The Dreaded Imposter Syndrome

In May, I was fortunate to have landed the opportunity to join a new company and pursue my dreams of becoming a Product Marketer. Tantamount to one of my greatest accomplishments to date, this offer represented more than just chartering a new vocation. It represented the sweet culmination of an arduous journey marred by grit, rejection, and more curiosity than George could even offer.

Simply put, I was jubilant.

Well, that was until my new found sense of responsibility began to weigh on me. Euphoria turned into questions. Questions turned into concern. And concern turned into self doubt. Before I knew it, I was wrestling with an unexpected case of Imposter Syndrome.

value creation or bust

Every single activity performed in a business can be tied to one common overarching objective: value creation. Whether it’s value creation for the benefit of a customer stemming from activities such as product development, solution selling, and customer experience, or value creation that benefits shareholders by bolstering the bottom line, every decision in business aligns itself to this notion.

The power behind this idea is that every component that makes up an organization serves as a utility and is therefore, anchored in a quantifiable, monetary value that is weighed against its overall effectiveness in delivering on said value. Simply put, a return on investment analysis is conducted on everything from common workplace assets such as chairs, desks, and monitors, to modern tech company luxuries like beer kegs, gyms, and foam pits. The latter set aren’t simply trendy workplace perks; they drive up employee happiness, productivity, and of course hours spent on the job.

Return on investment holds most true for the employees who work at a company, since they serve as the intellectual resources that drive value creation. As a new employee, it’s normal to feel a hefty onus on proving your worth because your early behaviour acts as a leading indicator for the business on your future potential. Essentially, the goal is to reach what Michael Watkins, author of the book: The First 90 Days, refers to as the break-even point; the point at which you have contributed as much to the business as you have consumed from it.

Feeling Like a Fraud

My transition from business development to product, though logically makes sense, is one that unfortunately, rarely occurs (the reasons for which are beyond the scope of this post). In my situation, I was fortunate because not only did my new employer offer me the chance to operate in a completely new function of business, but, they issued me a title jump. This was an incredible moment in catapulting my career. That being said, the weight of their trust had me questioning my own abilities; thus, leading me down a route of Imposter Syndrome.

For those of you who are unaware, Imposter Syndrome is a behaviour wherein an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. They constantly deflect praise and attribute their success to factors outside of their own doing such as luck. Staggeringly, 70% of people experience this self adjudication, deeming themselves unworthy of the positive things they’ve achieved. In many ways it’s the epitome of a first world problem; successful people being overly humble to the point where it hinders the very drive that delivered their success. Still, it’s a challenge that needs to be coped with.

Conversations with Yourself

As a theory put forth in their book Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen and Bruce Patton describe the Identity Conversation as a dialogue we have with ourselves about what a particular situation means to us. It’s an internal debate over whether we are competent or incompetent; a good or a bad person; and whether we are worthy of love or not. Impugning on any of these is a trigger for chaos and an underlying reason for most disputes.

The link between the Identity Conversation and Imposter Syndrome is clear. Negative internal dialogue that has you questioning your own competency is the basis of Imposter Syndrome. Consequently, it’s critical to understand the individual strengths one has so they can be harnessed for value creation. In this way, despite feeling a sense of self doubt, you can always fall back on your inherent strengths to help propel you to success.

Reflected Best Self

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of their own strengths which means it’s difficult to use them to your advantage, shorten your time to the break even point in an organization, and fend off Imposter Syndrome. To help me uncover the characteristics that I truly excelled at, I turned to an activity known as Reflected Best Self.

Unlike traditional modes of feedback that highlight an individual’s areas for improvement, the Reflected Best Self exercise is one that uncovers and encourages elevating that person’s strengths. As part of the activity, participants gather stories from close peers, mentors, and co-workers that showcase them at their best. Moments where the individual was shining brightest. Once all the stories are collected, the participant then has a rich, qualitative data set to extract themes from; you could equate it to a form of personal user research.

The scary thing about the activity is the level of consistency that is evident across all stories despite the diversity in storytellers. Personally, I had friends from middle school highlight common strengths that my graduate studies professors commented on alongside my first year residence don. Aside from the warm fuzzies provided by the stories, the data collected serves as a strong pool of specific, raw, insight that can be weaponized to your advantage in the workplace. For example, a common theme in my report was that I’m at my best when I’m sharing knowledge with others (no surprise I like to blog). Therefore, I make it a priority to conduct webinars for the marketing team, run enablement sessions for sales, and deliver knowledge transfers for the company since they all provide me with the opportunity to act as a teacher to others.

It’s an interesting situation that tends to unfold when we over achieve. The very ambition that got us to our destination is quick to turn into self doubt. While it’s a harsh cycle to pull oneself out of, there’s solace in knowing you are where you are for a reason. Someone saw something in you. And I’m confident, if you ask others, they’ll have a bunch of examples highlighting your excellence. Harness the value that others see in you to your advantage. Share that value with your organization. And in turn, help others see their own greatness.

Key Takeaway: Imposter Syndrome is a behaviour where people doubt their own accomplishments and have a fear of being exposed as a fraud. having a clear, verified understanding of your individual strengths can help combat imposter syndrome and simultaneously, shorten your time to value in an organization.

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