“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
– Bertrand Russell.
Throughout my career, I’ve found myself at different points of a self-doubt spectrum, spanning between feeling like a lot of a fraud and feeling a little fraudy.
Since I entered corporate life, I’ve let others dictate the person I’m supposed to be, the salary I’m supposed to earn, the ways I’m supposed to conduct myself.
I’ve been playing the game. And I haven’t been winning.
Figuring it out
Years ago, a former colleague of mine put a label on what I was feeling. I’ll never forget it.
We were on a morning coffee walk. I praised him for a report he’d written and designed. He turned to me and said, “I’m so worried someone’s going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing.” Of course, he was talented and accomplished and completely wrong.
I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome my entire adult life. That’s a lie; I was an imposter at being a kid and a teenager, too.
Imposter syndrome is the fear that–even with qualifications and years of experience–you’re unworthy; you’re not good enough. At some point, someone is going to expose you as a fake.
While we’re on the subject of new-age lingo, let’s talk about mediocrity creep.
It gets creepy, quickly
You may notice you’re making minor compromises in your job. You don’t speak up, your opinions on how to do things differently are shut down. That’s not how we’ve done things in the past. Stick with what’s working. Don’t ask questions. This transitions into a ‘go with the flow’ attitude and that is mediocrity creep.
The opposite of a mediocre workplace is an inclusive, driven, collaborative, open environment where teammates have stimulating conversations and work together on projects that match their strengths.
People challenge the status quo, they cultivate dissent. Colleagues push each other to be better.
One of the dangers of imposter syndrome is that it may be causing you to miss out on this reality. You may be subjecting yourself to a mediocre career because you’ve been lulled into the belief that you aren’t worthy or that what you’re experiencing is all you’ll ever know.
Letting go. Finally
I handed in my resignation a few weeks ago. I had nothing lined up. But I knew I wasn’t meant to be where I was.
I wasn’t having a full night’s sleep. I experienced Sunday night dread. I didn’t enjoy my work. My workplace caused me to have mini breakdowns.
My job was perfect on paper. And the salary. Wooooo. This was how I determined my worth. I was going well. I broke into six figures.
Chase that feeling (The good one)
I spent my career chasing the next salary band. Earning more meant I was achieving my dreams. Except I wasn’t.
Money wasn’t giving me purpose. Money wasn’t energising me. Money wasn’t making me happy.
So…I forced change.
I was excited and terrified – and imposter syndrome was watching from the sidelines.
Fight the force
There will be many forces trying to keep you in a cushy place of comfort and conformity; in a place of mediocrity.
Most parents would prefer you play it safe and resign yourself to a secure, conventional job. Friends in these types of jobs may want you to keep playing the game like they do.
You tell yourself. I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky no one has figured out I’m an imposter.
You know what?
Fear sucks. But what’s worse, is stagnation. Don’t fear the unknown. Fear standing still.
There’s the rub
If that doesn’t make you think, this might.
You will die.
Imagine yourself on your deathbed. I know it’s a cliche, but play along. How do you want to remember your work life?
We spend a third of our lives working.
We will spend 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime.
Take it from me
The fear of being ‘found out’ could have sabotaged my happiness.
Sometimes, it’s okay not to know what’s next. That’s what makes life worth living.
What does it take?
You need to choose paths that are in line with what is most important for you. Is it important to you how you feel during those 90,000 hours?
What else does it take?
The realisation that almost everyone has some form of imposter syndrome.
And those confident people you work with? They may be the most incompetent of all.
Where it landed
So after forcing a career change, I finally feel like myself. Strong, semi-confident. I’m not pretending to be something I’m not, so Imposter syndrome is at bay.
I’m ready to take on anything.
I released myself from the illusion of security. I turned my back on a fixed future. I invited life to surprise me.
Live and learn. And learn. And learn
Life is about growing, questioning, exploring.
I’ve entered a new and unfamiliar arena. This is where I would expect imposter syndrome to take over. Instead, this career change has filled my life with opportunity. The chance to be myself and not what others believe I should be.
Since I embraced uncertainty and adventure, my life isn’t about reaching new salary bands. It’s about reaching my dreams.
Don’t settle for mediocrity.
French philosopher and author, Albert Camus was right when he said,
“Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.”