At this time of year your Facebook or Twitter feed is probably clogged up with pictures of smiling children, status updates, chats about anticipated Christmas stress and fabulous bargains discovered off the beaten track for present ideas. Lots of us do it – it’s nice to be able to share enjoyment of your leisure time with family and friends – but a uniformly upbeat and self-referential online presence can sometimes hide feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness.
Social media has provided us with many tools, one of which is the ability to present the persona of our choosing to the outside world. For self-employed people it can be a very helpful marketing channel, but excessive personal promotion is a turn off for most people, whether they are engaging with you on a personal or professional level.
Most of us have probably “bigged ourself up” online or in person in order to present a competent and experienced front to our audience – I’ve blogged about it recently before in relation to self esteem (another one of which is coming soon by the way). Job interviews or presentations would be pretty excruciating without an ability to operate from behind a facade. But if you find yourself crippled with doubt while maintaining a successful external appearance, you may be suffering from what is known as “impostor syndrome”.
If you do experience such feelings, you’d be in pretty stellar company – Stephen Fry, Kate Winslet and Tina Fey have all spoken out about their feelings of being unveiled as a fraud. And Professor Robert Winston has been quoted as saying, “When I look in the mirror… I see somebody who is frightened of being found out and thought lightweight”.
I see it a lot in the business people and CEOs who come to see me. Outwardly confident, competent and successful, they are always worried they’ll be “found out”. I was musing on how common it is when I came across this book by Nancy Ancowitz (www.nancyancowitz.com), a communication coach who’s written ‘Self-promotion for Introverts; The Quiet guide to Getting Ahead’. She has also been in Psychology Today where she interviewed Stephen Brookfield, a successful US academic who has researched impostor syndrome and admits to suffering from it himself.
In Dr Brookfield’s view, the key to overcoming impostor syndrome is to go public. This is tough for many senior executives and CEOs, who feel they have to present a “together” front at all times, and worry that showing weakness will damage not only their own reputation but also that of their company. However, Dr Brookfield believes that when people in prominent positions admit to feelings of doubt or inadequacy, it frees everyone up around them. If our heroes and role models show some level of fallibility and vulnerability then it shows they don’t have the answers all the time, and that suggests there must be hope for us too.
To this I would add the importance of working on your self-esteem. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to admit that we sometimes lack faith in our abilities or need to admit that we’ve made a mistake. Whether we’re the first person in our family to go to university, the first not to struggle financially, or have simply landed a high profile and powerful job, it can be easy to see this as somehow “lucky” or that we’ll soon get found out for the fakes that we are. But if we can admit our frailties alongside consciously working on our self- esteem (there is a download audio available on my site http://www.suefirthltd.com/shop
Let me know how you get on,