Have you ever gotten into a situation where you take one look around you and think to yourself, “I don’t belong here”. It might be your first day in a new learning environment or your first day at a new job. You ask yourself, “I wonder if they will find me out. I’m not as talented or smart as they think I am.”
This may come as a surprise to you, but if you’ve read Amy Cuddy’s book, “Presence” or listened to her TED Talk, you may have an idea of where I’m going. This phenomenon is often called impostor syndrome and it affects approximately 70% of the population. We’ll just say that it affects way more people then you would imagine, and it especially seems to be present among high achievers.
I remember feeling this at so many points in my life. That little voice in my head telling me, “You’re not really an athlete. What are you doing teaching this material, you barely know it yourself? You don’t know how to run a company; you’re just a teacher.” It’s a voice that we don’t share much with people for many reasons. What if I’m right and don’t belong? If people knew what I thought about myself, they wouldn’t want me to lead them.
I had plenty of time to think about this concept during a 200-mile cycling race over the weekend. I most often get this voice in my head when I’m doing something new or stepping out in a new venture. I almost laugh to myself at this voice in my head and tell myself of course I’m going to feel that way or think that. The first time we do anything, if we are honest with ourselves, there is a piece of us that doubts our ability and we worry that we might not be able to pull it off.
I was reflecting this weekend how a surgeon must feel his or her first time doing an operation as the primary surgeon. Sure, he’s observed, aided, and been trained for years, but I wonder if he thinks to himself, “I don’t know if I belong here. There are others that could do this so much better than me.”
That is where this discussion becomes so interesting to me. Inside, I think to myself, he better not think that. He better be so confident and feel like he was born to be a surgeon. We want the people around us in leadership and in organizations to be competent and confident in their ability level. When this feeling that we aren’t enough comes up, we think we might be an impostor.
I think the truth is more likely that, as the statistics show, most of us feel this way at times and have that voice telling us maybe we’re not good enough or we don’t belong. When I look back on my life in those times where I’ve had this feeling and then look at how I performed, it comforts me to know that it’s not a lack of competence. It is in our wiring.
My advice to myself: embrace the journey. Learn, grow, discipline myself, and even if at times I might “feel” like I don’t quite measure up, those around me tend to think I am doing a decent job. Over time take courage, you’ll realize they are right.