What you think has helped you in the past is really the problem.
“Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up …” — Sheryl Sandberg
“You could just chill the f*ck out.”
That was one of the two options my doctor gave me 12 years ago when I was sitting in his patient room with an ungodly high blood pressure number.
I can’t remember exactly what the number was, but I remember him telling me that my bottom number is typically the range that they would like to see my top number be and that this was really not good for someone my age.
I had just turned 30 not too long earlier and felt like I was in great shape, as I was still running 3–4 days per week and eating way healthier than most people.
I asked what could be the cause, and he pretty much said because my fitness levels and diet were so regimented, it had to be some type of emotional stress that I was putting on myself from work or personal reasons.
That’s when he told me I pretty much had two choices.
I could start medication that he would prescribe that day, which would probably regulate my body to the point that I would need it the rest of my life or (insert the sentence that began this article).
I wasn’t used to my doctor cursing like that, but I think he was using that language to express how much of what I was experiencing was my own doing.
And for that same reason, I needed to get whatever was stressing me under control if I was going to have any chance of remedying this on my own and not have to pop pills for the rest of my life.
I thought a lot about what he said and instantly knew what the “emotional stress” was coming from: work and the imposter syndrome.
I decided that day that no job was worth losing my health over and, therefore, I needed to change my approach to work.
This one change not only saved my health but is the main reason I’ve seen success in my career over the past 12 years and haven’t suffered from the imposter syndrome since.
What is the imposter syndrome?
Most people have heard of this, and it’s a main reason that a lot of people stress out when they start a new job.
It’s defined as when when someone doubts their abilities and questions whether they are good enough to succeed at the job for which they were hired. They are afraid that eventually they will be “discovered” as a fraud and fired.
The thought process is typically that somehow you had an amazing interview and “fooled” everyone interviewing you into thinking you were qualified for a job that you were not.
They hired you and now you are like, “Oh sh*t, what do I do now?”
This was somewhat my situation, as I had just relocated from Raleigh to Atlanta for a new role with my company and was stressed about all the expectations of a bigger market and opportunity.
Funny enough, the people who often suffer from this and feel this way are high achievers who have a track record to prove they are successful. Hence Sheryl Sandberg’s quote above, with all of her amazing success and achievement up to that point to back her up.
This seems weird, doesn’t it?
Why would people who have been successful in the past be the same ones that don’t feel like they are deserving of it?
I thought about this over and over and how it related to my self-induced stress. Finally, the answer hit me so strongly I had to pull my car over on my way home because of how powerful it was.
From this, I finally discovered the solution that helped me overcome this feeling and allowed me to move forward without having to worry ever again.
What is the change I made to overcome it?
This change was not easy for me initially and may not be for you, but it will make all the difference if you embrace it.
It will go against almost everything you have told yourself in the past about how you should approach work and your mindset to be successful.
You will have to fight against your natural tendencies initially and many of the things that you feel may have made you successful up to this point.
So what is the answer?
What is the simple lesson that has made all the difference in the world for not only my health but ensuring that I never suffer from the imposter syndrome again?
As contrary as it may sound and as challenging as it was for me to do initially, I just started to NOT care as much about work.
What I recognized that day was the reason I was suffering from so much stress and the imposter syndrome was ruining my health was due to the fact that my entire worth was wrapped into work.
I saw work and my success at it as an extension of who I was as a person.
If things were going well at work, then I was happy. If things weren’t going well at work, then my life was miserable.
I was so concerned with succeeding and other seeing me as a success that everything that happened negatively at work was like the end of the world.
Making work the center of my world was exactly the problem that made me feel that I had to succeed, and this feeling of having to succeed would cause me to stress about if I were good enough to do the job or if I would fail.
This consistent questioning of my ability created the imposter syndrome and had me always worried if finally I was going to be “found out” somehow.
The two things you need to change to overcome imposter syndrome
So how did I make the change?
As someone who has always focused on making straight A’s and succeeding at everything I do in life, making this change was not easy.
There were two things that I had to change immediately if I was going to get my blood pressure down and not allow this to take over my life.
The first change was related to what I shared above about my reason: making work the center of my life and self worth.
If I wanted to prevent my stress from going through the roof and live a life of happiness, I needed to recognize that my job does not define who I was and wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
Sure, I want to do well and success at work is important for my long term financial future, but just because work may not be going as well as I want it, that doesn’t mean that my LIFE isn’t good.
There are still so many other things that are important that I need to appreciate and accept as being positive of which my life is truly made.
So my numbers are down at work and the strategy that I rolled out to my team last week isn’t going was well as I would’ve hoped?
That sucks, but I still have a loving family, my general overall health, and great friends.
Life could be way worse, so I’m good.
Second, I began to only focus on my inputs and not be overly concerned with my outputs as a result of my efforts.
What this meant for me is that I just did the best I could every single day, and if that was good enough to get the job done, then great.
If that was not good enough to get the job done, then so be it, but I know I did the best that I could do.
As simple as these two things sound, they instantly relieved me from the imposter syndrome because I was just no longer concerned with what others thought of me as much.
Yes, I wanted to do well at my job, but if I didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world, and second, as long as I knew I was giving it everything that I could to be successful, I was not as concerned with the outcome.
You can’t, by mathematical possibility, give more than 100%, so if you know you’re doing that, then there is no reason for you to feel bad about the outcome if it doesn’t work out the way you desired.
You learn from any mistakes and work to do better the next time, but don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect or getting it “right” all the time.
And while I can’t guarantee you’ll go into every situation with ultimate confidence thinking you’re going to crush it, if you make these two small changes to your mindset, you can at least prevent the Imposter Monster from trying to make you doubt you are as amazing as you probably really are.