The Imposter Crisis is Coming, Are You Ready?

Woman takes off mask, feeling like an imposter

All the signs are pointing toward an impending imposter crisis. In light of today’s political climate and the social media activity of celebrities, you might think you know what I’m getting at. But I’m talking about a different imposter crisis. Let me start with a personal story.

Years ago, a friend of mine organized murder mystery dinner theatre for birthdays and other events. I helped with a few, including a party celebrating a newly appointed bank president. I was supposed to assume the role of his brother. This was a bit of a challenge since I didn’t know the bank president personally and the only background I had was his résumé biography.

After performing a scene, I was confronted by a couple of bank employees who started quizzing me on details about where my “brother” and I had grown up. It was all in good fun, but I became defensive when I couldn’t keep up the act. Not wanting my cover to be blown, I desperately clung to my story and my behavior made it obvious I was agitated by their accusations. I felt embarrassed and was uncertain of what to do at this point. I finished the evening, but it was difficult to stay in character or enjoy the event at all.

Even if you’ve never performed as an actor, you probably relate to this situation. Every day, we are asked to take on a variety of roles. You may be…

  • a spouse
  • a parent
  • a child
  • a friend
  • a coworker
  • a report
  • a leader
  • a driver
  • a shopper
  • a producer
  • a consumer
  • a counselor
  • a person in need

You could be all of these in the span of a single day. Some of these roles may be natural for you. Others may feel like a stretch. Roles related to your job can continuously slide up and down your spectrum of confidence.

Many times, you may feel like I did in the murder mystery dinner.  A feeling you’re pretending to be someone you’re not with a constant expectation someone will rat you out to the world. This feeling doesn’t mean you’re unprofessional or inadequate. It means you’re human.

In fact, this is so common, there is a term for it: Imposter Syndrome. This form of self-doubt doesn’t appear to be exclusive to a particular gender, race or personality type. We feel like a fraud often when we are trying to do something that’s new to us. Here’s the thing: doing something new is no longer an option, it’s a requirement. The pace of change is ever increasing. With those changes, we are each asked more and more often to learn something new–or even transform ourselves. The graph below is adapted from Geoffrey Moore’s book Dealing with Darwin:

Life Cycle Change Curve

The chart illustrates how businesses, products and technology have to innovate and change in order to move forward or improve performance. But, what if instead of viewing this from the lens of a business or product, you view it as your career? For most of us, this is the new reality and it comes with the additional requirement of learning new things on a regular basis.

What does this mean? It means it’s possible you could continually feel like an imposter. By the time you get through one learning curve, a new one begins. The persistence of this issue could manifest itself in some very real problems for individuals and workplaces.1

  1. To keep up appearances, you work harder (but not necessarily smarter), which leads to burnout.
  2. Self-doubt causes you to give answers you feel your supervisors want.
  3. You use charm to compensate for feeling inadequate. When praised, you feel you received acknowledgment because of charm instead of merit.
  4. You avoid displays of confidence in yourself.

What Can You Do to Avoid the Imposter Crisis?

All of these issues can be devastating to your productivity, innovation, creativity and your ability to collaborate effectively with others. Left unchecked, this can seriously impede your career and prevent you from achieving your goals in life. So, what can you do about it? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Acknowledge the Feelings

    Recognizing when you’re feeling self-doubt can give you more power over those feelings. Lack of awareness allows self-doubt to manipulate your actions (or inaction) without your knowledge. It’s like a sneaky, little gremlin sabotaging your life from the shadows. Shed some light on him and you take away his power.

    Also realize you’re not alone in feeling this way. Others, even those you may feel are judging you, struggle with the same doubts and uncertainty. They likely think much more about their own inadequacies than yours. A former first lady put it best.

    You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.
    Eleanor Roosevelt

  2. Get Perspective

    In his Inc.com article on How to Overcome Your Fear of Being a Fraud, Chris Desi encourages you to seek a mentor. This should be someone who can empathize with your feelings, share how they deal with self-doubt and encourage you to overcome your fear. Desi also recommends reviewing your past accomplishments. If you received public awards, you can even ask yourself if the judges would have acknowledged you if you didn’t deserve it.

    If you’re still wondering if you’re over your head, take a moment to check your comfort level. In his advice on setting goals, Michael Hyatt gives a great description of 3 different zones of comfort on the “This is Your Life” Podcast. If you feel like you’re in your Comfort Zone, then maybe your goals aren’t not pushing you enough. You should strive to be in the Discomfort Zone. This the place where growth happens because–as we mentioned above–you’re learning something new. But don’t deceive yourself into trying something impossible and ending up in the Delusion Zone.

  3. Be Courageous

While in basic training, Dan Sullivan learned the difference between fear, courage and confidence from an Army Sergeant.

He said, “Fear is wetting your pants. And courage is doing what you’re supposed to do with wet pants.”

Sullivan goes on to explain…

Courage is often depicted as a person feeling absolutely certain about taking action in a situation. That’s not courage — that’s confidence. The difference between courage and confidence is that confidence feels good; courage is doing what you’re supposed to do despite the discomfort and the lack of confidence.

OK, so you’re not running military drills with live hand grenades, but the fear of being seen as an imposter is just as real. It taps into the primitive part of your brain that avoids danger (sensed or real) in order to survive. This is when you need to realize, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, fear doesn’t have your permission to drive the car. You can’t avoid him, but you can put him in the back seat.

Like I mentioned earlier, when I the bank employees confronted me about being an imposter I let it ruin my day. Don’t let imposter syndrome ruin your day, or worse, your career. With the oncoming imposter crisis, be aware when it creeps in on you, keep your perspective and stock up on courage to do what you’re supposed to (even with wet pants).

 


 

How to Balance Creativity and Productivity

Creating something seems synonymous to producing something. Yet, the terms creativity and productivity can be very different concepts. If I describe someone as “creative” you probably imagine an artist or a person who generates clever ideas. When I mention a “productive” person, you likely think of someone very different. Perhaps an assembly line worker cranking out widgets, or a paper pusher who can empty their inbox at lightning speed.

The truth is you need to be both of these people. You need to be productive so you can meet deadlines and help your business be profitable. Meanwhile, you also need to be creative in order to generate new ideas, come up with better ways to do your work or find innovative solutions when things don’t go as planned. In the middle of the daily grind, you probably don’t think much about bringing the proper mix of creativity and productivity to your work.

But what is the proper mix of creativity and productivity? Here are 3 signs they are out of balance and how to balance your creativity and productivity.

Creativity-and-Productivity

  1. Too Much Play: Resistance pushes you to the next idea.

    An idea energizes and motivates you. You organize and rally behind it until you start to feel resistance. Energy wains as you realize the challenges of executing your idea. Eventually, you are lured away by another (newer, shinier) idea and the cycle starts over. Constantly chasing new ideas never allows the previous ones to mature.

    In her book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman describes this syndrome:

    Idea Guys are fountains of creativity, and their minds race with non-stop ideas. They may think they’re sparking innovation, but they cause whiplash as people scurry to keep up with each new idea, making minor progress in many directions.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “play” quadrant:

    • You never document processes for your activities because they change so often.
    • You are stretched in many directions, but don’t seem to complete many tasks.
    • You spend a heavy amount of time planning and brainstorming, but lose interest when it’s time to execute.

    How to restore balance:

    • Put new ideas in a “parking lot.” Write them on a dry erase board or add them to a list on your computer. Revisit them after the initial euphoria has worn off to see if they still have merit.
    • Start with the end in mind. Use the initial energy at the beginning of a project to set up milestones. Envision what success will look like and predict how completing the effort will make new opportunities available. This will help you push through the valleys of the project.
    • Use new ideas as motivators to finish your current work. There is an opportunity cost to saying “yes” to new ideas because they can take away from what you’re currently working on. Don’t allow yourself to start working on a new idea until you complete something comparable.
  2. Too Much Routine: Each day looks like the one before.

    You’re so busy executing, you don’t have time to question why you’re doing what you’re doing, let alone if there could be a better way to do it. Established ideas are not challenged and new ideas are not offered up. Because of this, each day seems like you just go through the motions. You stack ’em up, knock ’em down, then stack ’em up again.

    Signs you are too heavily in the “Routine” quadrant:

    • “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” is a common refrain. New team members or business partners are the only ones who offer ideas, and even that is temporary.
    • You’re losing market share to competitors who are more innovative. You keep old-fashioned customers only because of their sense of comfort and loyalty (until it gets too painful for even them).
    • Roles never seem to change. If you have a team, there’s no sign of advancement opportunities.

    How to restore balance:

    • Have more patience with alternatives offered by others. Allow ideas to incubate before shooting them down. (See 10 Signs You’re Shooting Down Good Ideas)
    • Be willing to test new ideas. If you’re scared to put a huge investment into a new product or service, see what you can do to float a trial balloon. Can you create a prototype or beta test with a select group?
    • Shake up routines. Ask team members if they want to do something different or try on a new role. Visit a museum or attend a conference. Visit the bookstore and select a few magazines from other industries, then identify trends and see if you can apply some of them to your business.
  3. Welcome to the morgue: Stagnation

    This is the most dangerous quadrant. You’re not creative and you’re not productive. You’ve practically flatlined. This can happen because of burnout or setbacks, but basically what you’ve been doing no longer works and you’ve now lost all motivation to try anything new.

    Signs you’re in stagnation.

    • It smells like entropy. Without any energy being injected into your business, things have trended toward chaos. Things aren’t well organized nor are they updated. Maintenance is slipping, perhaps non-existent, and appearances have not been kept up. (see The Smell of Entropy for an example)
    • It sounds like apathy. Common phrases are “Who cares?”, “It’s not worth the effort.” or “Nothing’s going to change anyway.”
    • It feels like death. You’ve gone through the stages 1) Denial and Isolation, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. Now all that’s left is to wait for the bank to put the last nail in the coffin.

    How to restore balance:

    In his book, Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Henry Cloud talks about how to reverse the death spiral of a leader. His points give a good framework for escaping stagnation

    • Create connections. Schedule times to bring your team together and let everyone discuss the current situation and even share some potential solutions. Emphasize a positive tone, but encourage honesty. Share in victories and difficulties.
    • Regain control. Dr. Cloud recommends making a list of things you can’t control that are making business difficult. Spend 5-10 minutes REALLY worrying about them (don’t be in denial). Then stop worrying about them. Make another list of what you can control which can create positive results. Prioritize this list and plan these activities as your primary focus.
    • Take note of the 3 P’s. Realize it’s not Personal (you are not a failure). It’s not Pervasive (not everything is going wrong). It’s not Permanent (don’t lose hope). Dr. Cloud recommends journaling the negative thoughts around the 3 P’s and writing counterarguments to each.
    • Add structure and accountability. Break your workday down into small increments (e.g. 30 minutes each), and specifically plan what to do in that time. “[Writing down objectives] for each thirty minutes of the day helps identify and isolate activities that are particularly endangered due to inaction.”
    • Take the Right Kind of Action with the Right Kind of Accountability. Take action that SPECIFICALLY drives results. Dr. Cloud further states, “The accountability you want is the kind that drives success, not the kind that only measures results and keeps score.” and “Said another way, don’t count the score. Count the behaviors that run up the score.”

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how creativity and productivity differ. By taking stock of where you are in the grid above, then restoring the balance of creativity and productivity in your business and/or team, you’ll likely discover these two words come together to create a state of flow. This is where creativity and productivity work together, building upon each other in a powerful way. When you’re in a state of flow, ideas help drive activities to completion while measurable progress promotes innovation and inspiration.

StateOfFlow

We need both creativity and productivity to accomplish meaningful work on a consistent basis. Finding this balance may be the difference in discovering your success.

If you have thoughts on creativity and productivity, feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me about it.

How Emotional Posture Stunts Growth

vulnerability is not weakness

original image by samplediz at FreeImages.com (http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1224442)

“I’ll never let that happen again.”

Amidst all of life’s slings and arrows, we learn to put up our shields to protect ourselves. We do this to get through situations when we feel attacked, but if we leave our shields up we close ourselves off. We galvanize ourselves in a way that prevents us from learning, changing and growing.

We trust someone and they hurt us, so we no longer trust as easily.
We try something new and it backfires, so we go back to our comfort zone.
We share our art with others and get negative feedback, so we keep it to ourselves next time.

Our brains naturally try and avoid pain in order to protect our existence. Self-preservation is essential in life or death scenarios. But we’re people, not jam. We don’t need to be preserved indefinitely. In order to experience what it means to be human, we have to take emotional and mental risks, even when it means inevitably experiencing pain.

If we let it, our emotional posture will stunt our growth.

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

– Dr. Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability is not one of weakness, but of strength (here are some videos of her explaining this). I find it helpful to think about vulnerability as a posture. If you are too protective, you could be closed off to the world around you.

If you are in a closed posture, you…

  • … keep your head down
  • … watch closely where you walk
  • … hold your arms in to protect your heart
  • … are sure to not make contact with anyone or anything
  • … ultimately make yourself smaller

If you are in an open posture, you…

  • … hold your head high
  • … see farther and can notice more opportunities
  • … are more free to use your arms and hands in helping others
  • … are able to connect more easily with others and build rewarding relationships
  • … are able to grow

It can be scary to walk through each day with an open posture (especially after getting sucker punched). But if we decide our solution to life’s hard lessons is to “never do that again,” we may miss incredible opportunities to see something beautiful born out of our willingness to be vulnerable.

As you go through your day, check your posture and ask yourself if you’re being open or closed.

God from the Machine

JR-Ewing-Jeannie

Many of us remember when the TV show Dallas turned an entire season into “just a dream” in order to bring back a character who had been killed off. Viewers were furious with what they deemed a copout. The solution was much too convenient and it came out of the blue.

This is a prime example of what the industry calls a deus ex machina.

A deus ex machina is something inserted into a story which provides a contrived solution. In Latin, the phrase means literally “a god from the machine.” We may show frustration with Pam waking up or Tolkien’s eagles, but truth be told, we want our own god from the machine.

We want the pill that allows us to lose weight without changing our eating or exercise habits. We want that windfall of money from the lottery to solve our debt problems. We want our relationship issues to disappear as the other person realizes they were wrong all along. Basically, we want to wake up in the morning and realize all our problems are now as insignificant as a bad dream that rinses out of our lives in the morning shower.

Wishing for your own deus ex machina does little good. Your time can be better spent honing your craft, growing your following, rolling a snowball downhill and building momentum. As you do this, you learn how to make bold – but smart – decisions. This is where you can take the leap you’ve been preparing for your entire life (and the leap after that).

And maybe that’s it. Maybe it is a bit of god from the machine. Only, in this case, the machine is your life.

The Secret to Getting There

GroundhogDay

This fabulous gif image is from Chris Piascik: http://chrispiascik.com/2011/02/groundhog-day/

 

There can be an exciting place to think about.

It is where we want to go. We dream of it. We imagine ourselves somehow looking better – stronger, more secure, more confident, admirable, accomplished, popular, envied, relaxed, unburdened, successful – all because we have arrived there.

We paint a picture through goals and visions. We commit ourselves to getting there.

But so many times, we never arrive. We don’t even seem to make it to halfway there. We tend to stay here. And that is the secret to getting there.

We have to let go of here.

As long as we hold onto our here, it will always feel safer than going there. Once we let go, then there seems safer than the limbo we have created. But it is scary to let go of the trapeze. To trust our momentum to carry us through the vacuous space from here to there.

Maybe that is why resolutions are so hard to keep. We resolve to get somewhere different in the new year, but we hold onto the place where we are comfortable.

So, maybe you have a there, where you want to be in 2015. Are you willing to let go of 2014 in order to get there?

Swing yourself with confidence. Build your momentum. Generate velocity in the right direction. But if you never let go, don’t be surprised by the strikingly familiar surroundings.

How to Find Significance in Your Work

bite-sized-elephantCrossing numerous small hills doesn’t make you a mountain climber.

Dousing millions of lit matches one at a time won’t qualify you as a fire fighter.

Running a quarter mile every day for four months won’t make you a marathon runner.

The tedium of small accomplishments can lead you to become apathetic about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to take on the bigger challenge, you may find greater significance in your work. Each step gets you closer to the top of the mountain or closer to an important finish line. The thrill of knowing you can do something significant can inspire you to keep going.

They say the key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time. Unfortunately, we often look for bite-sized elephants instead.

That’s fine. Just don’t complain about the portion size once you choose it.

Does Seth Godin Get It?

After reading Seth Godin’s latest book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), a friend and I talked about it. She questioned why there is such a disconnect between how most people live their lives and the possibilities Seth talked about in his book.

It was a really smart question, and it begs another.

Does Seth Godin get it?

The reality we experience tells us otherwise. In our reality…

  • The tallest blade of grass gets cut. So fly under the radar by keeping your head down.
  • Generosity doesn’t scale. You gotta get your own in this world.
  • Art doesn’t pay. Get a real job with guarantees and certainty.
  • Picking yourself is a fool’s errand. Your energy is better spent getting the attention of the powers-that-be and persuading them of your worthiness.
  • If you don’t know if it will work… don’t do it. It has to work or it isn’t worth the investment.

Seth’s book (as well as his long-lasting blog) tells us otherwise. His possibilities tell us…

  • You owe it to the world to pick up the microphone and say something meaningful.
  • It’s your turn to give a gift. Just because you can.
  • If you are open to uncertainty, you can be a pathfinder for the rest of us. There is art in that.
  • You have to TAKE your turn, because it’s rarely given to you.
  • This might not work, and that’s OK. Dance in the duality of work/not work. Don’t run away from the fear, but don’t ignore it either. The ability to live in that tension and discover what you can do in the midst of that… that is artistry.

Godin is definitely seeing something else. The world he paints isn’t the one most people see when they walk into their slate gray cubicle on Monday at 7:59 AM. It’s not the one we see in the eyes of the department store clerk… partly because he won’t make eye contact with us to begin with. This isn’t the reality presented to us by television, human resources, our colleagues at the water cooler or by bureaucracy.

So, does Seth Godin get it? If so, why is this so hard for us to see?