It's best I begin with saying I'm not an expert in imposter syndrome. I don't have a degree in it or a piece of paper that means I would be qualified enough to write about it in any formal capacity. Who am I to talk about imposter syndrome? Pfft, imagine my audacity. I can however, talk about how sh*tty it can feel when Imposter Syndrome pays an unwanted visit. Most likely when you've taken a leap in your career (check). Also possibly when you're in a job you didn't have any sort of formal training for (check). Almost certainly when you got a job you feel like you blagged your way into getting (check). It's absolutely rubbish isn't it? It's just crap. It's like being in a constant state of panic and paranoia at the same time. Can my team smell my fear? Can they hear my crazy thoughts through my widened eyes? Do they know how underqualified I am to tell them what they should be doing? It had been my ambition to be a design manager for a long time and huzzah! After working as a junior, middleweight and senior design engineer for 12 years I felt REEEEEASONABLY comfortable to be bold and ask for a promotion to design manager. Mostly because I was going to be asked to do the job after someone left the company. Seems fair to bag the title and cash in, right? After less than a year of that, I crazily asked for a secondment to China. 'I'll transfer over as a design manager' I thought to myself. I remember the conversation I had with my boss who told me that they would be promoting me to associate director to ensure that I could be given a team there.
'WHAT?!!!' I remember saying 'I CAN'T DO THAT?!!! I DON’T know how to do that'
Whatever calming thing my boss said to me I can no longer remember, but given that I'm no longer on the phone to him still, it seemed to do the trick well enough. But that feeling never went away. I was so nervous when I got there. Everything was new, I was terrified to ask for help because only scared and underqualified people ask for help right? My fellow ex-pat colleagues that I knew were not very approachable and spent a lot of their time at another factory. I felt panicked and was merely following my lead from my boss, also another expat. I would have regular 1:1's with him where I felt comfortable to share how I was feeling and he said something to me that completely changed my mindset.
"Tracy….. Nobody really knows what they're doing" "What?! ………… Really?! You can't say that!' I replied.
He went on to explain people will roughly know the process of what to do but on a day to day, situation to situation, moment to moment basis…. Everyone is just trying to get by and make it work. Everyone feels the same panic and the lack of experience. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. To say I was taken aback was a bit of an understatement. These people that I had looked up to, who were my north stars when I needed guidance….. Were just making sh*t up on the spot??
I realised I had been placing a lot of power and expectations on that of my superiors, even if they were the same age as me.
I had an assumption that when you were a manager, director, leader, VP or whatever, then you could only be given that job if you had a specific set of skills and that you already knew how to do EVERYTHING that that position required. This is partly true. But in fact many people get jobs even though they don't have all the requirements. It is expected (not everywhere) that there will be some time for growth and learning. Leaders need to train others, but the best mindset is one which is always open to learn and that it's OK to not know everything. After that moment, I started to give myself some grace. I DID know the process and I DID know how to build relationships with people and I DID know what I had missed from my other bosses in my previous jobs. My review later in the year was 'She gets her head down and gets on with it. She knows what's she's doing'. Seems like it did the trick (even though I was surprised at that).
I'd love the ending of this story to be that this wisdom from my boss changed how I felt forever. It didn't. But it did help me survive the role I was in at the time.
After I left that role I went into another situation in which I had a massive learning curve and I had to learn the new lesson of what it felt like to work with people who were completely unmotivated. Imposter syndrome, the forever unwanted party guest, returned with gusto. To survive the situation I changed to be someone who I thought could handle it all better then myself as I was. Womp womp. A nasty burnout later, I know for sure this approach is not the way forward for me. It's still a problem for me, especially in my own business. Who gave me the right to mentor other women?! I mean, pfft. My AUDACITY. But what I need to hold on to is that I need to continue to be myself, not turn myself into the version of Tracy who I feel is best equipped to be a mentor.
I write as myself, I show up as myself. I sign up for courses to help fill gaps in my understanding, I know they will always be there. I commit to my growth and evolution in the new phase of my life. I know I don't know everything about my new home in Italy. I know I don't know everything about running a business I know I don’t know everything about being a balanced human But I'm learning. And that’s ok. Now p*ss off Imposter Syndrome, you have quite overstayed your welcome. ______________________________________________________________________________
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