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The Disillusioned Self and the Imposter

You’re known to be kind and level-headed. Coworkers, friends and family all appreciate your kindness, and when times are stressful, your level-headedness can calm a wild horse. However, for some reason, within your own relationship, that kind level-headedness isn’t always there. You lose yourself. The foundation that everyone else sees in you seems missing to your partner. If you don’t have a handle on your own affairs at home, how are you to give advice to others?

Imposter Syndrome

There are a host of other scenarios that we all encounter that could call into question our level of expertise. Maybe we are far along in our career, but there are aspects that we haven’t fully mastered. Maybe we are a young psychiatrist diagnosing and giving treatment plans to patients who are on the verge of committing suicide. In some cases, we have credentials, background and experience, but still feel there are aspects to our knowledge or our overall state that are somehow lacking. While in other cases, perhaps we don’t have many credentials, just some belief in ourselves and our inherent understanding of the subject at hand.

There are ways to flush out our own “imposter-like” feelings. We can first identify what we need to not be considered an imposter. Is it more experience? Is it a particular type of experience? Are other factors like age at play? Is there someone we respect in the field that isn’t an imposter? What are their credentials?

If we can identify a baseline, at the least, we have a target. Then, from there, we can decide whether it is a reasonable target or not. If our ideal psychiatrist has 30 years of experience and we have two, we are going to feel like an imposter for the rest of our career. Is that reasonable? Maybe we should change our concept of a “proper psychiatrist.”

But what if we don’t have much real tangible experience? What if we don’t have the education? We simply seem to have a ‘knack’ for something; how could we possibly give sound advice or perform as an expert? How would we not feel like an imposter?

The Forest and the Trees

Imagine being deep in the Amazon jungle, miles and miles from civilization. If we aren’t keeping track of exactly where we are in reference to the forest as a whole, we can easily get lost. Yet it wouldn’t take a professional to help guide us if they could see where we were from a satellite feed. In that case, even a child could guide us with the right vantage point.

This is a key reason we shouldn’t be so focused on imposter-like feelings or disillusionment. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what our level of expertise is; anyone looking from the right vantage point can help someone else.

We can compare this to coaches and mentors. Would Mozart be anywhere as impactful if his musician father wasn’t there to help guide him? Was his father able to see the big picture that helped elevate Mozart? Several famous coaches weren’t the best in the sport either. Phil Jackson was a bench player for almost his entire professional career. Yet, he managed to become one of the best NBA coaches, if not the best of all time, with the best winning record and most championships. A coach’s “knack” could be simply finding the perfect vantage point.

Losing Ourselves

If it isn’t clear, the point is that sometimes someone providing excellent advice or services isn’t necessarily equally amazing in their own affairs. The financial manager may be great at handling multimillion-dollar budgets yet simultaneously personally in debt and living paycheck to paycheck. The IT person may be excellent at securing and managing the IT infrastructure for a huge company but is completely apathetic with respect to their home network. A friend that has great relationship advice but doesn’t have a good relationship.

Someone’s personal affairs may not always be a good representation of their abilities in those same subjects. We have to acknowledge the possibility that vantage point and perspective can be a major impact on our ability to perform.

The personal situations where we lose ourselves, where we don’t act in line with our abilities, can sometimes be attributed to being overly consumed with the details, unable to see the forest for the trees. No one is closer or more involved in our own details than ourselves. To work on ourselves, we may have to take a step back and imagine our situation as if it were someone else’s.

Feedback

Now we want to be sure that we are in fact sufficiently skilled to give the advice or provide the service we are providing. We can’t just assume that we have the right vantage point. We shouldn’t have the audacity to tell others what to do or how to do it if we aren’t getting any feedback.

If we’re like Phil Jackson coaching a team to win championships, then we have tangible metrics we can keep track of for feedback: win/loss ratio, championships, individual stat improvements and more.

Sometimes, however, there aren’t many tangible metrics. If we give advice to someone we will never see again, how will we know that advice is sound? How would we know if we need to improve? Imagine learning to shoot a basketball and having to close our eyes before it goes in. How would we know how to adjust? No matter what, we simply have to find ways to get feedback. If we give advice, ask that they let us know how things went. If we provide a service, persistently ask. Find a way to measure performance through some form of feedback.

The only other aspect to keep in mind with respect to getting feedback is that not all feedback is equally useful. For example, what’s more important for a coach: individual stat improvements or number of championships? Earning a championship alone is the equivalent of saying, “you did something right this season.” It doesn’t say what that something is. In this example, individual team member statistics would be much more useful.

Acknowledge the Truth

Finally, as always, there is also the possibility that we simply aren’t good, that we are a supposed “imposter.” Whenever we do anything for others, we must be cognizant of our own abilities and understand if our advice or service is not only desired but worthwhile and not detrimental. If there is that possibility, we should be aware enough to temper our responses and interactions and give caveats whenever it feels right.

However, that means we have an opportunity to work on it, to get better. Find those target baselines of what we believe are the proper traits to have, work on them and get to the next level. Some people call this “faking it till we make it,” but really, it isn’t faking it. No matter where we start or where we are, we aren’t ever “imposters.” If we are “faking” being a coach, we’re still a coach, just not a good one. You don’t have to pretend you are good at something; just be ok not being good and work on it until you are.

P.S.

Sometimes we ignore giving feedback because it takes our time or because we aren’t thinking about the fact that someone is using it to better themselves and ideally everyone else as well. Try to give feedback when you can; it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. The likes, the thumbs up or down,  a quick one or two words “awesome job” or “that sucked,” believe it or not, is priceless for those wanting to improve.

So, if anything resonated good, bad or indifferent, leave a comment and let me know.

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