Being an executive and leader is daunting. It’s not just the ‘managing a lot of people’ bit, it’s the ‘are you capable of doing this?’ bit. People look at you like they don’t believe you, don’t believe in you. You’re a fraud, a fake, an imposter. Or are you?
I was hired to run a Human Resources function at 29. I even had the job title – HR Director. But I’d go to networking events and notice how a lot of people’s eyebrows went up when I told them what I did. I could only imagine what they were thinking because I sometimes asked myself the same questions. “You’re an HR Director? At NatWest? How?”
Achieving my first major career goal at such a young age led to me having huge Imposter Syndrome that plagued me for a number of years. But as my career progressed and I started working closely with other executives, I realised that nearly everyone has it at some point in the career.
How did I feel? That I wasn’t good enough. That I would get ‘found out’. That I would fail, spectacularly and publicly. That everyone else knew what they were doing apart from me. That everyone else deserved to be there, but I didn’t – and any moment now they’d find me out.
Never Ever Give Up
And so it goes on, time after time. But it did go on. I never gave up. Nor will you. You’ll keep going because, you know what, you’re actually doing this. You’re actually managing a team, or division, or business which may amount to something. You’re not talking about it, telling people you’re going to do it – you’ve only gone and done it haven’t you?
That’s not a sign of a fraud or a fake is it? And here’s the thing – we all think we are not ‘it’ unless we’re sociopaths. So how do you fight back, how do you smash the syndrome?
Do the work. Learn, get experience, get better, grind it. Every time you doubt yourself, look not how far you have to go but how far you’ve come. Every time you think you’re stupid show yourself the course you’ve just passed or the promotion you just earned. Every time you think you’re in a roomful of experts who know what they’re doing and you don’t, you can try thinking differently:
• A famous Middle Eastern opera singer was daunted by her massive Western audience. So she thought: ‘Every morning every person here wipes their bottom with bits of paper.’
• Here’s a liberating thought: nobody cares. Nobody cares about you, they’re worrying about themselves. I repeat: nobody cares. That thought is full of fizzing freedom.
• Ask yourself: Is there a single fact to back up this feeling? What data is there to support the notion that I am a fake? There isn’t any is there?
• As Doctor Jordan Peterson said: ‘Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.’
Written in partnership with Graham Scott - an award author, publisher and staff writer who has been writing professionally for four decades.
Most executives suffer from imposter syndrome at some point. We need to acknowledge it and move on.