Do you sometimes feel when taking on a new challenge that people will realise you’re not up to the task?
If the above question resonates at all, you are most likely suffering from Impostor syndrome; that feeling when someone doubts their ability and skills and has a persistent internal fear of being exposed as a fraud.
While not uncommon, affecting around 70% of people, it is generally perceived as something to avoid. However, there is an argument to say that this may be telling you something different.
When I first became a Finance Director, I was out of my comfort zone. Within a few months, I was responsible for doing things I had never done before.
I was reviewing client contracts – I wasn’t a lawyer. What did I know about legal contracts? I was presenting to the Board – I had never had this exposure before. I was relatively young. I worried they wouldn’t take me seriously or find me credible.
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Unfortunately, early into my role, the business had to make redundancies, and I led the discussions. I had never done that before either; would I be able to have these tricky conversations? What if they asked me questions which I didn’t know the answer to?
I soon realised that if I wanted to continue to progress in my career, I would be out of my comfort zone a lot. I would have to be taking on tasks that were unfamiliar to me. I also realised that I would be regularly feeling like an impostor, so I started to reframe things.
When I started to feel like an impostor, it was still uncomfortable, but I reminded myself that I was learning new skills and pushing myself closer towards my goals. Conversely, when I was very much in my comfort zone, I was less likely to be learning.
For me, there is a balance to be found around impostor syndrome. Always feeling like an impostor can lead to continual stress, lack of confidence and a possibly a realisation that you are not in the right job. However, not experiencing that feeling is likely to lead to frustration, despondency and a sense that you will not fulfil your potential.
Next time, you are starting to feel like an impostor, ask yourself why. Consider what is causing you to feel this way. If it is that you have merely not done this task before and are uncertain that you can do it, instead of focusing on what may go wrong, accept that you may feel like an impostor. See it as a good thing, and remind yourself that it is a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Authored by Tony Shafar.
Tony Shafar is a Chartered Accountant and Executive and Business Coach working with Senior Finance professionals. His company is Shafar Coaching.