My last blog started the conversation about imposter syndrome. Many people don’t like to admit to imposter syndrome, but as I said previously, I see it as a positive thing. It means you’re pushing yourself to learn and grow. The challenge is how you deal with those feelings, so they don’t overwhelm you and hold you back. Here, I will talk about my own personal experience.
There are two instances that immediately spring to mind – when I had my first child, who is now almost 20, and when I was a newly promoted and started to present to Virgin Media’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) each month.
I became a mother in November 2002. I thought I was prepared; I’d read all the books and gone to all the classes. We did what all new parents do when coming back from the hospital, I looked behind me as we sat in the car after we’d pulled up outside the house. She looked so small, perfect and precious. A tiny little life, completely dependent on me for everything. There is no ‘how to be a parent’ qualification, so how did I know I was going to be any good? What if she realises that I’ve no idea what I’m doing? My Mum died when I was 24, so I didn’t even have her guiding hand… I felt that panic of imposter syndrome.
What did I do about it? I took her inside. I put one foot in front of the other, took one day (or one minute) at a time. I used the people around me for advice, guidance, and support. I gave it a go, reflected on the things that went well and the things that didn’t go so well. Getting her to sleep through the night as a baby was trial and error. And the introduction of a ‘good list’ every day worked for us when she was a toddler and eager to please – literally a list of all the ‘good’ things she’d done that day (including being nice to her baby sister and tidying away her toys)! I realised that no one is an expert parent, at least not from day one.
[During lockdown I found the ‘good list’, and we reminisced together. My daughter remembers it well. It was always positive, but when she was particularly ‘challenging’ there wasn’t a lot to celebrate on the good list at the end of that day!]
The other occasion was at work. I was a newly promoted head of department; the CEO and his team wanted an update each month on all the company projects. I thought I’d be found out, not knowing enough or not being an expert on every single one of the 200 complex technical programmes we were running at the time. During a conversation with my coach, I realised that I was (unrealistically) comparing my capability with the combined capability of the entire C-Suite. In essence I thought I needed to be as good and know the same as the CEO, CFO, CTO, COO, etc. Ridiculous, right?
So, what was the solution? My coach helped me to identify my personal brand – who I was, why I was valuable to the C-Suite and why they had asked me to talk to them each month. I thought about my brand every time I presented, and it worked! I no longer felt like an imposter. It’s just that my skills were different.
Next time you get that imposter syndrome feeling. Take a breath. Think about how you overcome it!