As some of you may know, my wife is an organic chemist. In case you didn’t have to suffer through organic chemistry in college, it’s the class that makes aspiring doctors say, “I think I might just work in a vineyard instead.” Her doctoral thesis has the impressive distinction of somehow being written in English and yet completely incomprehensible to any native English speaker. I don’t exactly know what she does at work; she tried explaining it to me once, but my brain started to hurt and then I blacked out. I think she builds people. If I ever end up with a bionic arm or the ability to drill holes with my eyeballs, you’ll know where it came from.
The point is, she’s smart. And yet she, like you and me and everyone else, occasionally worries whether or not she’ll be able to handle the next challenge that comes along. I know she’ll do great, but she sometimes wonders, just like she knows I’ll do great even when I’m not certain about that for myself. Why can’t we steal each other’s confidence and walk around secure in the knowledge that we will master whatever crisis arises? I’m not entirely certain, but I’m working on it.
Anyway, I know you sometimes wonder if you’ll survive the next big thing. So here are three simple ways to slowly convince yourself that you do actually belong in whatever field you’ve chosen.
Focus on Your Strengths
People who feel like impostors tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about all the things they could be doing better, and almost no time at all thinking about the things they do very well. But let’s take that a step farther. If I focused exclusively on my failures, I think I would have quit living around the age of six. I had no job, no girlfriend, a shaky handle on how to form sentences, poor balance, terrible clothing, and I sometimes ran directly into walls. I still sometimes run into walls, and just this week I tripped while walking up the stairs at one of my presentations and almost face-planted in front of 400 people. I’m barely a functioning person. But I try not to dwell on those imperfections, and there’s no reason for you to do so either. An impartial analysis of your strengths and weaknesses will always, always come out in favor of your strengths. Make a list if you need to. I guarantee you’ll be surprised with how great you are.
Appreciate the True Nature of Flaws and Failures
I have a tendency to make bad financial investments. My brother has a tendency to take too long to make decisions. A good friend of mine is notoriously forgetful. My mother is nearly impossible to have an adult conversation with if there is a baby around. Yet amazingly, none of these deficiencies has actually prevented any of these people from being successful, productive, happy people. Nobody is perfect, including (and especially) the people you think of as better than you. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll find some weaknesses you had previously overlooked – and that, more importantly, don’t stand in the way of their success. And if they can achieve great things while flawed, guess what? You can too.
Recognize that Literally Everyone Else Is Faking It, Too
Almost half of the people currently campaigning to be the next President of the United States have absolutely no qualifications for the position. They haven’t held an elected office, and so they have no experience dealing with the problems that routinely face a government – but that isn’t stopping them from running or others from supporting them. In their case, the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” is their actual plan. And if people can do so at when aiming for the highest level there is, you can bet that plenty of people around you are doing the same thing. This is especially important if you feel guilty about being where you are because of some personal connection that got you there. It might be true that knowing somebody helped you get your job, but that won’t help you keep it. You are the reason you get to stay where you are, even if you may have been in over your head at the outset.
I hope this is helpful. It is a short life that we’re given, and too many of us spend too much of it thinking that we should be better than we are. You’re welcome to live that way if you want to – lots of people do. But I’m pretty sure you don’t want to. So what do you have to lose? Are you afraid that somebody’s going to tell you that you’re not really as good as you might dare to think you are?
And if that’s your fear, another question – when was the last time someone actually said anything like that to you?