I have a confession to make. I recently got a promotion. And I have found every reason under the sun to minimize it since I found out. I haven’t toasted myself with a glass of bubbly at home, squeeeeed with excitement to my girlfriends or even done an over-the-phone high five with my mom. It happened. It came, it went and I’ve acted like my sprained ankle is more newsworthy.
The funny thing? I totally busted my ass at work over the last few years. I achieved a ton of success with the work blog, consistently worked to be someone my manager can trust to get shit done (and done well) and tried my damnedest to add value anywhere I could, whether it was “my job” or not. In short, I worked as hard as I could to earn a new, possibly higher, role. I completely believe I earned this.
Who busts butt to get a job and then…acts like it didn’t happen?! Honestly, I don’t think I’ve experienced this level of cognitive dissonance since my ex told me I wasn’t enough for him and yet I still really (really) wanted to be with him.
Here’s what I’m talking about. The scene? A networking happy hour where I’m with my best friend/mentor. We run into a few people I know but haven’t seen in awhile. They say, “What’s new? What have you been up to!” I say, “Well I’m not running the blog anymore. I got a promotion, but the blog is being run by a different department now.” Talk about burying the lede! Also, way to make it sound like I’m being punished in some weird way! My friend/mentor then said, “Well now I know what you don’t do…” Ouch. And true. *insert awkward Lean In joke here*
What I’m doing…it’s called Impostor Syndrome, and if you’ve read Lean In (pages 28-30, for reference) you’ve already heard of it. Basically, I feel inadequate even though I’ve been quite successful. I’d rather chalk it up to luck or timing or thinking I have, in some weird way, duped everyone in my chain of command into think I’m competent and deserving. Which is HILARIOUS because if you know me, I pretty much present an air of self confidence all the time. This Harvard Business Review article breaks down impostor syndrome pretty well (emphasis my own):
Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.
The next paragraph goes on to explain how it’s all our parent’s fault. Sorta. Sorry, mom.
So Impostor Syndrome was identified in the 1970s and has been researched and discussed since. I’m not alone! I’m in the company of lots of high achieving folks! CalTech even says it’s very common among gifted women. (Wait, does this mean I’m gifted!?) Yay! We’re a whole club of people who rock but think we suck! Grrrreaaaaaat! (Mandatory GIF time.)
Let’s be clear, I didn’t just become this way in the last month. I’ve been this way my whole life. But I’ve realized lately that this could actually be really bad for me. (Like, really bad.) I have dreams and set ambitious goals for myself in life. If I’m going to achieve any of them, and feel good about it – worthy – it’s time to get a grip on this impostor stuff.
One article advises me to ask my inner critic, “Where did you come from?” No, seriously, she wants me to talk to it. She also says that I can’t just ignore it because it’ll just get worse. Louder, if you will. There’s a book I could buy about it. I could get a therapist. Almost every article I read about it basically said I need to visualize my success, engage in positive self-talk and find a support group. Sure. Something like that.
Over the years I’ve found a few ways to cope with feeling like an impostor at work. It definitely helps in the short term, and I can only assume that if done for a prolonged period of time it’ll get better in the long term too. I think I need to get back to doing these things, but also get more honest about how I’m feeling or what I’m telling myself.
As a first step, I’m showing this blog post to my boss – before I publish it. I’m gonna guess she doesn’t even know I feel this way, but it’s probably a good idea that she knows. And then I’m going to do some of these things:
Update Your Resume
Nothing forces you to acknowledge your own accomplishments like a good ‘ol resume update! I usually start by writing a laundry list of things I accomplished in a role, then group them by category and finally, look for data points to support it. This makes me feel good about myself, but it also shushes that inner biatch because I can’t possibly argue with numbers that back up my success.
Have Other People Read Your Resume
I guess this is something like finding a support group, but a highly productive one. One former colleague and friend read my resume and said, “This is great, but this isn’t what you do every day.” She’d had the benefit of seeing me work every day while she was on a project so her feedback was both kind and insightful. Her advice? Write a narrative describing what I do, break it down into bite-sized lines and finally, find some data/visible successes to support it. Writing that narrative gave me a more full picture of what I accomplished at work.
Keep A Running List Of Accomplishments
I do this for practical and emotional reasons. I have reviews every six months at work and I’ve definitely been caught in a last minute rush to fill out those damn forms. About once a month I update an Evernote note with anything I’ve completed – big or small. I also dump even slightly praising emails into a special folder in my Outlook. I read that folder when I’m feeling down, and use it to update my Evernote list which I also read when I’m doubting myself.
Refine Your Elevator Pitch
What sounds better: I don’t run the blog anymore because I got promoted. Or, I’ve been promoted to a chief-of-staff type role with an emphasis on special projects for the company. The former is going to lead to the latter eventually because people are going to be confused. I know, it happened to me a couple weeks ago. Might as well start with the highlights and have the next question be, “Oh! What kind of special projects!?” Also, sometimes I practice my elevator pitch in the mirror after I’ve put on make up for the day. It’s some self-help shit for sure, but it makes me feel better!
Ask For Praise
Sometimes you just need to hear nice things from people you respect and trust. Sometimes I call my mom and say, “Hey do I make you proud?” She says, “Of course you do!” (She doesn’t have to say that, and if you knew her you’d agree.) I routinely ask my bosses at review time what they think I do really well. I turn to my closest friends and say, “Hey I’m not feeling so great/smart/successful lately, can you help me?” Within 30 seconds I get a plethora of sweet observations and uplifting words. There’s nothing wrong with asking for some positive feedback when you need it, actually, I think it requires a lot of strength. Hell, ask a bunch of people for recommendations on LinkedIn even!
These days I’m trying to be a little bit gentler with myself. Being self-critical can be a positive, but when it gets to a certain magnitude, it’s the opposite of productive. Like most things in life, I’m working on a healthy balance.
So, fellow impostors, what do you do to get yourself out of a self-doubting rut? Do tell, I think we all need more than just the five things I listed above.
Photo via dholdredge on Piccsy.