Updated: Feb 27
Impostor syndrome is very trendy these days – having it; talking about it; overcoming it. Have you ever worried that people are thinking about you and wondering “OMG! How did they even get this job?” or “Ugh, my boss…a trained monkey would be better!” If so, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in good company. Maya Angelou once wrote, “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.'”
Giving into these feelings can cause anxiety, low self-confidence, fear, and depression (1). Once you know that even Maya Angelou, one of the greatest writers of our time, had self-doubt, the question becomes what do you do when that nagging voice creeps tells you you’re not good enough? Here are four ways to make sure your confidence and self-esteem stay in the driver’s seat.
1) Establish Realistic Expectations | We are often our own worst critic. We expect ourselves to perform in ways we don’t expect of others. If you wouldn’t ask your team or colleague to live up to this idea you have created in your head, stop asking it of yourself. Unless the job you have is superhero, being superhuman isn’t a job expectation – even if you work in a culture that promotes pushing yourself to exhaustion. Think about what’s actually realistic vs. what you could do if you had unlimited time and perfect execution.
If you just got a promotion, why would you know how to do everything? Even if you’ve been in a position for a while, I can guarantee that you received little training on how to be effective in that role, especially if you’re a supervisor. That means you have had to figure things out as you’ve gone along. You have probably nailed some aspects of the role, but other pieces are still a struggle. It’s easy to blame yourself, but a lack of training and/or support is a systemic failure, not a personal one.
Finally, let’s talk about the ever-increasing workload in education, especially for supervisors. Yes, there are certain times of the year that are busier than others, but we rarely stop to ask ourselves what is realistic. Educators are continually asked to do more with less. If they can’t afford to replace someone, that work gets distributed to everyone else. At a certain point, that’s not sustainable. Period. If you can never get caught up – unless you’re on Facebook all day – it’s not you. It’s the broken system. Stop blaming yourself and integrate the behaviors below into your life.
2) Focus on Your Strengths | Going back to expectations for a second, if you’re like most people you think you should be perfect – or at least above average – at everything. As a supervisor, you have so many additional roles that number skyrockets. The good news is you’re NOT good at everything. Stop trying to be good at every single thing and then feeling like crap when you don’t achieve the impossible.
Instead, discover and invest in your talents. Doing everything yourself is not the sign of a good supervisor. Stay in your Strengths Zone – spend your time focusing on the things you do best. Our culture values independence, but interdependence is more effective and efficient. Differences are an advantage. People need one another. Your job as a supervisor is to make sure things get done, not to do everything yourself.
Look at your colleagues, learn their talents, then form complementary partnerships with people who excel in the places you’re not so great at and vice versa. Honor your team member’s talents by delegating to their Strengths Zones. Productivity goes up for everyone when everyone focuses on their Strengths instead of struggling through the things they’re just not as naturally good at doing. Working in your Strengths Zone also increases your self-esteem as you better understand and use your talents more productively.
3) Embrace Mistakes | Again, you’re not perfect. Even if you stay in your Strengths Zone, you’re going to make a mistake. Here’s the good news, mistakes give you the opportunity to see where you are using your talents productively and where you need to grow. If you feel like you can’t make a mistake, you’re assuming things about other people’s expectations of you – expectations that may not be realistic or accurate. Worst case scenario, your assumptions are correct and you’re in a toxic environment (if that’s the case, start looking for a way out).
When you’re afraid of making a mistake: anxiety, fear, and low self-confidence increase. Plus, you make more work for yourself. Perfectionism and overthinking both stem from avoiding mistakes. This is exhausting and wastes your time and energy. Often, people who are afraid of mistakes also avoid delegating because they can’t control the results. Ironically, there’s no such thing as perfect, so whether you do it yourself or you delegate it to your team, it could always be different, could always be better.
Your idea of perfection is based on your talents and the filter they create for you. Other people see your work through their talents, and the filter those talents create for them, which means we all have a different interpretation of “perfection.” When we focus on what is right with us and what goes right with our tasks and our jobs, we make faster improvement. When we know mistakes are inevitable and begin thinking of them as an opportunity for growth, we change our mindset and decrease our fear.
4) Be Honest & Transparent | When you’re worried about not measuring up, you are more likely to avoid talking to others. Maybe, you don’t want people to know you are struggling or that you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, so you keep everything to yourself. Or you’re so desperate to prove that you’re doing a good job that you go the passive-aggressive route and fish for compliments. Neither are good strategies, but the latter is often way more irritating to the people around you and neither fix the problem.
Instead, a much better approach is to be vulnerable and transparent with your supervisor and team. Ask them how you’re doing, but don’t beat around the bush. Be direct and clear about what feedback you want. Be honest about where you feel you are struggling with and how you need their support. People respect honesty. Being vulnerable and open establishes trust in both directions. (Just ask Brene Brown.)
Being honest and vulnerable also sends the message, “I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect you to be either, but we’re in this together. That is more powerful than any of us alone.” This doesn’t mean throwing yourself on the mercy of the people around you and apologizing for your shortcomings. Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish and the learning curves or struggles you’re facing. Often, you’ll find that their expectations of you aren’t the same as the ones you’re putting on yourself.
Being overwhelmed does not mean you’re an impostor. You belong where you are. Your job now is to become more self-aware about how you’re performing within the frame of reality, instead of the ridiculous expectations you – and possibly others – have created. The kinder you are to yourself, the better you’ll be able to tackle the thinks you’re still learning and set yourself up for success down the line.