During our latest weekly kick-off meeting, my three TrueMe co-founders and I initiated a quick brainstorm about workshops we could present at Tech conferences. We had just hosted our first webinar on overcoming Imposter Syndrome, featuring business leader, Dagmarą Brzezińską.

Having just had our first public event with such an accomplished guest speaker couldn’t but set a confident tone for our planning.

And yet, the brainstorm quickly turned into a battle of (misunderstood) wills instead of a playful dance towards a creative goal.

As I’ve learned from John Cleese of the Monty Python gang: brainstorming should occur in an ‘open’ frame of mind where, instead of countering an idea with a ‘no’, it’s met with ‘tell me more?’ or ‘what if…’ There are no ‘mistakes’. 

Though I’d like to believe I’ve become pretty adept at the process, my co-founder and TrueMe CEO, Ola’s defensive responses to my comments indicated that she was reading them as criticisms. I was flummoxed that she could be triggered by my remarks, so I dialled back my engagement to ‘wait for the mud to settle.’

Brainstorming should occur in an ‘open’ frame of mind where, instead of countering an idea with a ‘no’, it’s met with ‘tell me more’ or ‘what about’. The Pythons.

‘What gives?’ I wondered all day long. ‘Had I come across as critical or was she simply overstretched.’

The next day I had the answer. The webinar feedback (remember that webinar about overcoming imposter syndrome?) had been downloaded and passed on to Ola the morning before our call.

Although there were many positive comments, one of the attendees pointed out that the webinar host, Ola, had a stressed demeanor… I’ll let you imagine the rest.

Now that I had the facts of the matter, I gave it some thought.

 

A protocol for dealing with criticism

For a start, I recommended the TrueMe team put in place a protocol for reviewing feedback to ensure that only constructive criticism reaches its mark – at the right moment and in the right space.

If even our role model, Brené Brown who has impacted millions of lives for the better, has haters, we have to be prepared to identify them as such and take a page out of her book when she quotes Scott Stratten: “Don’t try to win over the haters. You’re not the jackass whisperer.”

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.

Scott Stratten

Another day went by and Ola was still clearly affected by the feedback. Despite having spent the entire weekend mastering the audio for the English version of the TrueMe journal (coming soon), it still wasn’t up to scratch. According to her.  

I lean to the side of perfectionism myself, so you can believe me when I say it was entirely good enough. A sound engineer might have had something to say (from my brief experience of being married to one), but this was not our audience.

 

A classic case of ‘not good enough’

The mud had finally settled and it had crystalised: we were dealing with a classic case of ‘not good enough’. Not only on Ola’s part, but also on the side of the critic of our ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’.

If you take some time to think about Imposter Syndrome, there’s no irony in the situation at all.

One of the beliefs underlying Imposter Syndrome is ‘not good enough’.

Because Ola and the other TrueMe co-founders have felt the pain of Imposter Syndrome, we decided to get Dagmara on board to address the topic.

Because webinar participants, including the critic-in-question, share the ‘not-good-enough’ pain of Imposter Syndrome, they took the time to attend the webinar on overcoming this challenge. 

Criticising a webinar host for her ‘stressed demeanour’ and Ola’s switch to Perfectionist Hyper Mode were both born from the same belief: ‘I am not good enough’ which gets projected onto those around us as ‘you are not good enough’.

The criticism and the Perfectionist Hyper Mode response were both born from the same belief: ‘I am not good enough’ which gets projected onto those around us as ‘you are not good enough’.

I say this with confidence, because it takes one to know one.

Plus, I turned 40 last year, so I can claim at least some points for experience.

Perfectionism as coping mechanism

As a card carrying member of the Imposter Syndrome Club myself, I know the mental and physical (chronic) pain it imposes. 

Particularly in my professional life, I can never seem to let my guard down. 

The 2008 financial crisis is still haunting me – 2009 having been the year I lost my first professional job due to the recession. A short-lived marriage and my religious worldview went down the tube in the same year. I had studied Theology, so my career would need a ‘slight tweak’. 

The horror of facing ‘Ground Zero’ stays at the back of my mind, whispering ‘the only way to ensure financial security is through perfection’.

It took me about a decade to find my professional feet – in an entirely different career than my Master’s Degree trained me for. 

The horror of facing ‘Ground Zero’ with only my childcare experience as a safety net stays at the back of my mind, whispering ‘the only way to ensure financial security is through perfection’.

I won’t lie, my high standards (the bright side of perfectionism) have worked in my favour. Today, I’ve got a stable gig in an international tech organisation, with the work from home plus (occasional) travel benefits that every introvert dreams of, plus a manager that believes in and supports my growth.

But the dark side, the anxious striving for perfection that should have faded to a background hum, is still with me.

Cutting to the chase of Imposter Syndrome

By now, I think it’s clear to all of you that I’m pretty hard on myself. If you’re reading this article on Imposter Syndrome, I’m as sure as I could be of anything that you are too.

By definition, Imposter Syndrome is associated with the trait of giving 200% of yourself. Slightly paraphrased.

“Imposter syndrome (IS) is a behavioural health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.” 

National Library of Medicine (emphasis my own)

Did you notice the emphasis on ‘high-achieving individuals’?

I want you to think about that for a bit. And then some more. And then again every time you take out the nutcracker to crush more blood out of your already weary self.

We ALREADY are top performers. 

Then WHY THE HELL do we keep fearing that we’re NOT GOOD ENOUGH!?!

Even when it’s killing us slowly.

Good enough is good enough

How do we solve for Imposter Syndrome?

One of my Uni Ethics Professors warned against trusting anyone who responds to a complex question with “the solution/answer is simple!”. So I won’t make that mistake.

The causes behind Imposter Syndrome are complex and unique to each one of us, and so solutions will be too.

What I do know, and will be teaching my hyper conscientious nieces and nephew, is that Good enough is good enough, FFS. 

Opting out

Striving for perfection is like feeding a dark void that can never be satisfied. It’s a losing battle, with ourselves as the victims.

 To strive for excellence in value-aligned projects will serve you in life.

 When this striving starts to work to your detriment, causing you anxiety, self-doubt, taking from your joy and well-being, it’s very likely you’ve shifted to a focus on perfection.

The strive for perfection is like feeding a dark void that can never be satisfied. It’s a losing battle, with ourselves as the victims.

As ‘high-achieving individuals’ we are all intelligent enough to understand that the sacrifice is not worth the rewards.

 So why not opt-out of such a game?

I’m not foolish enough to believe that merely deciding to opt-out will make it so.

 Is it going to take time? Yes.

Is it going to take increased self-awareness to even catch ourselves when we switch to Perfectionism? Absolutely.

 Will it have to start with self-care to ensure we’re fighting fit when the lure of perfectionism starts whispering to us from the dark? No doubt.

 Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity. There can be zero innovation without vulnerability. 

Brené Brown

 

But if we have each other, a circle of trusted friends and mentors who hold space for our authentic selves (warts and all), we have a fighting chance to flip our self-doubt into compassion and creativity. (More about vulnerability another time.)

 Are you a writer or blogger? Share your story of overcoming Imposter Syndrome and send us a link so we can share it on our social media.