I’ve had several recent discussions with people who secretly feel like they are a bit of a faker, or a hypocrite. It’s called Impostor Syndrome, and it is experienced by people who have difficulty internalizing their accomplishments. These professionals regularly feel like frauds, with a fear that it’s just a matter of time before they are exposed for being something far less than others think they are.
Competent people feeling perpetually incompetent – that’s Impostor Syndrome.
I think this affliction can often be a psychological/emotional issue, especially experienced by those who are insecure (hand raised) and tend toward perfectionism (both hands raised). Those who struggle with accepting basic human realities like step-by-step growth and evolution will tend to feel grossly inadequate for every role they step into – no matter how they perform.
I can look back at my professional timeline and see many places where I experienced this cognitive and emotional dissonance (although, I must say, the most profound place where I feel it is in my role as a parent).
But, I’d like to suggest another angle on this. I wonder if some of our experience of these feelings comes down to working in a mis-matched role. In other words, we really are outside the primary zone of our competencies, and we can’t measure up to what we think we should because – well, we can’t.
For instance, I labored for many years in a sales role. I actually succeeded in growing the business and helping customers. But I am really not wired for sales – I’m not hyper-competitive, driven by numbers and short-term goals, schmoozy, quickly empathetic, hungry to “close” – I just want to figure stuff out and help people.
Turns out you can actually do sales that way, but in one company where I was VP of Biz Dev, we hired a natural and skilled salesperson, and as I watched her operate, I finally came to the realization: That’s a salesperson in her sweet spot. I’m a consultant – not (natively) a salesperson. All that time I tried to force myself into a role that wasn’t a great “fit” for me.
And all that time I felt like an impostor. Not because I was insincere, or even ineffective – but because I was outside my sweet spot.
Looking back at many of the roles I’ve sought to fulfill, here’s how it sorts out in my case:
As the old saying goes, you can’t put in what God left out. Working in the red zone generally means we’re going to feel like failures if we are not wired that way.
Here’s the thing : We all want to look in the mirror and feel competent and authoritative there first and foremost. Then Impostor Syndrome has much less room to take root.
So, to sum up, could it be that much of what we experience with Impostor Syndrome may actually stem from working outside of our sweet spot? I know that the more I concentrate on my unique areas of ability, the less like a fraud I feel.
What’s your experience?