I’m willing to bet you’re terrific at something. And it’s entirely likely you’re not willing to own it.
You have plenty of company there. The Kennedy Center just handed out this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards. One went to Linda Ronstadt, noting her worldwide album sales of more than 50 million, 30-some gold and platinum records, and 10 Grammy Awards.
What did the incredibly talented, versatile, and beloved singer have to say about that? She told the Washington Post, “I thought I did pretty well, but I didn’t think I was the greatest at anything.”
Linda Ronstadt thought she “did pretty well.” Really?
No wonder the rest of us have trouble laying claim to our full value, telling people in a straightforward way why they should do business with us. Or hire us. Or vote for us.
It may be that this is a particular issue for women. The Linda Ronstadt story made an impression on me partly because …
I’ve been reading about what they call the Imposter Syndrome.
It’s the well-established idea that vast numbers of women—and a lot of men too—succeed by any measure and still have a hard time acknowledging their success.
Or, worse yet, they have the ability to excel, and they hold themselves back out of some perverse belief that they don’t deserve it or they’re not worthy or somebody, somewhere is even better than they are.
Or they allow themselves to do well, and at the same time they discount their wins, attributing them to luck or good genes or some other accident of fate.
How does that happen?
I found interesting answers in Valerie Young’s The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the IMPOSTER SYNDROME and How to Thrive in Spite of It.
Young offers seven strategies that Imposters use to hide out.
And of course, hiding out from “the no-talent police” is how we keep people from figuring out we’re not all that talented or smart or creative. One of the seven strategies hit me right between the eyes.
- Over-preparing and hard work
- Holding back
- Maintaining a low or ever-changing profile
- Use of charm or perceptiveness to win approval
- Never finishing
I was identifying with the procrastination piece—“Yes, that sounds like me.” Then I got to “not finishing.”
It made me think about the many things I’ve started but not finished. Why not just wrap up the website re-do, the speaker sheet, the online profile? Could it be there’s something to Valerie’s explanation?
“By not finishing,” the book explains, “You not only shield yourself from possible detection, but you also effectively avoid the shame of being criticized. After all, if someone does question your work, your talent, or your expertise, you can always insist that it’s still in progress or I’m just dabbling.”
You might have a different strategy to hide your light. You may even be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t discount success or put roadblocks in its way. But I’m convinced most of us fall victim to Imposter Syndrome at least some of the time.
And I have some evidence …
I posted a piece on LinkedIn last week, based on the Linda Ronstadt story. I invited my social networking friends to post a comment and “tell us what you are great at.”
Most of them didn’t.
LinkedIn tells me 757 people saw that post. Eleven of them took me up on my invitation to let the world know about their greatness. A handful “liked” the post, and still didn’t answer my question about the value they offer the world. What the … ?
On a business networking site, where people are connecting based on professional interests and needs, where (tasteful) self-promotion is expected … 700-some people passed up an opportunity to lay claim to their greatness. You may have been one of them.
It’s time to let your light shine.
For my part, I’m delving further into this notion of “not finishing” as an Imposter’s trick.
I’ve committed to wrapping up some long-languishing projects, and I’ve scheduled next steps to getting them done. This hiding has to stop.
As for you … you may identify with another one of the stay-safe strategies listed above. How might you make a shift, so it doesn’t interfere with your success or diminish your enthusiasm the way it has in the past?
Post a comment below and commit to an action step.
Or … here’s another chance to tell us what you’re great at! (Don’t pass this one up.)