Sometimes the greatest barrier between the person you are and the person you want to be is… yourself.
Have you ever felt that telling yourself (and others) that you’re good at something feels a bit, well, clunky? Like the words feel a bit alien as they slide out your mouth. I often find it a challenge to admit that I’m quite proficient at something. I’ll mumble ‘oh, yeah, I’m OK at that’ or ‘It wasn’t really anything I did’ (It totally was).
If, like me, you have struggled with self-esteem in the past, talking yourself up can seem a bit fraudulent. I have often felt I was going to be rumbled and I would one day feel a tap on my shoulder from the fraud squad: ‘Time’s up, missy. You’re coming with us to the phoney clink.’
In fact, I’ve learnt this is an actual thing. Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon first identified in 1978. Essentially, it is a self-belief held by someone that their success is down to some mysterious fluke or luck not through hard graft, natural talent and ability.
A useful, gently robust career-focused conversation with a friend/mentor made me think about this a little more. “Let me tell you”, he began, “you are very good at what you do. Most often, you don’t know how good you are. Only very occasionally you do. You need to learn to walk the stage, be less afraid of it, and come out from the sidelines. The stage is yours. Walk it.”
It is true: I do not naturally enjoy hogging the limelight or singing my own praises. Many people I know are very modest about their achievements. There are a few who love the glare of the spotlight. Look at me! They seem to say. I am the main act! Watch me showcase how wonderful I am while I shout my achievements!
I reflected on his wisdom for a while. It doesn’t have to be about hogging the limelight, nor does it have to be about waiting in the wings like an ever-hopeful understudy. There can be a happy medium without being shouty, showy, self-conscious or shy. I wanted to share some tips with you that helped me overcome my imposter.
Call out the disruptive thoughts. I amused myself pretending to be Adam West in the legendary 1960s television show Batman, where onomatopoeia was used in fight sequences. ‘I can’t do this project.’ BIFF! ‘I don’t deserve that compliment’ BLURP! ‘I’m not good enough for this.’ THWACK! ‘I’m rubbish at giving presentations.’ KAPOW!
Seperate fact from fiction. I recognised my feelings weren’t based on reality. In fact I could point to a body of evidence that demonstrated I had worked hard to be successful. Where was the evidence to say I was a loser? Holy info, Batman! There’s no evidence here! Must be that pesky Joker again.
Say no (nicely). How often do we take things on and leave no room for ourselves? Humans naturally want to help each other, but so often we try to do it all without burdening others. Saying yes constantly and falling short robs you of time, energy and reinforces your false belief you can’t handle it. Not helpful. High five yourself for saying no occasionally; it’s empowering. You’ll be respected for knowing your limits and for being honest. Hey, someone may even offer a pair of hands. Bonus.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t. Just don’t. You never really know what is going on behind the Instagram-perfect pictures or Facebook updates. Switch it off and focus on you, because you are everything you have. Lead YOUR best life.
Write a new script. While indulging my set-to as the Caped Crusader, I started viewing mistakes as positive ways to learn rather than big sticks to beat myself up with. I had a few mantras: I’m going to do my best. If I make a mistake, I’ll deal with it. If I don’t know what to do, I’ll ask. I won’t beat myself up, I’ll start afresh tomorrow.
Walk the stage. Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute, has said ‘it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.’ So, as examples, imagine you are required to speak to a roomful of strangers or have a job interview. Act like you already own it. The first time I had to speak publicly I was a bag of nerves and wanted nothing more than to shrink into the shadows. Instead, I acted my way into it: I wore the brightest, sharpest pinkest of suits and instantly felt more confident. I reassured myself that I knew my subject, I had rehearsed my lines and I was fully prepared. The stage was mine. I could either be dazzled by the lights or bask in the spotlight. I chose the spotlight.
There’s no quick fix for building your self-esteem. It will take a little time, but it’s worth the investment. Find a way to laugh at your imposter – whether you chose to be Batman or another superhero, the choice is yours. Change your behaviour and your belief will follow.
Try these tips and let me know how you get on! Feel free to share this post with anyone you think it may help too. Em x