Imposter Syndrome

January 14, 2020

It’s a funny thing, Imposter Syndrome. To say you have Imposter Syndrome means pointing out successes, which only exacerbates it, right?

I think the point is not that sufferers deny the success, but that they don’t feel they deserve any accolades. I suspect they thought they’d feel different by the time they’d achieved things, and because they don’t feel like they have their ducks in a row, because they don’t feel like they’ve figured out how to do life, they feel like a fake. They thought they would have eradicated that feeling of doubt about just about everything, and they haven’t.

I know from my own life that achieving things doesn’t mean I have a ‘clue’ about life. I know that I’m still trying to find my way, and that I look at other people and assume they have more of that clue about life.

When I get to speak at some event, I still compare myself to the other speakers and feel like they know what they’re doing more than I do.

When someone refers to me as an expert, I still feel very aware of the vast amount that I don’t know. Every day brings new challenges to show me I don’t have all the answers.

If someone thanks me for some help I’ve given them, I worry that it might not have been quite as good as it should’ve been.

Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing. It’s not about self-deprecation, or having a lack of self-worth, or denial of who we ‘really’ are. It’s simply that on the inside, we feel the same as we did before we’d achieved anything. Recipients of the MVP award consistently say that it’s “humbling”. We look at other recipients and see their strength, and assume that they have life figured out. We remember feeling like life would be easier afterwards, and then discovered that things were still hard. So we felt like we didn’t belong. Imposter Syndrome set in. And every time we get renewed we continue to feel the same, and that we’re not as good as all the other recipients. It’s humbling.

Imposter Syndrome is so commonplace that it’s the topic of this month’s T-SQL Tuesday (hosted by Jon Shaulis – thanks Jon!). Lots of people will be writing about various aspects of it. For me, as a consultant, I have to have enough confidence to lead my customers and my employees, and be sure that I can help them. Imposter Syndrome conflicts with what I have to do in my career. I don’t feel like I’m any more special than the next person, but I need to be able to walk into a customer’s office as an expert.

And so I’ve practised minimising the impact of Imposter Syndrome for a long time, and have learned what I think works for me.

The secret is that I’m not there for me. I’m there for you.

Life is about serving. I’m a consultant so I can help my customers do better.

I know there are ways I can help people. It might be as simple as listening to them talk things out. It might be offering an opinion if they want it. It might involve tuning their databases, or looking at the quality of their data, or demonstrating its business value, but however I’m able to help, if I focus on the needs of the customer and less on myself, then Imposter Syndrome has less power.

Someone else might be able to do a better job (and if I wasn’t actively fighting against it, this kind of thinking could really hold me back here), but I can still help a bit. I shouldn’t stop myself from helping just because someone else might do better. No matter who it is – be it an audience member at a conference, a customer, or whoever, I’ll try to think about the connection that I want to make with them, how I want to make them feel different, how I can help them do better. I’ll distract myself away from me.

I’m not thinking about me. I’m thinking about them.

Shifting the focus means that I don’t have to think about whether I’m an imposter or not. I can just get on with dealing with them.

I still get uncomfortable and feel humbled when someone refers to me as an expert or gives me an award. Because that’s when the focus has been put on me for a moment, and I to want be focused on someone else.

I don’t want Imposter Syndrome to stop me from helping someone else with what they need.

I don’t want it to stop you either.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jon Shaulis

    Rob, I would agree that those who suffer from imposter syndrome believe they don’t deserve any accolades.

    That’s an interesting take to phrase your thinking around how can you help your customer in the best way manageable. Even if you may not believe you’re the best, you focus on the value you can give to your customers and distract yourself away from imposter syndrome.

    As I read through your article, it reminded me of times when I’ve focused so hard on helping my customers I had forgotten about my own insecurities. I’ll definitely recommend this technique to other folks!

    1. Rob Farley

      I’m pleased you liked it. 🙂

  2. Mike

    Hi Rob, the timeliness of this post was incredible. Just finished talking to my wife about what I am dealing with, both professionally and at home, and I sat down to this article at the top of my feed. You were able to articulate it in a way that I couldn’t, and like many things, there is a sense of relief just being able to describe it clearly.

    Thank you.

    1. Rob Farley

      Hooray! I mean, I’m sorry you’re dealing with stuff, but I do hope that this is an opportunity to move in a positive direction, for your sake, for your family’s sake, and for the sake of all the people that you impact.

      Let me know if I can help in any way. I’m sure you know how to email me.

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