Do you live your life waiting to be caught out? Are you fearful of stepping up to the plate even about something you know you have innate expertise in, incase someone calls you on it? When someone congratulates you on a job well done, do you disbelieve them?
This month, our Word Carnival bloggers make sense of a puzzling problem faced by professionals and entrepreneurs alike, The Impostor Syndrome. Do You Feel Like a Fraud? You’re not alone.
The Impostor Phenomenon was first identified by two clinical psychologist’s, Drs Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 70’s after they interviewed 150 highly successful professional women. These women all reported feeling no sense of success despite professional recognition.
The three aspects that were common to both men and women suffering the syndrome were:
• Discomfort that other people felt you were better than you were
• Fearing people would catch you out
• Attributing success to other factors beyond your own efforts, talent or skills.
It persists and exists today in a disproportionate percentage of highly intelligent, functioning and successful people. Neither is it restricted to women as it was at first thought.
Innovator not impostor.
But it’s in the world of the entrepreneur, that I suggest it is exhibited as the Innovator Syndrome and has significant potential to mar success. Similar symptoms but a different cause.
We’re living through a digital revolution. In future generations, academics will write tomes about how this manifested in society at large but especially in the business world. For now as we navigate it, taking on board change at an unheralded pace, all we can do with such such a myopic view of it, is to conjecture.
Eighteen years ago a visionary headmistress asked for parent’s patience, explaining at our elder’s daughter’s end-of-year speech night that the jobs these girls were likely to do had yet to be invented.
It was a confronting idea, even though as an experienced graphic designer just a few years into the computerised version of my profession, I already knew that much of what I had been really skilled at (using a rotring pen, ruler, set square and cowgum) was already entirely redundant.
Today, I rarely meet anyone earning an income by virtue of their own endeavours who isn’t employed in an activity of something or other that would not have been invented when my daughter’s headmistress made that prophetic speech.
Even when that activity is based on an existing profession, they’re busy devising a unique ‘niched’ offering.
Niche heralds innovation
Indeed, it could be said that from the moment the word niche became a mandatory pre-requisite for the entrepreneur to succeed, the combination of human ingenuity and the digital revolution moved this demographic of business people into stratospheric innovation.
Apart from the fact that these good people of which I am one, have a living to earn, they’re also involved in rigorous research, learning, formulating, planning and then marketing their blended, extended, new, often complex offerings to the world.
It’s little wonder that they suffer a syndrome or two. They run a perpetual gauntlet. Friendlies first, then the market as they attempt to precis their entire life’s expertise through the filter of their niched offers.
Are they worried they might be caught out? Hell, yes. Often when they roll out this new offer, they’re only one or two steps ahead of the person they’re charging for the service. Does that make them a fraud? Definitely not. They have an encyclopaedia of knowledge as a platform for those two steps ahead.
Are they sometimes nervous to step up to the plate as the expert in the field. Of course. We become expert in our niche in increasingly short spaces of time.
Who was ever a clanmaker?
Who in the world was a ClanMaker until last year? Seth Godin owned tribes but even he, as remarkable an innovator as he is, might have been called on his ideas when he first started proselytising the importance of leading a tribe. Mainstream now but not always so.
So when you do an amazing job, even just ahead of either those you are serving or other’s entering your niche and everyone commends you for it, do you feel secure in that praise? Unlikely.
You’re most probably thinking what you need to do is to sharpen your offer, improve your presentation and the execution of it. After all, this is how you’re currently earning your living. No guarantee though that it’s how you’ll be earning your living a year from now.
The return of the Lizard
Where does the Impostor (Innovator’s) syndrome reside in our brains? I’m not a neuro-physicist, but would hazard a guess that all those questions fuelled by self doubt and uncertainty emanate from the Lizard. Our personal demoraliser (now there’s a niche from someone!).
We’ve been told that the voice in our head that questions the validity of everything we think and do comes from our prehensile brain to manipulate our safety. It doesn’t give a toss about the quality of our innovative ideas. It just wants to know we’ll be paid enough to keep our bodies housed, warm and fed.
Multiple Possibility Disorder
For the professionals for whom this syndrome was first described, this would greatly colour their feelings of job security.
For the entrepreneur though, it ties them irrevocably to the pursuit of the next better, brighter idea or worse muddies their life with multiple possibility disorder. It keeps them chained to the endless treadmill of idea to commercialisation without ever pushing through to remarkable achievements.
Blogging a panacea?
What can be done about this? This is going to sound very simplistic. But a sure fire solution to the impostor slash innovator syndrome is to blog.
Not just any old random blogging, but purpose-led posts that leave no room for argument that you know what you’re talking about. Directed, consistent and coherent blogging earns its author the space of thought and tribe leader in their niche.
When it is consistent, it convinces even the most active Lizard, that you do indeed know what you’re on about and is an excellent way to shut it up.
Outlined here are nine steps to take toward becoming a brilliant blogger:
1. Become laser sharp clear on your purpose for what you do. Everything you do online is filtered through that purpose. Mine is: Building a good community is good business.
2. Know what you are positioning online, yourself as expert, your business, your industry niche or your offer. This may change, but be aware of it, rather than just bolting a blog onto the back of your existing business.
3. Become a super sleuth online. Research who is looking for the problems you solve and based on that work out how you can serve them better.
4. Have a coherent plan for your content by mapping it out according to the framework of your offer (ie, 5 steps, 4 P’s, 7C’s etc.)
5. Structure your categories according to your research and the framework of your offer.
6. Control your online space. Own it, it’s a business asset.
7. Become a story teller. Everything you do, and know, and are, is a story. Your successes are a story. So are your failures. The people with who you work are stories as are your collaborators. The problems your clients have and the mistakes they make before they meet you are a story.
8. Make deep connections with people who you admire and could collaborate with. This takes time and is a different and much more rewarding activity to collecting multiple likes, links and followers online.
9. When you write, always try to leave your reader with at least one take-away that will help them move forward in their thinking, acting or doing.
Blogging rewards the innovator because it is the perfect vehicle from which to both inform your audience and serve them. When you are achieving both, you will build a clan. If your clan loves why you do what you do, you’re unlikely to disbelieve them when they advocate for you.
I rest my case. Brilliant blogging builds powerful clans which is a cure for both the Impostor and Innovators’ Syndromes.
For those in Melbourne, I will be speaking on the topic Brilliant Blogging, Powerful Communities on October 17th, 2013 at Glen Eira Council. Watch this space too for a series of 7 webinars with experts in the field.