Imposter Syndrome: How to thrive when your fears try to take over your goals

I have spent the last 15 years working closely with the CEOs of Amazon and Google as their Executive Business Partner and Chief-of-Staff. Along the way, I have learned their methods for accomplishing astounding goals. This is the time of year when everyone is focused on goal setting and making this their best year yet. […]

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I have spent the last 15 years working closely with the CEOs of Amazon and Google as their Executive Business Partner and Chief-of-Staff. Along the way, I have learned their methods for accomplishing astounding goals. This is the time of year when everyone is focused on goal setting and making this their best year yet. So why is it so hard to make it past the first month?   

Let me confirm that everyone experiences imposter syndrome, an overwhelming fear of not belonging, of being a fraud. 99.9% of the time imposter syndrome should be ignored because, in reality, your ability and worth are second-to-none. But that’s easier said than done, right? However, I know from experience that there are ways you can turn imposter syndrome into your greatest asset.

Yes, I have been privileged to have had a seat at the table with some of the most talented people of our generation.  However, the other side of that coin is that I have consistently been the dumbest person in the room for nearly two decades. I am, in reality, fairly smart but I have worked daily with with Nobel laureates, heads of state and world-changing CEOs to accomplish things never done before. In order to not only survive but flourish in that environment I have had to face my fears of looking stupid and create foolproof ways of taking back control.

Here are my five top tips for overcoming imposter syndrome paralysis:

1. Be Open

Shining a spotlight on your greatest fear has a way of making it disappear. It is also empowering to be open and honest about your goals and ambitions. Whilst scary to share your crazy dreams, the earlier you bring your tribe into your journey, the earlier you can get their additional support.

I have made the mistake of trying to walk a new road alone and I can assure you that it’s always better to invite others along, even if they don’t quite understand the full vision immediately.

2. Be Purposeful

Create your own individual compass. What are your values? What does success look like and mean for you? What is the larger purpose outside yourself that motivates you? I have found it helpful to diffuse personal anxieties by focusing on what I am trying to accomplish and how these struggles move me closer to that desired end result.

Personal anxiety is selfish. That sounds harsh but, honestly, that anxiety may cause you to spend more time thinking about your own discomfort than the larger mission at hand. Personally, this thought gives me the wake-up call I need to get over myself and push forward into more constructive thoughts and energy.

3. Be a Novice

There are actually huge advantages to being underestimated. If you find yourself as the newcomer, allow yourself the freedom of creative thinking in ways that experienced people do not. This can be a major advantage for innovation and problem solving; you can come at things from a different angle because you’re not encumbered by tradition. So, raise your hand and volunteer an idea – even if it isn’t adopted your peers will start to see you as someone who is creative, ambitious and collaborative which in itself is a huge win.

I have also found it helpful to be the one to ask the “dumb” questions. Ironically, they have often led to the breakthrough moments that the seasoned experts in the room needed in order to see things in a different light and refocus on the core issue at hand!

4. Be Bold

You need to teach people how to treat you. I have found this to be true in every part of life; friendships, relationships and professional environments. Not once in my life has someone come to me saying, “I have noticed an untapped talent of yours and know how to maximise your impact”. That’s never going to happen, that is your job.

Lay out your growth plan; that next promotion, running your first marathon, starting your own business or leading a project above your current pay grade. I must warn you that this is often first met with confused silence but do not be deterred. Stay the course and show people that you are serious. You will see a difference in the way you are treated and people will come to you with opportunities, mentorship and support you wouldn’t have received otherwise.

5. Be Proud

Despite all my big talk in this article so far, let me reassure you that I have experienced more than my fair share of crippling fear, anxiety and disappointment. In fact, I met one of my best friends while we were both silently crying in the ladies room at Google during our first month on the job. In these moments, it’s helpful to have a reserve of positivity to call upon. That can be a friend, a mentor or a catalogue of past successes.

During my 12 years at Google, I started labelling emails that included praise and positive feedback which I could pull up anytime I needed motivation and reassurance. By seeking out and savouring this feedback, you will build a network of trusted peers and mentors.

These five tips to overcoming imposter syndrome are simple in principle but often need to be repeated several times to accomplish your biggest goals. 

Oprah Winfrey once interviewed Michelle Obama and asked her how she got over being intimidated at tables filled with powerful men. The First Lady responded, “You realise pretty quickly that a lot of them aren’t that smart.” Let me assure you that this absolutely true. So, raise your hand, speak up, share your dreams and know that you belong at that table just like anyone else. It’s likely every single one of them, no matter how senior or experienced, is sitting there wondering if they are they dumbest person in the room. So let’s bond over this common fear, collaborate and bring out the best in everyone. You are unique and that fact alone entitles you to a seat at the table.

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