But while we all gasp in horror at the highly educated, former first lady actually worrying that she might not be good enough, we might as well look around the room at all the women we work with. For, in my experience, the majority of us have experienced exactly the same thing.
This week, I met another two ‘Michelles’. One a women about to retire at the top of her game. She has a network which makes your eyes water, she has experience which Harvard and London Business School would beg for, she has a sector knowledge which makes her a known expert; and, on top of that, she was a thoroughly lovely woman. You could only love her. The other is a global director, managing a function which impacts and supports thousands of people across the world. She is articulate, knowledgeable, a role-model leader who actively promotes women in her business. She is the boss we all wished for when we started our careers. They both are looking for the next step.
They both sat in our meetings and down-played their gifts. I also look at myself. Educated to Ph.D. level, a business owner, over 20 years’ experience of developing talent, a writer. Not bad. I too am trying to shape the next phase of my career.
I walk into a room of bright lawyers and wonder if they will want to listen to little old me. I talked to them of the value of their talent and they looked quite surprised. I talked to them about my lack of belief about being able to build Staying Sassy into something more than a blog and they looked quite surprised. In effect we were all asking the same question. ‘Can I really do it? Am I good enough?’
So why are we doubting? It is called imposter syndrome and it affects more women than men.
The typical features of this pesky psychological limitation are:
- Underestimation of own value and ability
- Worrying about being not quite good enough
- Thinking that you will be found out as not as good as people thought
- Worrying about other people being better and more able than you
- Setting ridiculously high standards and worrying that we cannot reach them
- Talking down our achievements.
There is evidence that women are more likely to feel imposter syndrome than men. Maybe. Or are we just more likely to talk about it and share it with our trusted friends. I have certainly coached many men who, when the guard is down, tell me they feel it just as keenly as their female colleagues. But the thought of expressing it is deeply uncomfortable.
So what do you do when evidence tells you that success is obvious and the little voice inside your head undermines your belief in that evidence?
- Speak up and speak out. This kind of worry has a way of developing its own momentum. Un-challenged, it begins to seek evidence of being right and quickly takes us into selective assessment of situations and only seeing that which feeds the negative monster. Talking to a trusted friend will usually have you facing a look of total surprise and wise words to help get a realistic assessment of your worth.
- Challenge yourself. Write a list of everything you have achieved and your strengths. Think about what other people would say about you if giving you praise. Keep this list on you and look at it regularly.
- List the areas in which you feel weakest and do something about them. Every person of excellence is consistently seeking to do better. Get the development, training or coaching you need to lower your concern and raise your confidence.
- Accept that you will not be good at absolutely everything. If you read Bill George on Authentic Leadership he states quite clearly that the very best leaders have a humility about the areas in which they are less comfortable. This makes you more comfortable and more approachable.
- Seek feedback. People who are worried often avoid the opinions of others. Reverse this. Feedback will open your eyes to your strengths and often illuminate perceptions of you of which you were unaware. This is always a boost.
- Coach another woman who you know is less confident then she could be. You will find that the wisdom you give her will seep into your brain. It certainly worked for me last week.
- Finally – write a list of your doubts. Set it on fire and say good bye. You have too much to do using your fabulous gifts and wasting time on imagined inadequacy.