Let’s talk about impostor syndrome.

Somehow, I’m back in the Netherlands and I’m being told my degree isn’t valid. It appears I never passed all my courses. I have to retake a huge number of exams next week. I haven’t followed any classes and I don’t have the study material either. I’ve been caught out. See, I wasn’t qualified to do the job I have now after all…I’m never going to pass these exams. What do I do now?

I wake up.

I have this recurring dream. It pops up every time I have a big challenge ahead of me at work. It’s not that I believe I’m bad at my job. It’s just that with every new challenge I’m being given, I wonder if this is where my capability ends. Is this the moment I’ve been promoted into incompetence? Is this where they find out they hired someone who’s not as capable as I made them believe?

While doing some research for our SWIB network (Supporting women in business) I found out that 70% of people, not just women; PEOPLE, suffer from impostor syndrome to some extent.

So many people I perceive as being very capable or very confident have shared stories with me on how they suffer from “The Syndrome”. Whenever I mention the term, I get an instant bulk of examples on when and how people experience it. Whether it is on customer calls, with presenting in front of big groups, applying for a job, being praised for being good at your job, or getting a promotion: it crops up.

It can be quite situational. If you experience a form of impostor syndrome, it doesn’t mean you have to feel it in every aspect of your life. For me, it mostly applies to the seniority level of my job. I cringe when I refer to “leadership” and “career advice” when writing blogs. Even though I’m responsible for a big group of people and I have some achievements under my belt that should convince me I don’t suck at my job and I deserve to be where I am. I feel awkward when being asked to mentor people. What do I have to offer that is going to help you in your career? I feel like I’m winging it half of the time! Oh, and then the blog: who am I to think I should be sharing my opinions on these subjects with you?

However, if you ask me to speak up in a big group of people or present to a big audience, I won’t bet an eyelid. I feel confident and comfortable in these situations. Seems pretty contradictory. Weird how your mind can play tricks on you, right?

Fortunately, feeling insecure has never held me back from trying or doing things anyway. I do believe that if you don’t address it, it can really get in your way and hold you back.

I’m no expert in dealing with impostor syndrome. From what I understand you can’t get rid of it, but you CAN learn to deal with it.

From my experience, talking to other people about it seems to be quite helpful. It shows you’re not alone. According to the stats, we live in a world full of self-acclaimed impostors!  

What is your experience with impostor syndrome? How do you deal with it? Does it hold you back?

If you’ve never heard of impostor iyndrome, the below Ted video explains it in a couple of minutes:

Valerie Young is an expert on the topic. She even has a website called impostorsyndrome.com

*for the language terrorists amongst us: Impostor or Imposter are both correct. The Latin root is impostorem, “impose upon or deceive.”

Books that might help you deal with imposter syndrome:

Feel the fear and do it anyway; Susan Jeffers

The Subtle art of not giving a f*ck; Mark Manson

You’re a Badass; Jen Sincero

The balancing act that is called feedback

One of the first things I learned when I moved abroad was how differently feedback is provided and perceived in the Netherlands and the UK

In my second month of working in the UK, I made someone cry giving them feedback. I really didn’t understand what I had done to cause such an intense reaction. As most people, I don’t enjoy upsetting people, so it was clear to me I had to find out what had gone wrong.

Dutch people are perceived to be very direct and straight forward. We don’t tend to ask if it’s a good moment to share some feedback. We just give you the feedback when it suits us, and you’re expected to “take it like a man”. Sugar-coating is a word that doesn’t translate very well to Dutch.

I actually think it would be good for some Dutch people to learn from the Brits to act a bit less rude. I also think it would be good for some Brits to learn from the Dutch to be a bit more direct. 

Getting the feedback thing right is a balancing act. Not providing constructive feedback can put managers in quite some trouble down the line. You’re not giving people the opportunity to improve if you don’t share feedback. Providing too much critical feedback can have a demoralising effect.

How do you find the right balance? I hear you think.

What a lot of people forget most of the time, is putting yourself in the receiving party’s shoes. What would it do to you to get this type of feedback? How can you be more considerate about the message you’re delivering?

When you have feedback to share, always consider if it’s useful. If the only thing you do by criticising behaviour or work is hurt someone, it’s probably better to keep it to yourself. If you deliver feedback so someone can change or improve, it’s the right thing to do. Make sure to be concrete; have one or two examples ready to share to back up what you’re trying to bring across.

Somehow, I get asked to provide 360 feedback quite regularly now, even for people outside of my direct remit. I like to believe I have learned to be better if people actually ask for my opinion, right?

Receiving feedback is an interesting one too. My chimp can play up when I get feedback I don’t agree with or feel is unfair or unfunded. It’s hard to just take it in and not be defensive about it. My advice is to always try to take feedback on gracefully. Breathe, count to ten and maybe sleep on it. If you want to come back on it, do it when you’ve calmed down.

Sometimes feedback is reflective of what the person giving you the feedback is dealing with. Sometimes it’s perception. It’s always a good idea to sanity check with some other people if they recognise the feedback you’ve been given.

Remember it’s your choice what you do with feedback. Maybe you don’t recognise it at all. Maybe you recognise it, but you don’t feel the need to change. Maybe you don’t recognise it immediately, but it might make sense after pondering it over for a bit. Maybe you do recognise it and it’s a quick fix, or maybe it’s hard to change, but you’re willing to. It’s really up to you. Will changing the thing you were criticized on make you more effective? Then you’ll probably be better off taking it on the chin.

I’ve not even touched on positive feedback. Probably deserves a separate blog. For now I would say: if you have anything nice to say to someone, don’t hold back. It makes people happy and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  

How do you deal with feedback? Do you ever reflect on your behaviour? Have you ever changed anything on the back of feedback you received?

Here’s a quick video on the topic:

Recommended reads: The Chimp paradox and Radical Candor