No one knows what they're doing.
3 steps to reliably beat imposter syndrome.
There are a lot of shared struggles amongst us humans. But one of the most destructive is the elusive imposter syndrome.
We start a new role and have no idea what we’re doing. We find ourselves around people further along in their career, and wonder why we aren’t at the same level. We are challenged in our work and question everything we know. We take the leap on a project or goal, only to be overwhelmed by our internal critic.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an executive at a Fortune 500 company, or just beginning your career. We all struggle with imposter syndrome because it’s wired into our psyche.
But it doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
Imposter syndrome ultimately is a thought, or a collection of thoughts. The thoughts themselves don’t matter anymore than any other thought that pops up. We can’t control them, yet it feels like they’re true and derived from ourselves.
They aren’t true.
And while we can’t control the thoughts, we can control our responses to them. The next time you find yourself battling internal demons of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, try this.
Clear the water.
If you put enough dirt in a glass of water, you won’t be able to see through it.
That dirt is the untrue and unhelpful thoughts that arise from imposter syndrome. If we poured clean water into the glass, eventually it’d be nothing but clear water. And that’s exactly what we need to do with our thoughts.
Do you really, truly have no idea what you’re doing?
Have you learned new things before?
Have you successfully completed hard things before?
Were the people you look up to born with all of their current knowledge?
If you ask yourself enough of these types of questions, and give yourself honest answers, you’ll come to the conclusion that just because imposter syndrome is present doesn’t mean it’s true.
You can tell it to f*ck off. Or give it a little wink knowing you win. Or just smile.
Whatever you do, task #1 is to take away imposter syndrome’s power. Clear out the dirt by pouring in clean water, and you’re left with clarity.
Go back to the beginning.
You know what’s so powerful about the beginner’s mindset?
It’s full of curiosity.
Think back to a time when you were learning a new skill, or trying something new, or stepping up to a new level in your career. You researched the industry, the buyers, the users, the competitors. You had conversations with people to learn about their piece of the puzzle and how it fits in the bigger whole. You spoke to people who were excelling. In short, you got curious.
And it’s curiosity that accelerates our learning.
Whenever I started a new role in my sales leadership career, I would use the excuse of being the new guy for as long as I could.
Because it’s a hack for taking myself back to the beginner’s mindset. By being the new guy we are giving ourselves permission to learn. It’s a way of admitting that we don’t know everything, but we’re willing to learn. There also happens to be a natural byproduct in the process - humility - but that’s for another day.
There is no problem in your work that you can’t solve or role that you can’t step into. But it starts with accepting what we don’t know, and an eagerness to figure it out.
It doesn’t matter what role you’re in. Life is built on relationships and the value exchanged within those relationships. And there is always value to give.
If you’ve adopted the beginner’s mindset and gotten curious about the problems you’re solving, the only thing left to do is to find ways to provide value within that context.
If you aren’t an expert on your business yet, you can use empathy and inquiry to understand the problems someone is trying to solve (your boss, your customers).
If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can find someone who does.
If you’re uncomfortable with a certain topic, you can learn more about it.
Leaning in is the process of getting curious and driving that curiosity toward growth, both for you and your career.
Everything above - clearing the water, adopting a beginner’s mindset, and leaning into the process - is really just a way to describe how career growth happens. This is the natural course of things when we remove our internal critic from the process.
I’ve struggled with it. You’ve struggled with it. And every other person on the planet has struggled with it.
Imposter syndrome is a nudge toward leaning into an area where we need to grow. It’s a signal if we use it for clarity, and noise if we don’t.
The beginning, not the end.
Let’s do more together.