Imposter syndrome – how uncertainty can stop you in your tracks
One thing that I’m sure of is that, along with many other things, uncertainty feeds Imposter Syndrome – that feeling that you’re a fraud, blagging it, that you’ve got where you are because of some mistake and at any moment you’re going to be found out. Now you may be reading this thinking, “no it’s not Steph, I’ve got it all figured out, I’ve got a five-year plan, I know exactly where I’m going and how to get there!”. First of all, I’ll be surprised if you are saying that, and secondly, if you are then you’re probably a little naïve or foolish. I think it was Peter Fuda, leadership and transformation expert, who said that planning any further ahead than six to 12 months is a waste of time as things are certain to change. Anyway, most people aren’t certain about where they’re going, and if they are they definitely aren’t certain about how to get there. Many aren’t certain about how to approach each new thing that they encounter and that in itself can bring issues.
Can you remember when you were younger and, if you were anything like me, you just did stuff? When I look back on some of the things I volunteered to do, things I didn’t have the faintest idea how to do, I’m quite shocked. When I was younger, I’m sure I felt that uncertainty, in fact I know I did but it didn’t get in the way. But over the years it’s become layered with the self-doubt of Imposter Syndrome and the responsibilities of adulthood and motherhood to make me question what I’m doing on the basis that I’m uncertain of the best way to approach it, who I need to involve etc.
Now, I’ve developed strategies to help me deal with this, and those coupled with my naturally impetuous nature (do first, think about it later) have meant that I tend to get on and do things. But what it does do is two things:
Uncertainty feeds Imposter Syndrome
Imagine… you’re sitting thinking about some big goal you have to achieve (or even set) and you feel uncertain about starting to work towards it. Why is that? The true reasons are probably things like:
- it’s something you’ve never done before/never done in this context/with this team and therefore the strategies and route are unknown
- it’s high risk and you stand to lose something you value (reputation, money, colleagues etc.) if it goes wrong so you feel that need to get everything right
That’s all perfectly natural. The problem is that Imposter Syndrome thrives in situations like this. That little voice starts telling you that the reason that you’re not taking action is because you’re just not good enough. You’ve managed to wing it until now, but this is the thing that is going to reveal that you don’t know what you’re doing and it’ll all be over. And the more it talks, and the more you listen, the worse the uncertainty gets and the louder the voice talks and so on. You end up in a loop of self-doubt and uncertainty.
The uncertainty can stop you from taking that first step. We know that it can often be difficult to actually start to make things happen. Uncertainty is a major factor in this. It can make the difference between you doing something and not doing it. Now, this might not be such and issue if you’ve got a boss standing over your shoulder telling you that something must be done, but if you’re self-employed or if the step is something about you and your life then it can really get in the way. If you allow it, uncertainty about what to do can make you do nothing. Coupled with the way it nurtures Imposter Syndrome it can be a complete goal blocker.
So, what can you do? If uncertainty is getting in your way what should you do to get past it. Perhaps the most important thing to know is that if you’re feeling uncertain then that can also be a good thing.
Firstly, it probably means that you’re doing something new, different, even innovative. It means you’re pushing yourself and your boundaries and that is always a good thing as you need to keep growing.
From a business perspective new and different is also usually a good thing as long as you don’t lose sight of what it is that you’re best at and what already works.
Secondly, feeling uncertain means that you’ll think and explore more. You might take your time a little to feel the way rather than, if you’re like me, blundering right in and hoping for the best.
The important thing if you’re feeling uncertain, is to know it’s normal and then carry on. When you’re in the moment, think about how you’re feeling and question, is this just natural uncertainty? Acknowledge it and move on. Don’t let it stop you in your tracks and don’t let it feed your Imposter Syndrome – it’s a greedy little creature and will suck up every crumb you offer it.