December is usually the time that I look back (over the year and my life generally) and assess whether I’ve achieved what I set out to and whether I’m where I envisioned myself to be both personally and professionally. It’s the time when I reflect on whether any mismatches are as a result of a choice driven change in direction or simply that I’ve popped on cruise control and have taken my foot off the pedal.
Those who know me, and even those who don’t know me well but have maybe seen me in action or been in my company for a short while, will vouch for the fact that I am a highly motivated and driven person. I want everyone to succeed, am full of ideas and energy and just want to get it done. My DISC personality profile confirms this putting me as a high D, known as a driver, determined, a completer / finisher. You might expect therefore that I would be hitting all my goals and succeeding in everything I set my mind to.
Sadly, not quite. You see, there is another side to me. I am also, what Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet’ refers to as an introvert. Most everyone is shocked to learn this because I have learned to perform like an extrovert when I need to. My DISC profile backs this up though – rating me an almost equally high C (concerned with detail; perfection; control; preferring books to people and watching paint dry to networking). In the Events space however, an industry that is all about people, experiences and connections, it’s hard to really succeed if you don’t ‘play the same game’ as everyone else and so I created a persona that fitted. And it’s a persona that served me well, especially in a world of extroverts (or High I in DISC terms). It meant that I was loud enough to be heard when it mattered; determined and driven enough to get results; didn’t make decisions on a whim but based on researched facts – which means that there was gravitas to my recommendations and because I wasn’t competing for the limelight, I could happily ‘do my stuff’ in the background without having to ‘own it’.
Whilst this served me well for much of my career and it allowed me huge career advancements, my vision has always been larger than working for individual organisations. And, the more I have researched, studied and trained the stronger my passion has grown for being able to share my knowledge, tips and strategies with a much wider audience. To do this though, I can’t hide behind anyone else – to quote Jack Canfield, author and founder of the ‘Success Principles’ programme – ‘if its going to be, its up to me!’. Eeek.
Anyhow, forgive my digression, but I needed to give some context to my annual reflection in 2017. The year that led up to this past year and the year in which I discovered that I hadn’t taken one step that would take me closer towards my overall goals or vision. Not one step in the full 12 months. Now I need to point out that I hadn’t been sat on my backside doing nothing at all. I’d been planning; taking more courses; reading more books – all procrastinating activities that I excused by calling it ‘groundwork’.
So, back to my 2017 reflection. Being a high C, my reflections are always in-depth and grounded in research and the first thing I wanted to understand was why? When I want it so much; when I know deep down in my heart (and others keep telling me) that I’m really good at what I do; that I’m so passionate about helping people transform their lives that I’d do it for free if I could. And so, the first thing I did during that holiday period was hit the books and on-line personal development gurus. And what I found gave me really profound insights on the problems that were holding me back.
Imposter Syndrome – The Symptoms
Dr Valerie Young suggests that the type of procrastination I had fallen foul of is driven by what’s called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A syndrome that effects more introverts than extroverts and where, despite evidence to the contrary, certain people scupper themselves by believing deep down that they are not ‘enough’ (add in front of this word – clever; skilled; accomplished; connected ++). And as a result of this belief, they don’t take action but rather hide behind ‘the groundwork’.
Dr Young’s book ‘The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women; Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and how to Thrive in Spite of it’ confirmed my greatest fears. I had fallen foul to this terrible dis-ease. How do I know this? Mainly because I displayed pretty much all of the symptoms described by Dr Young.
- I had always worn ‘perfectionism’ as a badge of honour. My work all had to be mistake free and better than anyone was expecting (how is that even possible?)
- I’d always cherished the fact that my colleagues thought I was superwoman. I was always first in the office and last out and I was always determined to accomplish even the most seemingly impossible challenge/task (even at the expense of my personal life) – to prove my superwoman status
- I came from a place where I believed we are either born gifted or talented and that whilst hard work would help us get to the top we would never be on an equal footing with those with a ‘god given’ talent. (I of course didn’t have a discernible talent that I could put my finger on!)
- I had adopted my father’s belief that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help and hence my vulnerability has kept me from wanting to show any form of weakness and for asking anyone for any type of support.
- I have always compared myself to others in terms how many qualifications they have; how much experience do they have compared to me and how many clients they have. And of course, I always fell short in my head.
Scary though it was to identify so many elements of my persona that I had previously been proud to display but which were clearly harming me, I had finally found a name for them and knew that I wasn’t alone in the phenomena. I knew that these issues had to be addressed head on if I didn’t want to be destined to a life that I wasn’t born for with unfulfilled dreams, regrets and what ifs. And so, my ‘plan and goals’ for 2018 were formed. But where to start?
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
I was heartened to learn that I was not a completely lost cause. Dr Carol S Dweck suggests in her book ‘Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’ that many of my problems stem from having a fixed rather than a growth mindset. I’ll admit I was fairly down heartened when I read this (after all it means I’m not perfect right?), but actually, what I learned from reading about the experiments she has conducted with literally tens of thousands of people (young and old) is that we all have different mind sets based on different situations and, that it is possible to change our mindset – through managing our thoughts, which in turn direct our emotions and from there our actions. But how do we do this?
My mind went back to my MBA where the concept of Emotional Intelligence and the works of Daniel Goleman were introduced to us. Back then, it was a fairly new phenomenon that businesses weren’t taking overly seriously. Now, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is one of the key qualities that organisations look for in their senior leadership teams. My sense of self-worth (or lack of) was clearly the trigger for my actions (or in this case inactions) and with emotional intelligence being the guiding factor in a person’s ability to be aware of, control and express their emotions judiciously it made sense to explore this further. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed and Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves step by step programme “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” was instrumental in guiding me through exercises to test my EQ and then act on the suggestions on how to improve my emotional intelligence.
I knew, from my NLP training, that much of my procrastination came from my inner talk – which in turn came from my subconscious beliefs and programming. I knew that for this I would need to dig a lot deeper to uncover these unconscious self-sabotaging beliefs. It’s been proven that when we read or learn something with the intention of using it to teach others we are more likely to embrace the learning at a more fundamental level and hence rather than just read another book or blog I signed up for the Jack Canfield Success Principles Train The Trainer programme which addresses much of the areas that I had been struggling with up until that point.
And the final part of the puzzle was to sign up with a coach. Almost all the research I read suggested that an accountability partner, ideally someone who was trained to spot patterns in actions, sayings and hence beliefs would be vital to help me identify areas that perhaps sat in my blind spot.
Specific Actions to Remove Imposter Syndrome
So, what did I do, that you can perhaps try yourself if you also find yourself with Imposter Syndrome symptoms? Well, it isn’t just one thing and, I need to make it clear that there is no quick fix, but regularly reviewing the below and meeting fortnightly with a coach – even for just 6 months, can make a world of difference.
- No matter how busy I was – I always kept my appointment with my coach. Honestly this was the lynchpin for me and why I have listed this action first. She gave me a safe space to really explore my actions, thoughts and emotions; she helped me identify my patterns; she held my hand as we planned strategies to address challenging situations; she never scolded me but did hold me accountable. Having a coach is INVALUABLE!
- I set myself new boundaries that delineated work time from me time. This forced me to do 2 things.
- Assess more thoughtfully which areas of work were value creating and therefore needed my time and energy and which areas I had to delegate or turn down
- Set myself a realistic deadline for completing a task/piece of work and allow myself 1 ‘draft’ take. This meant that I was extremely focussed during the allocated time (email alerts and phone off) and I allowed myself time to make any adjustments to my draft – but after that the work was complete and I had to move on. Sure, it may still not be 100% perfect – but that’s OK for me. I’ll learn for next time
- Completing a ‘victory log’ was illuminating and really changed how I feel about my worth. We take so many achievements for granted that we often don’t celebrate just how successful we really are. My victory log contains everything from being able to drive a car to being able to play the guitar, to gaining my MBA to running my own business. Yes, others may also be able to do these things – but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that I had to learn how to do them and have succeeded in this. My victory log started with 100 things (and I forced myself to come up with 100 things) and I now challenge myself to add another 20 things each year!
- Embrace the phrase – ‘just lean into it’. To grow we have to step outside our comfort zone and if the step is too big, the chances are we wont even make a start. I’ve learned (and been supported by my coach) just to take each small step at a time and then the next and then the next. And, by the time I looked back I realised I’d achieved things I would never have imaged possible.
- Try new things. I have started saying yes to pretty much anything (time permitting – see note 2) even where I may not feel qualified. I say yes and work out how to do it afterwards. This forces me to ask for help and advice; has opened up so many more opportunities and has increased my self confidence
- Challenge any subconscious beliefs that come up. I had a number of beliefs that I wasn’t even aware of – around money; the fact that work had to be ‘hard’; people can’t be trusted. I could continue. Although I needed my coach at first to help me identify these, if you listen to the language you use regularly you will start to spot regular sayings. Things like ‘money is the root of all evil’ suggesting that it isn’t a good thing to have lots of money and those who are must be evil. Ridiculous – money is neutral. Sure, give it to an evil person and it might be used for evil but give it to a good person and it can (and often is) used for amazing things. I found it really helpful to keep a journal of regular sayings and to regularly challenge them until my inner voice – just stopped saying them!
Coming out of the other side of Imposter Syndrome
And so, this year when I reflect back, I see a year full of accomplishments and achievements. A year where my academic and teaching credentials have literally gone through the roof and where I am equally comfortable teaching a small group of 20 or a full lecture theatre of 300 + students. I have expanded my network by reaching out to be people and asking to connect – even where our paths may not have crossed before. And I have done this without fear of rejection. I have had the opportunity to demonstrate that my skills are all transferable across industries by working with a range of Blue Chip organisations across industries that I previously would not have felt confident to support. I am an official mentor within the industry that I love and am now active in the community in which I live.
However, I’m probably not quite there yet. Much of the above success has come from leaning into opportunities as they have presented themselves. If I’m honest, I haven’t truly ‘put myself out there’. It’s not that I don’t have a message or that the message doesn’t pack a punch when I’m encouraged to share it – but there is something still holding me back from publishing this. And that, is where I start my planning for my 2019 goals!
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