By Ray Marden, CBET, CHTM
You’ve taken initiative and grown a step in your career. Now you find yourself with increased responsibilities. Nicely done! This is your time to celebrate, refocus and adjust to your new role. It’s time for new growth not time to start flooding your mind with self-limiting doubt. Un-checked feelings of unworthiness and thoughts of doubt can grow into what is commonly known as imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome at its worst can wreak havoc on your body, mind and career. It often prevents qualified people from applying for jobs or taking promotions. It also haunts many people who excel in their jobs every day, robbing them of the joys and rewards of their success. They live their lives feeling like a fraud.
Many successful people suffer from this self-introduced thought parasite. Maya Angelou. Tom Hanks. Serena Williams. Howard Shultz. It can get to anyone.
If it’s allowed to grow.
Some level of anxiety is normal when stepping into new roles, so how can you tell if it’s normal or becoming something limiting? Imposter syndrome is dependent almost entirely on your attitude toward yourself. Do you feel like you can’t ask for help because it would expose you? Do you feel like you need to read the most books or take the most workshops to prove something to yourself or others? Do you have a lower tolerance for failure in yourself than others? Do you find yourself overworking to feel worthy of your position?
Any “Yes” answers are indicators that you’ve forgotten how amazing you are and that your expectations of yourself may be temporarily distorted. You will never need to be perfect to be good at something. You will never need to know everything to be the right person for the job. No one is perfect, and in HTM it’s especially true that no one knows everything. No one should ever expect you to.
Once clear of the illusion of perfectionism, you can look at some positive ways to silence the voice telling you that you’re a fraud.
Be impeccable with your word. That means try not to say anything that could be detrimental to yourself or others. Or simply, be honest. It is easy to be relaxed when you always tell the truth. If you over commit or over promise you will wake up those insecurities and they will have a valid point. Only step up once you truly know yourself and your capabilities. You may know when to commit to a project or promotion just because it feels right. If you’re truthful in your doing and your saying, you can trust your gut.
In turn the people you’re working with will sense your grounded and accurate self-awareness and begin reflecting trust and respect back to you. Then, you’ll find those around you to be quite helpful should you find yourself stretched to your capacity. Hopefully you’ll find that the voice is quieter already. It knows it doesn’t belong and it’s hard to hear criticism while receiving well-earned respect from colleagues.
Helpfulness is another powerful tool for clearing out negative self-thought. To harness that power, consider using your professional talents with the simple goal of helping others and letting it feel good. It’s an amazing way to highlight your skills, you’ll receive validating feedback, and build trusting relationships. Still feel like a fraud? There are tough cases. Some people feel a disproportionate amount of doubt and shame. It’s OK. There’s one more tool. A superpower really. Kindness.
Good news! You can kill imposter syndrome once and for all with many tiny doses of kindness. My guess is that since you’re an HTM professional, you’re already kind to your customers, colleagues and patients. Give yourself credit, you are kind. Now imagine the fraud voice in your head speaking out loud to a co-worker in the shop. That wouldn’t be pretty for anyone. If you won’t let it out of your mouth, why let it in the shop? Even if it is just in your head? Why not be at least as kind to yourself as you are to everyone else? This might feel like a full-time job for a while. You won’t be perfect at it. Please keep trying because you don’t deserve to be haunted all day by doubt. No one does. There are many resources out there to help you improve your internal dialogue, I’m just here to remind you to look at your resume! Remember on decision day you were the right candidate. That means something. Managers picked you from many applicants and, if you still have your job, must still believe in you. Let that mean something to you. They may see something in you that you don’t even know about yourself yet.
You can also look around and ask yourself, “if not me … then who?” With so many retiring in the HTM workforce, many people are finding themselves stepping into roles that stretch them. Look for others in similar situations and share your challenges. Be honest in your new role about where you feel weak and make a plan to strengthen those vulnerabilities by taking a course or getting a mentor. It’s time to drop the “I’m not worthy” bit. It won’t increase the quality of anything.
If you were an actual fraud you probably wouldn’t be encumbered by the conscience necessary to create imposter syndrome. Even your doubt is rooted in your goodness. Namely, the desire to do good work. Honor yourself for that. Especially if you’re one of the brave ones stepping up despite struggling against severe self-limitation.
Whenever you find yourself doubting, remember that you were selected and that it’s OK to ask for help. Remember that no one is perfect. Be honest with yourself and others. Use your talents to help others and try to be as kind to yourself as you can stand!
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