An Interesting Twist on the Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

I’ve been doing quite an immersion in Martha Beck programs this week.

I’m listening to What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? Creating Your Perfect Career. The first class, The Dark Forest of Career Confusion, looks at how we tend to respond physically and emotionally when the career we’re pursuing doesn’t fit our “essential self.” The essential self is the “nature” part of ourselves…our hard wiring.

When our current work isn’t in alignment with our essential self, we can feel like imposters no matter how good we are in the work we’re doing.

We usually end up in mis-aligned work because Social Self” which is our “nurture” side … the part of ourselves which allows us to adapt to our culture and circumstances often overrides the needs of our essential self. We end up doing work that sounds impressive to other people (people whose approval we desire) but leaves us feeling emotionally impoverished.

An interesting way this mismatch shows up is when people who seem to be highly successful feel like imposters. We usually assume a person will fail in a job which requires innate talent they lack. But what about someone who has the ability yet can’t shake the feeling of being a fraud?

We’re quick to chalk this up to self worth issues but apparently, the imposter syndrome can occur when there is a mismatch between the person’s “connative preference” which is the instinctive way a person takes action and their environment.

An example of this is the child who gets labeled ADHD because she seems to be constantly talking and fidgeting in class. It turns out that some people have a strong instinct for hands-on action. They’re just not wired to sit quietly and listen or read. They need to be physically moving.

Similarly, if your connative preference differences from the dominant preference used where you work, chances are you’ll feel like a misfit. When I worked in consumer research, most of the people I worked with were “Fact Finders.” They enjoyed culling through pages of statistics and building logical recommendations. I, on the other hand, preferred the “Quick Start” approach. I would look at the same pages of statistics and see … a lot of numbers. Generally, I scanned the numbers and intuitively came up with my recommendations. My boss once wrote in my performance review that “her recommendations, while technically correct, need to be better supported by the data.” In other words, “show your work” which I found unbearable tedious.

During my first year in that job I did extremely well but I had a constant sense of dread that I would eventually be found out. And as time went on I committed several stupid mistakes which seemed to prove I wasn’t smart enough or capable enough for the job. But that wasn’t true. It was a mismatch between my way doing the work and the way I was suppose to do the work. And of course it didn’t help that I interpreted doing things differently as wrong and began to see myself as somehow “defective.”

After leaving marketing research, I became a technical writing consultant which was much better suited to my style because the work required more direct interaction with people and I found it easy to organize information I got through interviews and by working directly with the software into how-to guides and user manuals. Technical writing also made better use of my visual design skills; spatially organizing the information so it was easily accessible to my audience.

When I started my coaching business it didn’t occur to me that there would be a mismatch between my connative style and my work because I assumed as a business owner I was the one who set up my working environment. It turns out there are other factors that shape my environment that I guess I didn’t take into account. For example, the people with whom I network, my role models, my definition of the people I serve, all have a large effect on how my environment feels.

What feels good right now is knowing I have more power than I realized when it comes to deciding what I allow to shape my environment. I allowed other people to tell me what I could and could not do and what I wanted wasn’t possible if i wanted to be successful.

I’m believing that I can do work I love, make money, and do the work in a way feels right for my essential self.


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