“I believe every artist had someone who told them they were dirt and someone who told them that they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and they believed ‘em both”.
Springsteen’s observation got me thinking…
Is this paradox limited to artists?
I don’t think so.
Here’s why I think it extends to me and probably you, too.
Modern research tells me that my brain is unreliable (e.g. confirmation bias). It also tells me that I don’t know how talented I am.
According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “people who say they’re great at something are unlikely to be better at it than those who ‘confess’ being bad at it”.
So let me get this straight – people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect might say they’re great at something when in fact they’re merely average. But people suffering from the other trick of the brain (Imposter Syndrome), might say they’re not great at something when in fact they’re quite good at it.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, The Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement”. They “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds”.
It does to me.
I can’t say for sure (obviously) but if I had to choose, I’d say I’m better acquainted with the Imposter than the DK Effect.
As a reader of this blog, I believe that you’re still striving for your “peak performance”. Therefore, I’m going to say that you’re more at risk of feeling like a fraud than feeling like “the greatest of all-time”.
This is not to say that you lack confidence or haven’t had moments of feeling like one of the greats at your craft. After all, you believed them both, right (“dirt” and “baby Jesus”)?
So if you ever find yourself doubting your abilities or feeling like a fraud, I’ve got a few ideas I’d like to share with you…
5 WAYS TO VERIFY YOUR TALENT
- Take inventory of your skills and accomplishments.
Review what you’ve accomplished over the past few years. This helps to remind you that you bring and have brought a lot of value to your work. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been chosen for this present task. Someone thought you were up to the task. Obviously, you did too. Therefore, be confident in the abilities you know you have and be confident in your ability to master new ones.
Practical tip – if you’re struggling to come up with concrete examples, ask a trusted friend or colleague for their perspective (you might be surprised at how “great” they see you).
- Get diverse feedback.
Constructive feedback is invaluable, although not easy to get – especially the critical kind. Positive feedback of course feels good, but it’s the negative stuff that’s most valuable as it can shine a light on your “blind spots” (if you’re unaware of something (i.e. blind), you can never change it). Therefore, it’s mission critical that you get it. Seek out people with expertise and experience in the specific area/s where you need it most.
Practical tip – create an informal 360° feedback questionnaire for a few peers, superiors and direct reports (or project team members you lead).
- Discover and transform your natural talents into strengths.
According to scientists behind Gallup’s StrengthFinder: “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”
By focusing on what makes you stand out instead of what you lack, you can build up your strengths and protect yourself against the Imposter Syndrome at the same time.
Practical tip – ask yourself these 3 simple questions and note down the answers:
- What makes me stand out?
- What skills or abilities come easy and I enjoy using?
- What can I do well that others can’t?
- Recognize the value in you.
On paper, your verifiable skills and professional accomplishments may look like your greatest asset. Without a doubt, those things are important. However, you have something else that’s even more valuable: You. In all your past and current successes (projects, jobs, roles, etc.), you are “the common denominator”.
Here’s The Leadership Mind’s Jim Elliot on why:
“If change is to occur, some sort of intervention is required. And the only tool that any individual has to bring about change is themselves – their actions, behaviors, questions, etc. They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to influence others. In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change” (see DEEP DIVE for more on this).
Practical tip – To develop your Self further, start by paying attention to what’s driving you.
DEEP DIVE –
In my line of work, one can never have enough qualifications or certifications. After all, I help people learn and learning never ends. And with frequent market disruption and fast-changing conditions, the demand for consultants with the latest tools and methods is growing just as fast (Agile, Servant Leadership, Design Thinking, etc.). However, due to time and money limitations, it’s impossible to be certified or even knowledgeable in all of them.
Therefore, the most powerful tool in the toolbox of any coach or consultant is oneself. This simple, yet powerful concept is known as Self As Instrument. It’s also the best antidote to The Imposter Syndrome. BTW, it’s the most powerful tool in your toolbox, too.
- Name, understand and accept it.
First step to dealing with the Imposter Syndrome is knowing what to call it. The second step is recognizing that you’re not alone (Google it and see who pops up – Meryl Streep, Chris Martin). Third step is to understand why you feel this way. One possible explanation given by psychologists is that we tend to discount the value of a skill if it comes too easily. This may or may not be the case for you. The fourth and final step is learning how to live with it. So when it does sneak up on you, look at it, remind yourself why it’s here and don’t try and push it away.
After all, common wisdom teaches us that the best way to combat a fear is to confront it. Watch what happens when Fantastic Mr. Fox comes into contact with his worst one:
Practical tip – take a few minutes to reflect on your situation and note down your thoughts:
- Why do you think the Imposter Syndrome rears its head with you?
- What helps makes it less intense?
- What needs to happen for it to go away?
In conclusion, here’s how each of these ways verifies and validates your talent:
- Taking inventory of your skills and accomplishments = validation of facts.
- Getting diverse feedback = collegial validation.
- Discovering your natural talents = scientific validation.
- Recognizing the value in you = “the common denominator” validation.
- Name, understand and accept it = psychological validation.
So the next time you start to doubt yourself or your ability to get the job done, remind yourself:
“What I’m feeling is the Imposter Syndrome. It’s normal to feel this in my current situation. Many highly accomplished people suffer from it. I have a natural talent for this and I was chosen for it. I’ve done great things before and I’ll manage this, despite my current doubts.”
What’s your experience with the Imposter Syndrome? What additional tip can you give me and my readership?