Careers, Communication, Jobs, Mentoring, Networking, Resumes, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Imposter Syndrome, Stop it Dead in It’s Tracks

September is my favorite time of year and each year when it rolls around, I always forgot it’s also the most stressful one for me followed only by June and not even considering the “holiday season”. What do these two months have in common? Well that’s when the academic calendar starts and finishes. No, I’m not a teacher, but I have been a parent for thirty years now. My youngest is 15 and just started high school. School sports, back to school night, birthdays, and more, September is jam packed. This year I finally got to pause in October and reflect on a reoccurring theme, Imposter Syndrome. When a topic pokes at me several times, I think it’s time to tackle it and share it with others. Here are several scenarios where I observed Imposter Syndrome in myself and others, plus action or tools to overcome the anxiety.SituationI must have forgotten about how busy September is when I accepted the offer to present three workshops to the biomedical grad students at Georgetown University. It was a professional/personal brand themed day and as a guest trainer I added insight to pitching, presenting, and primping your social media. It’s one of my favorite activities, running interactive sessions where we all learn from each other. These workshops had a slight twist to them though, they weren’t focused on the mechanics of preparing for an interview, or creating a resume, the emphasis was on developing your own brand.TaskFor this reason, I had to do more prep than usual after 20 years of delivering my career workshops. Each and every audience has different requirements/needs, so I do customize my delivery. This time though, I got nervous and asked for feedback from the career center director, several times. Finally, I went out and made some special handouts which I hadn’t done in a long time. The day of the event I had more butterflies in my stomach than usual. Normally presenting raises my energy and I thrive.Action

Upon arrival we realized that the 25-30 students who had signed up, weren’t all going to be there. We shifted the tables to make things more intimate and created a U shape around the screen. Then we realized that to be responsive to the group that did join us, I was going to have to customize the content even more so the Prezi (newly learned presentation software better than Powerpoint), was basically useless.

Two bumps in the road, Bill Stixrud, local author, psychologist, always says expect obstacles to appear, and have a Plan B. Sometimes you need Plan C and D too. As the students and I discussed the various topics, preparing your pitch for networking, presenting the best resume/linkedin page, and leveraging your network, I gradually calmed down. My goal was to share as much information as possible, be responsive to the students, and earn my fee. As I continued to converse with the students, I remembered that I have wisdom and insight that was valuable for all the attendees. Feedback from the sessions will be helpful too. One of the grad students who attended mentioned she was running a workshop on Imposter Syndrome the following week. That made me pause and really think. Was I battling the insecurities of Imposter Syndrome after all these years?

Situation-Task

Two days later, on an early Thursday, I met with one of my career strategy coaching clients. My goal was to help her prepare for an important interview. She’s a bright PhD with several years of experience. We laughed but also stopped to reflect when she too described sometimes wondering if she was good enough or “for real”. According to several articles on the topic, when we tackle new tasks or have a major event, we often have relapses into insecurity. I saw that anxiety provoking monster of Imposter Syndrome poking it’s ugly head up again as she explored new jobs through interviews.

Action

The articles also shared that highly intelligent capable individuals often suffer intermittently from Imposter Syndrome. The tendency of Type A people is towards perfectionism. That rang several bells for me. I recognized my client had a similar profile and encouraged her to be well prepared as a way to regain her confidence. Also, I suggested she recognize doing a good job is important but also recognize when it’s time to let go and accept “good enough”. It made me read, reflect and remember another example from my childhood.

Savvy Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, states that the syndrome is often seen in higher amounts within minority communities or when someone is an outsider. The fear of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve to be in a given setting is all part of Imposter Syndrome. To overcome these feeling we have to recognize that perfection is not the goal, “good enough” is plenty.

As a kid I remember not participating because of fear of failure and now I know this was an early sign of this syndrome. I was a talented athlete who dedicated considerable time to honing my skills as a soccer player. Being the only girl on an all boys team though, was a clear example of being an outsider in an environment that could make me doubt myself. On the field with solid passes, and strong defensive play, the feeling always disappeared.

A review of our many talents and abilities can help ease the feelings of doubt the syndrome causes. See my list below for other suggestions on beating back Imposter Syndrome.

Situation

Recently I was accepted into Leadership Greater Washington. The first time I wasn’t accepted so this was a second effort. The application process requires recommendations and entry is competitive. 65 people are selected each year to participate which includes a diverse group of community leaders. I was thrilled when I heard the news, but did I deserve to be there? Those familiar butterflies were back as I attended the orientation.

Action

I signed in, received my name tag and looked nervously into the room. Who would I talk to and about what? I took a deep breath, walked in and saw a classmate seated with her leg stretched out in a brace awkwardly in front of her with crutches dropped on floor below. Instantly, I forgot my nervousness and jumped into a conversation. We started to talk about sports injuries and the anxiety began to fade. We had a lengthy conversation spanning topics from waterskiing to her father attending the same school International school I did in Bangkok, Thailand. When I forget about myself and concentrate on others, the thoughts of being an Imposter quickly leave my brain. It’s one of the coping mechanisms I have adapted over my lifetime.

Results

For me that’s often the solution, just jumping in and focusing on others. This concept was driven home even further after I returned from the retreat. Day one had been fabulous, but day two I had gotten stuck with my “trainer hat” on. My husband was the one who reminded me that I am a participant, not observing and that by engaging in activities that take me out of my comfort zone, I could let go of any of that remaining anxiety. I also reminded myself that everyone around me was probably feeling similar. Best way I know to overcome the feeling of being an imposter was to remember I have lots of things to share, I’m an interesting talented genuine human being, and that’s all I can be.

Conclusion

There are several other stories I can share, from men, women, old and young. The common thread is that we all seem to have some form of Imposter Syndrome at different stages of our lives. Rather than allowing it to cripple us, I’d say embrace it, develop methods to channel that anxiety into being our best selves. Below are some suggestions to store in your tool box. And in the words of Bill Stixrud, remember to always have a Plan B in life. Or as someone once told me, “Fake it till you make it!”

Tools

Definition: Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Signs you have it:

  • Can’t take a compliment?
  • Feel like a fake?
  • Convinced you’ll be unmasked at any moment?

Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

  • Find a strong mentor or supporter to be in your corner
  • Recognize what you do well, write it down
  • Realize your expertise, share it with others
  • Let go of perfectionism, “good enough” is more than acceptable

Sources of Additional Information

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx Kirsten Weir, article in the American Psychology Association published in 2013

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-impostor-syndrome/ Ellen Hendriksen, article in Scientific American

Professor Dr. Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) at Stanford suggests praising effort not a characteristic in our children to prevent building Imposter Syndrome in our kids. Kind labels about brains or beauty can be detrimental or imply you either have “it” or you don’t with no where to grow. With one failure they could feel your label is incorrect. We never want to discourage our children from trying new things out of fear of failure or that our “label is wrong”. She also adds, that by building in an expectation of early failure we help build resiliency. Bill Stixrud quotes her research in his book, The Self-Driven Child.

Mentoring

FAB Presentation Video, prepared for Georgetown University EPIC Course,

The Office of Career Strategy and Professional Development at Georgetown University Biomedical Graduate Education created an online EPIC Career Strategy crash course for their graduate students. asked me to prepare this video as a tool for the students to explain my use of FAB Statements as they prepare for interviews.

I will also be delivering three workshops to the graduate students in September focused on social media presence-“Primp Your Page” (LinkedIn), networking-“Networking is Necessary”, and pitching-“Present Your Best Pitch” .

The goals of EPIC are as follows:

  • Explore career options
  • Prepare stellar application materials
  • Interview successfully
  • Choose their careers (by navigating negotiations)
Careers, Communication, Jobs, Mentoring, Networking, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Grab the Driver’s Seat…Regain control of your career

I attended a talk last week by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called, “The Self-Driven Child,” The science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce, anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tag line, “Giving your kids more control over their lives”. Then I thought, doesn’t everyone want more control?

Through the entire spectrum of our lives we struggle to be independent and self directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.

There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “Self-Driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take, “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success for all throughout the life cycle.

Raising self motivated children, building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects to a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our career too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.

When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.

  • Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
  • Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
  • Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
  • Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
  • Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
  • Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or a new ways to do things.
  • Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!

All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control at all ages, when we are a kid, a young adult, middle aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?

In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, there is now room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.

Careers, Mentoring, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Why Mentoring Matters

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in Julie Kantor’s, founder of TwoMentor (http://www.twomentor.com) and Co-Chair for Leadership Greater Washington Signature Program (http://www.lgwdc.org/) workshop, “Speed Mentoring”. Yes, you got that right, it’s pretty similar to “Speed Dating”. But before we get into what happened, Julie started the activity with some strong stats and supporting evidence about why mentoring is important.

BENEFITS OF MENTORING FOR PROFESSIONALS & COMPANIES 

  • Increase in connection to each other and to the organization
  • Greater retention of staff and less institutional knowledge loss for organizations
  • Higher promotion rates in shorter time period compared to peers
  • Increase in earning potential and have greater success in the workplace

To start the activity, Julie had us all sit down at a long table. Half the participants were on one side and the balance of the participants on the other side, facing each other. The ground rules were that one participant of each pair would be the mentor for seven minutes. Then we’d rotate and have a different role. We were guided through the experiential activity to see what would occur.

Could we build rapport? 

What would we talk about? 

Would the conversation be genuine? 

Never fear, we didn’t ran out of things to say. Julie gave us a question for each round, timed the conversations, and debriefed us afterward. As a group we also crafted definitions of modeling, sponsoring and mentoring. To fully appreciate the value of mentoring, it’s important to understand these terms and what roles they can each play in the success of our careers.

DEFINITIONS

  • Sponsoring is someone senior promoting you “behind closed doors” or when you aren’t present.
  • Mentoring is when a relationship is built through trust and respect. There are regular interactions with specific goals or expectations. Both parties benefit.
  • Modeling is a person we “worship” or aspire to be from afar, there isn’t a personal connection.

As a headhunter, I often counsel people about their career choices. It’s not always as structured or consistent as formal mentoring, but most people (including my kids) will tell you, I do offer plenty of unsolicited advice. As a board member for Empowered Women International (http://ewint.org/), I also present a workshop to share ideas about promoting yourself, building a network, and identifying your marketplace. Most of the time I’m in the role of coach-sharing my insights, but through “Speed Mentoring”, I learned that you can gain as much from being the recipient of advice as you can by sharing your knowledge. The only caveat is, both parties have to be receptive to the relationship or it won’t work.

Read on if you aren’t yet convinced that finding a mentor or being a mentor could greatly influence your career success-plus you might enjoy it.

WHO NEEDS A MENTOR

Often as a recruiter, after twenty years, I don’t have many peers. I work from a home office since we gave up our bricks and mortar location. It can be isolating. Not that I lack interaction with people, but intellectually and professionally. All day long I share pieces of advice with candidates and clients. Sometimes though, I need to bounce ideas off a peer or someone with a different perspective from me. Even experienced people need to find mentors. While we have a lot of knowledge, there is a need to collaborate and share with peers. Or learn from experts in our field. Plus up & coming young professionals have new perspectives. This enables everyone to learn from each other. It’s not just young people or inexperienced people who need mentors, but all people in whatever stage they are in their career or life.

REVERSE MENTORING

The other interesting idea I learned about was “Reverse Mentoring”. It’s like 360 degree feedback in the workplace. Julie presented it as an opportunity to learn from junior people around us. Baby Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials, can all learn from each other. We are the first cohort to have three generations in the workplace because people are living longer, and also have to work longer because they lack enough funds to retire. There’s lots of experiential learning (aka on-the-job-training) that’s invaluable. Someone fresh from the university though, will know the most current methodologies and can share new approaches. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

So by teaching or mentoring others, we break down a task and can remind ourselves of forgotten skills. By working with people of all ages, we can share knowledge gained from experience and fresher approaches straight out of academia. Through mentorship we learn, we connect with others, and we all find ourselves richer for the experience.