Of all the career roadblocks we’re likely to encounter, none are more fascinating, and more preventable, than the self-imposed ones. I discovered this in 2015, when examining workplace fears and organizing a live event that laid these fears on the table. Cara Power of Cara Power Coaching, that event’s presenter, demonstrated how our Inner Critics are responsible for generating and perpetuating our workplace fears, and gave attendees powerful advice on silencing an Inner Critic before it leads to the devastating Impostor Syndrome.
Too many of today’s business professionals, women especially, are letting the Impostor Syndrome affect their decisions, performance and self-esteem. The delusion that “I’m out of my league” and that “my cover can be blown at any moment” creates the kind of chronic anxiety that holds your career in suspended animation. Sound like you? Believe it or not, I was there too. So, what if I told you there are realistic steps you can take to be the first person in your office to call out your impostor, and watch her melt away like the wicked witch? If that sounds to you like a blessing, let the process commence.
It’s no wonder that the Impostor Syndrome hijacks our judgment so easily. Business attire alone can feel like a façade. This professional “coat of armor” has become a key component of Executive Presence, and reinforces the “fake it until we make it” attitude. For some of us, this is a natural fit, allowing us to present powerfully and pull ahead. For others, though, this portrayal can feel unnatural, taking a toll on our psyche: We adjust our posture to suit the situation, we smile although we’re nervous, and we’re continually aware that we’re sporting a grown-up suit and heels when we’d be more at-ease in sneakers and a sweatshirt. It’s a case of the evolved person in you conceding to the pesky impostor. But you can reverse this predicament and still retain your personal values by realizing that we’re all in this together. Your business attire should in fact allow you to feel powerful and be taken seriously. I sometimes like to imagine there are jet packs attached to the back of my most formal business suit. It’s called silly imagery with substantial results.
One common behavior associated with the Impostor Syndrome is the silent downplaying of one’s own accomplishments. This can sometimes escalate to Hedonic Adaptation….a very real and unfortunate lack of positive stimulation following a joyous event like getting a promotion or a raise (or even a new home). Your impostor convinces you that it’s just the new norm, nothing special, causing the excitement to plateau. This deprives you the right to celebrate your achievement, or to be inspired and motivated to maintain your momentum. It’s that same impostor who also discounts every skilled and well-informed move you make along the road to your next achievement. It sounds a little something like, “If my colleague does it, it’s a brilliant triumph; but if I do it, it must mean that anyone could have.” This “expected reality” mindset is deeply harmful to your sense of self-worth. But when examined closely, it simply amounts to poor judgment. Think of it this way: When you don’t credit yourself for what clearly IS an exceptional job, it indicates that you’re looking forward in anxiety instead of looking back to see how far you’ve come. The impostor knows everything your true self knows. Who will you allow to call the shots?
Consider A Growth Mindset
We are always growing and stretching in our personal lives and careers. This is also true for those who appear to be slathered in success. Don’t lose sight of the fact that many of those folks had faked it until they made it, and that they are continuing a trajectory. When you think of yourself being in a perpetual state of becoming, it takes the pressure off not having arrived at a pinnacle. This is the Growth Mindset, and it’s at your fingertips. As the champion of this line of thought, Carol Dweck reports that someone with a Growth Mindset acknowledges that he or she is always learning and looking for the lessons in everything. For instance, when we’re challenged with a project or assignment that inspires the impostor to interject, a Growth Mindset will reveal that the talent required IS a stretch, but it’s nothing like going from 0 to 60. It’s entirely within our grasp. Or as Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I win, or I learn.”
The best way to demonstrate for yourself the impact of a Growth Mindset is to devise accurate and comfortable methods to check your rearview mirror. Try building a 10-minute weekly practice into your schedule known as the Week In Review. I find this to be the most effective tool for measuring the strides you’re making. Another suggestion is to get comfortable with “messy”, meaning that even after a milestone success, don’t expect a perfected version of yourself to suddenly emerge. Certainty is for an uninspired teacher who delivers the same predetermined lesson year after year. Your mission is to be a work in progress, and to shine every step of the way!
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