It has been months, perhaps even years since I intended to write this article. However, something at work triggered me these days, and I felt compelled to put my thoughts on paper.
What happened? During a 1:1 meeting with one of my direct reports, the conversation unexpectedly turned into a difficult one for both of us. He expressed his frustration, saying, "Mihaela, you claimed that you care and support us, but you failed to do so for me." And the rest is history.
Knock knock? Who's there? You're impostor syndrome, Mrs. My impostor syndrome got awakened. "What am I doing in this role? I'm not good enough. I'm not even able to show these people that I care about them and support them. Etc.".
Have you ever felt like a fraud, comparing yourself to others who seem more successful? Despite ample evidence of your competence, do you still feel like you're not good enough? Does your job title or role make you feel like an impostor, even when you meet all the requirements and expectations? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you're likely experiencing impostor syndrome.
Let's cut to the chase and see what the literature says about this phenomenon.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their abilities, accomplishments, and qualifications, despite evidence of their competence. It is a feeling of being a "fraud" in the sense that one believes they do not deserve their success or accomplishments. Impostor syndrome is not a deliberate act; instead, it's a psychological and emotional experience that can lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence.
I'll share my own story about dealing with impostor syndrome, and the valuable lessons I learned from it.
If you have read some of my previous articles, you may know that I often compare parenting to leadership. Through developing and refining my skills in one area, I try to find ways to apply them in the other. The impostor syndrome has been present in my professional life and, for a while, in my role as a parent. However, there are certain things that I have learned as a parent which have also helped me in my professional role.
In this article, I will share these insights with you.
When my daughter was an infant and later a toddler, I used to think of her as a very easy child to raise, stress-free, and enjoyable. As her parent, I considered myself fortunate to have such a child. (However, I must admit that my opinion was subjective, as every child has a unique personality.) I have noticed a pattern in my behavior, though. Whenever I get a great opportunity at work, my first reaction is to attribute it to luck. It is similar to how I used to think of my child as an "easy child" - "I'm so lucky to have such an easy-going child." I tend to minimize the effort I put into raising my daughter, downplaying my parenting capabilities, minimizing all the effort of validating and accepting her emotions, and creating a healthy environment for her. In my head, everything resumes to luck.
It's really difficult for me to say the next sentence because of the constant whispering of impostor syndrome in my ears, but I'm going to share something with you. After being a parent for a few years, I do believe I do a decent job at it. There, I said it.
And here's what I learned from parenting that can help me overcome the impostor syndrome that bothers me at work.
Like I do with my daughter, I help myself identify the emotion as soon as the impostor syndrome starts to bother me. Then, I validate that emotion, permit it to stay with me and tell myself that it's perfectly fine to feel that way. I am trying to understand why the impostor strikes me, and what action triggered it. I am trying not to be bothered that the impostor syndrome visits me again.
The next thing I do is cultivate self-compassion (like I cultivate compassion with my daughter's emotions). It's acceptable that I don't know everything and I give myself the chance to learn.
I don't argue with the impostor syndrome or try to rationalize its stories, as I know it's a lost fight.
This impostor is more powerful than any of the rational thoughts I bring to the table, such as "Come on, Mihaela, but you have studied this, you have read a lot about this subject, you practiced it, etc." It's about learning to recognize those feelings of fear, of not being good enough, and learning to be okay with them, with yourself, without all your accomplishments.
Another important thing I learned is to be more connected to myself and better understand my emotions.
Share your emotions with someone you trust might also help. Sharing your impostor's feelings with others can reduce loneliness and open doors for others to share what they see in you. I was surprised to receive positive feedback from people who aren't my closest friends and aren't interested in complimenting me, which made me realize positive qualities about myself that I had never considered.
Accept the impostor syndrome as part of your journey. As you learn to work through the impostor syndrome, it will probably interfere less with your well-being. But controlling impostor feelings doesn’t mean they’ll never show up again.
What really helps is to celebrate your successes. Whenever you receive praise or positive feedback, pay attention to how you respond and make it a priority to speak more positively about yourself.
Circling back to my 1:1 conversation, the lessons I told you above are what I put into practice after this conversation. There's no doubt I felt frustrated, the feedback felt unfair to me because I do care about all of my direct reports, even though sometimes is harder to put that in concrete actions. I thanked my direct report for his feedback, I validated and accepted his emotions, and I did the same with mine.
I do know there are a lot of good things I am capable of doing, and that sometimes I am not doing them perfectly. And that's fine.