I’ve spent nearly a quarter of a century working primarily with women who feel like impostors, fakes, and frauds. In that time I’ve come to an important conclusion. If you want to truly put yourself on the fast track to feeling as bright and capable as you really are, then nothing, I do mean nothing, will get you there quicker than adjusting your beliefs about what it takes to be competent.
The Impostor Syndrome goes beyond lack of confidence. Everyone experiences bouts of self-doubt from time to time and especially when attempting something new. But for impostors self-doubt is chronic.
You can feel self-doubt without experiencing shame at performing poorly as impostor do. It’s also possible to doubt your abilities without believing that you ultimately succeeded because of some sleight of hand or that you are fooling others. A person could have normal jitters before, say getting up to give their first speech, do well, and then draw from this experience to feel more confident about the next time. The impostor doesn’t think this way. Because no matter how well you did or how loud the applause, you always think you could have done better or that you just had a “good audience” with no real bump in confidence.
Twenty years of well documented research by leading expert in motivation and personality psychology Carol Dweck and author of my new favorite book Mindset, confirms what I’ve been saying for years. Namely that for better or for worse, your perceptions of what it takes to be competent, has a powerful impact on how you measure yourself and therefore how you approach achievement itself. And if you feel like an intellectual fraud then there is an excellent chance that you have been operating from a definition of competence that is so grandiose that not even a certifiable genius could ever hope to attain. And it’s time to change that.
But before you can begin to create a new, attainable competence rulebook, you need to first uncover your current Competence M.O. or Competence Type. I’ve uncovered five. They are the Perfectionist, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, the Expert, and the Super Woman/Man/Student. If you asked someone from each of these Competence Types to complete the sentence, “I’ll know that I’m competent when…” and “If I were really smart…” they would approach it from a somewhat different angle.
- The Perfectionist’s primary focus is on “how” something is done. This includes how the work is conducted and how it turns out.
- The Rugged Individualist cares mostly about “who” completes the task. To make it on the achievement list, it has to be them.
- The Expert’s primary concern is on “what” they know or can do. Or more precisely, what they don’t know or can’t do.
- The Natural Genius also cares about “how” and “when” accomplishments happen. But for them competence is measured in terms of ease and speed.
- And the Superwoman/Super Student measures competence based on “how many” roles they can both juggle and excel in.
So what’s in your Impostor Rulebook? What internal rules do you use to measure your competence?