This week HBG Consultant Michelle Hart walks us through great advice that she’s gotten – and is giving! – for dealing with Imposter Syndrome and even for those moments when you just get mired in sticky mud, finding it hard to just make forward progress. ~Helen
It’s happening. How am I writing a blog post for THE Helen Brown Group website? @#$*. It’s too big. I’m not ready. I’m going to get called out. I need more experience under my belt. *$*%. How do I get out of this? Oh, I’m already in it. I can do this……..
You guys…confidence. Oh, confidence, why are you so fickle? I mean, honestly, what is the deal?! How is it that I can “know” I’m really good at what I do, advise former colleagues, do the things, but when I can show that to others, I say “no, please”.
But we do our jobs, right? We do the things. We have the meetings. We do the presentations. We have the high-stakes email exchanges. We have the big conversations.
Yet, as I was perusing HBG blog archives in preparation for my turn writing a post, I got more and more nervous. Why does it feel nerve-wracking?
Oh, I thought you were going to tell me. Alright, well, let’s have a look at this issue.
What the full scope of these feelings are, it is likely imposter syndrome. One of the definitions of imposter syndrome is:
The condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like “a fraud” or “a phony” and doubting their abilities. [BetterUp]
People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees. [Psychology Today]
I’ve been in prospect development for just about 13 years. I still get nervous to send emails. To be in meetings where I might need to defend my work. To explain to others my methods. Essentially, to stand for my worth.
This is not unusual in our field. If you have been in prospect development for much time, you have likely either heard or experienced yourself and/or your team being asked to vouch for the importance of prospect research. Getting a seat at the table, proving the need to be in that chair and contribute regularly to important discussions.
To up the ante for some – or most – of us, people-pleasing makes the fear of disappointing bosses, colleagues, and/or clients all the more palpable.
Working on this reminded me of the time in my life I literally researched how to be better at mornings.
Like, how could I get up early and get happy enough before going to work that I don’t get deeply furious that someone else was walking in the building with me. So, I did what researchers do. Articles, blogs, anything to figure out how morning people are morning people.
And truthfully, it worked. Not the first or second round, but eventually. I found the trick to get me out of bed. My mantra was and is, “I need coffee.” I realized that if I could just get a cup of coffee and get back in bed to cuddle back up and drink it and listen to music or a podcast, that would give me more “me” time and allow me to ease into the day. Saying, “I need to get ready” had the opposite effect.
We all have our motivators. So, now I get up at 5:30 am, have coffee in bed, and get ready about an hour and a half later.
So, I think we can and maybe should do that for areas where we might struggle. Generally speaking, when it is a struggle bus area, I procrastinate. Avoid. Divert. Stress when I feel like I’m not enough. I “know” I’m capable of doing good work. Being a good employee. Partner. Sibling. And so on.
However, sometimes I get projects or have upcoming meetings that freeze me up, if even for a few minutes – or days. So, what I do sometimes to buckle down and tackle a project, for example, is to start with the kinds of things I love. I look at creative outlets such as home design or style books or websites.
I start to organize. Sometimes it’s a tiny organizing project at home. Moving around items on the counter. Essentially, tasks that get my mind rolling and give me a sense of accomplishment. Then it is easier to start or continue organizing the project or preparing for meetings or other types of conversation.
We all like lists, right? When the task ahead isn’t so abstract, it doesn’t feel like this formless blob haunting me. Whether it is breaking down a project into smaller steps or listing out what needs to get done for the day and/or week, it sorts it in my mind and helps ease the panic. Once I am working on the plan, my mind – now in a more creative mode – can better work on ideas for proceeding, rocks to look under, etc. This makes me feel more confident.
Keep learning and improving yourself. I would not dare say to do this every day or every hour. I don’t know about you, but I’m in the sort of type A range. So, I want things to be “just so”, but I don’t have the bandwidth to have to reach brand new goals and find new challenges quite that often.
Talk. No, really. Talk to those around you. Getting the funky thoughts out to others who might understand what you are dealing with will give you a boost. From what I can tell, basically everyone fights imposter syndrome.
Fake it ‘til you make it. Truly. Put your shoulders back, hold your head high – or straight? – and speak clearly and concisely. Just do the thing.
Update your resume. Include lots of detail in at least one version. This doesn’t mean you should find another job somewhere else. But, getting your experience and accomplishments down in a concrete and meaningful way renews your confidence in your knowledge.
Research. You obviously know how to do this. It’s a skill we will carry with us no matter what our futures hold. Research all things about accepting that you are awesome.
Realize that nobody knows what they are doing. Okay, well this is variable. Just know and repeat to yourself that we are all just trying to figure it out. This includes the people on the other side of the hall. Even veteran fundraisers.
We all want to be better in our jobs, homes, and life in general. It’s a process, a journey, an adventure, and truthfully, a slog. But you can do it. You have done so much already!
Ask your colleague, boss, client, or friend what would help them the most. I bet you are already doing it, doing most of that, or can figure out how to get there.
Practice. Okay, this probably sounds like ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’, but this is more about repetition becoming familiarity. We are more confident in more familiar situations. The more meetings, discussions, and projects you do, the more it will feel natural.
Take heed from someone you see as great in their role. It doesn’t have to be in your department, just someone you can learn from to get to where you want to be. This can be as simple as soaking up how someone or some people are in meetings – how they lead or participate in discussions and how to take on projects and process through them. I have done this my whole career. I can still remember meetings from years ago, because I learned how to be a better communicator. When I do better, I feel better. (There’s a reverse to that which is also important.)
Take a deep breath and give yourself time to enjoy your morning cup of coffee. You can do this. You already are!
Life is hard and weird and dark and fascinating and funny and good. We are all trying to find the best way to enjoy it. We all have different approaches, thought processes, and reasons for doing our work. Whether you are a perfectionist, a natural genius, a rugged individualist, expert, or superhero (the five types of imposter syndrome), don’t worry. You can work through it. I think. I hope.
Okay, let’s do it together.