best stakeholders in your life... are you saying about a designer:
"Oh my god, the designs that she produced are always so pretty, the colors are extra intense and the buttons are amazing!"
"Whenever I give her something I knew she would take care of it or tell me if something goes wrong. I can depend on her, we are a great team. She knows how to handle me."
We fooled ourselves into thinking that people evaluate us on our skills. How fast we can run. No:
It's how often we show up to training. 🌸
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I liked this: "Don't diminish the voice of the impostor, find a louder one."