Do you feel like an imposter

Imposter syndrome: the mysterious curse of successful people

I have a friend who is highly successful in his field. He doesn’t seem aware that he has done well for himself. High grades through school, scholarships, placements, and he’s now in a very prestigious job. None of it seems to matter to him. It’s not that he doesn’t value what he has, it just that he still doesn’t think it’s as much of an achievement that everyone else thinks it is.

The other day I realised why this could be. None of his achievements are his own.

Have you ever found yourself in that situation? You’re being told you’re good at your work, but you’re not sure? Perhaps you wonder if you really belong there.

Imposter syndrome

It’s common for successful people to feel as though they don’t deserve to be where they are. Part of it comes from a competitive environment, but it also comes from the feeling of control. Sometimes we feel as though we aren’t in control of our our lives and it’s a negative feeling about negative situations. The car broke down, your colleague got the day off you both asked for, the dog puked on your bed. You have no control and it’s all just rotten. But it is possible to have the same uncomfortable feeling when things are going well, such as promotions, networking opportunities or free gifts. It not the actual outcome that’s making you feel uncomfortable. It’s the obligation that you never asked for. It’s still a feeling of not being in control.

In the case of my friend, he was naturally good at schoolwork. All his school-related decisions were made by his teachers. When school was finishing he didn’t choose something he was passionate about. He let the course choose him by offering a scholarship. His excellent grades got him a good job placement, which lead to good jobs but these jobs were orchestrated by his network and colleagues rather than by himself. By 30 years old he managed to get to the top of his field without the feeling personally achieving anything. He was missing the sense of accomplishment.

Resetting your confidence

You can fix this feeling without giving up everything you’ve earned (even if you don’t feel as though you’ve earned it). All you need to do is change one thing. It could be your job, if you want. But it could also be a change of hobby, a new routine or even a new wardrobe. Find one simple thing that is your decision and own it. It will build your confidence and calm your nerves to know that there is at least one thing in your life that is entirely your own doing.

But guess what? He’s just gotten a new job. Same industry, different role. It includes travel. Everything will be new and he’s experiencing a new feeling – control of one’s own destiny.

It’s never too late to experience something new. Is something stopping you from taking a chance and making a change?

Career advice from 4-year-old you

Are you struggling to find your true calling? Are you working, but wondering why you don’t love your job the way you think you should? Perhaps it’s time to talk to your inner child.

Career paths can feel stifling, and it starts early in childhood with “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. When I was asked this in preschool, I replied “I want to paint wooden toys”. How specific! There was a wooden toy train at preschool that I thought was beautiful. Maybe it had “hand-painted” written on it somewhere, who knows. It was elegant, with smooth maroon, navy, dark green and black paint and it made me happy just to look at it. I thought I would like to put that rich coloured paint onto wooden toys, just like some unknown person had done to that lovely train.

The grown-up response I received was, “Oh, so you want to be an artist”. I carried that label for years, until I got sick of people telling me “you must like drawing and painting pictures”. I didn’t. So I thought I was wrong, I mustn’t want to be an artist. By then my favourite subject was maths, so my new reply to the “whaddyawannabe” question became “Accountant”. Adults would reply with “Oh, so you must love maths”. That was correct, I did love maths. So I must want to be an accountant.

Accounting turned out to be my least favourite maths stream. I was wrong again!! But we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, as if being an adult is – literally – a piece of cake. Pick one that seems good, follow the recipe and be.that.cake. Our choices are limited to the cakes we’ve seen before. As a kid who loved maths, I didn’t know I was already collecting the ingredients to be an advertising statistician, economics journalist or a computer game developer (or this sales analyst for an adult toy company that really loves his job!). All I knew was that maths was an ingredient in “Accountant”.

Think about what gave you joy as a child, way back as young as you can remember, and consider this. Kids don’t know what’s good for them, they just know emotions. There’s not a lot of thought about money, life purpose or obligation to society. But at some point, the games and make-believe stop (well, for most of us). When did you stop, and why? Other commitments, schoolwork or sports? Peer pressure to sell your ‘My Little Pony’ collection and hang out at the mall instead? Chances are it was an external influence. You didn’t wake up one day to find that you no longer enjoyed playing.

How to tune into your inner child and put them to use:

1. What did you do for fun as a kid? What games did you like, what role did you play in those games?

2. What subjects did you like the most at school?

3. Where was your favourite place to be? Running around outside, in your room, at a friend’s house? Why did that location make you happy

4. These three questions above tap into your inner child’s mind, body and soul. Does your current job feed into these? What’s missing
I don’t paint wooden toys and I’m not an accountant. The team games I played and the solo make-believe at home (happy, but noisy!) has become independent work in an open-plan office. My love of maths and that gorgeous train are really a love of logic and the satisfaction of seeing a job completed, knowing that I helped make that happen. Project work is ideal for me.

What is your inner child telling you to do?

Image: Brio Train by Stephen Woods , licence CC BY 2.0