I’ll admit it, I’m accustomed to being the smartest person in the room. It’s a comfortable place, and it allows me to hide my feelings of inadequacy behind a mask of subject matter expertise, fluid communication, and wit. How do I manage to always be the SME on any given topic? I prepare like a mutha. Compulsively. And I make it look goddamned easy. Others mistake my persona as “wicked smart, self deprecating,” or even “humble,” but, in reality, that smart girl is a complete fake. She stems from feelings of inadequacy that feed a deep dark fear that I simply do not belong – even though I have a portfolio that clearly indicates the contrary! It turns out imposter syndrome is a bona fide psychological phenomenon, most commonly observed amongst high achieving women. (Recent findings are indicating this condition isn’t as gender specific as originally thought.) According to CalTech, “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. “(Read More Here) It also turns those of us with imposter syndrome are in great company: Maya Angelou, Chuck Lorre, and Tina Fey have all wrestled the same demon! How does imposter syndrome manifest externally? For me, it’s about extremely high performance that leads to horrible burnout. It’s about the fancy Kleenex so my nose doesn’t get chapped as I sob and cling to my cat after work. And it’s about realizing there is something wrong with this whole situation and I must remedy it.
“Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made.” –Cheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Burnout: the career/emotional equivalent of a rat infested heroin hotel. There has to be a solution, right? After all, solution identification & execution are what I do for a living. Not whining, not news reporting, and definitely not excuse making: I deliver solutions to my clients’ problems. My personal solutions came to me as a two step process. First, I do something that makes me insanely uncomfortable. (This week was a networking event for digital project managers, my desired field. Digital, as in nerd stuff & technology. Me, as in luddite without an iTunes account. No SME crutch at this meeting!) Next, I use my skills, new and old, to develop others. Tuesdays I learn, Thursdays I teach. This is my new cycle. It doesn’t leave room for self doubt, it forces me instead to ensure I am delivering much needed value to my community. Specific, measurable, tangible actions that are, most importantly, genuine. That rotten, nagging inner voice of inadequacy has been silenced, replaced by purpose, direction, and worth. Want to learn how you can overcome imposter syndrome? Check out the links below: