I write this on the day after Martin Luther King Day. Yesterday, upon reflecting on his life, I got to wondering what it must have been like for him to be thrust into the spotlight. At the time of his leading the Montgomery bus boycotts, he was a mere 26 years of age. From there the rest was history. But at that moment, when he decided to be vocal and get involved in the Civil Rights Movement, I wonder if he ever had a thought that he was in over his head and not the right person to lead the cause. Did he have what is known as “imposter syndrome?”
For those of you not familiar with the term, imposter syndrome basically means that you feel like you are inadequate for doing something despite having a record of being successful in the past. Many people experience this when they are either hired into a new job and they do not have a lot of experience doing it or are promoted into a job that has them doing much more than they had ever done before, such as when a person is promoted into a leadership role, when they had always been a team member before.
Needless to say, feeling like an imposter isn’t a pleasant thing to experience; however, having this feeling can definitely have its advantages.
Why? Because the people who go into a new role overconfident, are usually the least prepared and the most ill-equipped when they face challenges they weren’t ready for. Many times, they don’t listen to others. And as soon as they hit a snag in implementing, they bail. This isn’t always true, but I’ve seen it happen enough times in my life to say that there’s at least a 50% chance it will turn out this way.
Compare this to the person who either doesn’t have much confidence or is simply being realistic about their capabilities. These are the people who do their best to be prepared. They spend time thinking things through, they ask questions, they listen to advice, and don’t give up immediately because they don’t want to prove that they are, in fact, an imposter.
The only caveat to this is that if you are suffering imposter syndrome, you don't let your fear drive your decisions or prevent you from making any decisions at all. In the end, we have to have enough belief in ourselves to carry through with our plans and make quick, but sound, decisions. You also need to allow yourself to make a mistake. In almost all cases, one mistake will not kill your career.
So, if you go into your new job or promotion and think to yourself, “Why the heck did they pick me?” Don’t despair. Don’t lose faith in yourself. Realize that you were chosen for a reason and now is the time to prove them right! You might feel like an imposter now, but in due time, you’ll know that what you feel right now is not who you are.