Embracing impostor syndrome

You spend years yearning for that new job, promotion, or big project. But when it finally comes, you are overcome with that nagging suspicion that you just aren’t up to the task. You don’t have enough experience or training. You aren’t smart enough. You aren’t confident enough. Someone else should be in charge.

You are experiencing impostor syndrome.

As I build my coaching practice, one thing has become crystal clear: Basically all of us feel impostor syndrome in some aspects of our lives and careers. So if you’re feeling it now, first off, welcome to the club. You’re officially human.

When impostor syndrome comes up for a client, I often bring in a quote from David Bowie:

“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Being just out of your depth isn’t evidence that you’ve gone too far. It’s evidence that you are exactly where you want to be.

There are two key insights for me here.

First, if you want to continue growing, doubt and uncertainty are just part of the deal. You can’t grow into new capacities and perspectives unless you allow yourself to be in the void where new capacities and perspectives are needed. And it would be foolish to feel confident and assured in such contexts. Doubt and uncertainty are actually signs that you are fully present to the situation at hand.

But perhaps more than that, the world actually desperately needs more of us to step up even when we don’t have all the answers. Humanity is beset by so many urgent, complex, ambiguous challenges. They require us to experiment, stumble, and get back up again. No one has the answers yet. So some of us must risk venturing out into the depths, into the unknown.

If you are in the shallows where it’s safe and easy, consider venturing out a bit farther.

If you’re so far out that you are on the verge of drowning, let yourself return to relative safety and comfort.

But if you’re just out past where your toes can touch, if you’re in that space where doubt and uncertainty are creeping up within you, take solace. This is actually what growth feels like. This is what it feels like to truly grapple with and make a meaningful contribution to today’s urgent, complex, ambiguous challenges.

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