Updated: Aug 17, 2021
I’ve been reading lots recently about Imposter Syndrome. I’ve also coached some people as well who say they have felt this way and I’m sure in my life and career I’ve had moments when I’ve not felt at my strongest or best. I’m intrigued by what it is.
I think it can be uncovered in a series of questions based around how a person might generate a ‘wobbly’ internal narrative for themselves, such as:
Am I good enough?
What do others see in me that I don’t?
Are the people around me better and therefore am I really worthy of their followership and respect?
Do I really know what I’m doing?
Why do I have to exude confidence when I don’t feel confident?
I think this is in part a worry about what other people think, but we all do that. I believe though that it is also also a niggling concern where you realise that you have got yourself to a place having bypassed the establishing of firm foundations in yourself that you rely on in life. Maybe this is this what people say is being ‘out of your depth’.
I’ve heard it said about people, it’s almost certainly been said about me. Not a nice thing to say or hear, but in some cases, it may be true. The best way to deal with it is - deal with it. It’s a trigger for some hard work, probably a journey of self-discovery because you will probably know that you try things that just don’t work, and you don’t know why.
I’d argue that a great way to find out is to ask people who you trust to give you honest feedback and listen deeply to what they have to say. Using a coach/mentor or even a therapist to help you work through this I have found to be a godsend. But it’s not easy or for the feint hearted. But then if you are in or aspire to be in a leadership position you may need to consider this, because if you don’t want to do the hard yards on yourself or even if you do, leadership and especially senior is also not for the feint hearted.
What is being out of your depth?
It might be true in that you haven’t had the focus to work on and get to know your true self. If follows then that you simply don’t have the wherewithal to work in a leadership position, because you don't know who you are, what you stand for or what your limits are. You can uncover some of this by asking yourself questions like:
What is my purpose?
What do I stand for?
Have I got the skills I need?
How confident am I, really?
What are my true values and what am I prepared to flex?
If you ask these seriously then I think you'll find that these are not easy questions to answer.
The manifestation of ‘out of your depth‘ is likely to show in a lack of attention to questions like these and you fear that you might lack skills, maybe you can't find your place or that you can’t cope with the people and politics, because it makes you feel vulnerable. A lot of this might be because you haven’t understood what you are about and what you really need to do to sustain a successful life and career and maintain the balance - should you choose to.
It’s OK not to by the way – some people have amazing careers but their work life balance when looked at by others might be judged as skewed – so what? If they are happy with that don’t impose those values on you to make you do the same.
It could also be a perception.
You may be brilliant, but others think you aren’t. Why might this be? Well maybe they haven’t done the hard work for themselves and like to deflect from that by making others seem as if they haven’t. I think this is a common problem in organisations, people scrabble their way to the top on a lie and - on the whole - they do get found out eventually.
It’s the damage that they can do to themselves and others on the way that I think is at the essence of this Blog. Do you want to be one of those ‘scrabblers’ or do you want to take your time to ensure you are working on the right things, being the true you and working on your own personal development to ensure that you can be the best you can be authentically? People respect that.
There is a brilliant Desert Island disks from 30 May 2021 by Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, who shared some thoughts on life.
She is a deeply religious person who talks about God in a way that made sense to me. But the thing that struck me (and I suspect many others who listened to it) is how she describes herself as an ‘unfinished article’, especially in the eyes of God.
I accept that this is deep stuff, but I suspect that thinking you are or have to be the finished article before you can have a go at something big is probably kidding yourself. There are always things around the corner to bring you down to earth be that a nasty bully who goes unchecked, having a life changing event – redundancy, ill health, death, divorce, kids, a global pandemic – all of the above! How equipped are any of us for these things to happen when we’re busy focusing on just our careers?
It’s up to you how much time and effort you put into asking yourself and those who mean something to you the hard questions in the spirit of growth, kindness and love. The next time you or someone you know say that someone is 'out of their depth' – ask yourself this question – how are they feeling? If that was me what would I want from others?
I also discovered in my journey as a coach that it takes practice to ‘be a coach’. Being a coach is a special privilege, one not to be taken lightly because in many ways you spend time with people who are asking the types of questions raised in this Blog. A good friend of mine sent me a quote which has also really stayed with me.
Hilary Cochrane and Trudi Newton’s book Supervision and Coaching - “For it to truly work both parties need to be willing to be vulnerable – to not know, to be confused or lost – whilst on the journey to clarity and progress”.
This is not only true of coaching, it is true of life and having a trusted companion to support you through this, be it God as in the case of Amanda Khozi Mukwashi or a spouse, a trusted friend, coach or mentor, remember we are all - only human – and that makes us special. The organisations that we work in and the people we surround ourselves with in life are also special. So let’s try to be kind and loving to each other and ourselves all of the time – and make that part of what we stand for. Why? Because it is this that will bring about the changes we so need to sustain our future and rid us of Imposter Syndrome for good. Why? Because for those who strive to know themselves authentically – and who recognise that even at our death we are unlikely to be the finished article anyway, and neither will the people we love and respect – it’s not important – we are who we are, when and where we are – that’s what we have to deal with at any point in time – having solid foundations just might make this a bit easier when the time comes to confront that.
If you get the chance listen to Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, I’d recommend it. Then reflect on this blog and maybe other areas of your life and work.
As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts and please get in touch if I can help you. If you like the article then please like and share as feedback makes a huge difference - thank you.