Imposter Syndrome for Executive Directors (Warning: Salty Language Ahead)

Imposter Syndrome for Executive Directors (Warning: Salty Language Ahead)

Don’t worry, faking it is a national past time!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens
(who have no idea what they’re doing) can change the world.” -
Me :)

If you have never had imposter syndrome in your life, count yourself lucky. It could be that you have enviable amounts of confidence, or you could have a major blind spot called arrogance! It’s also entirely possible that you just have a healthy attitude toward your career. Please spread that around for the rest of us.

Imposter syndrome exists because many of us are too fearful to pull back the veneer from a lot of jobs. It is tempting to believe that high performing people have some special skill or “mojo” but it could really just be the halo effect or smoke and mirrors. People are reluctant to admit out loud that they don’t know certain things because it makes us vulnerable. So we are left with doubt about our own abilities and missed opportunities to work with other people who are struggling with confidence too. Masquerade balls can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a lot of work. Who needs more work?!? 

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” 
Eleanor Roosevelt

If you never doubt yourself or any of your decisions and never worry that others are questioning your abilities, you have either reached career nirvana or you are a fool. In either case, you can stop reading this blog post. For the rest of us, there have been at least one or two times in our career (or maybe it’s ongoing) where we have worried that our experience and training have not equipped us for the role we are in. People refer to this situation as “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome is when you worry that you are not qualified to be in your current role. Imposter syndrome causes fear, self-doubt, insular thinking, and may cause leaders to play it safe for fear of being “discovered.” In short, imposter syndrome is bad for everyone.

“That which does not get you fired makes you stronger.”
Sean Kosofsky (see, I’m innovating!)

Fake it Until You Make it

One thing I have learned is that much of the time most people  are just muddling through. Anyone new at any role is making stuff up as they go along (we will call this innovating or being entrepreneurial!) Think about new parents. No matter how much support they have or how many books they read, they won’t know how to solve a problem until they have to; same as with our jobs. Even if you have 30 years of experience at something, when you start a new role in a new job there are many new things to muddle through (ahem, innovate), like technology, goals, remembering people’s names or roles, etc.

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Nearly every worker in the world is operating in less than perfect situations, without the resources, training, time, or tools to get the job done perfectly. Therefore, nearly all workers are forced to exude confidence when they don’t have any. Many times, we just cross our fingers and leap to see if our plan works. When it doesn’t, we accept, share, or even shift blame. But sometimes you aren’t the one to blame for failure. Plus, failure is how you learn! 

“I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.” 
Oscar Wilde  

Muddling Through (Innovating)

Instead of worrying if someone else could be doing your job better, use your newness to your advantage. Chances are you already have the skills, experience, and instincts to do 90% of your job. Whatever you don’t know can be learned. No one is actually expecting you to know 100% of your job on day one and if they are, they’re jerks. Most problems work themselves out. For those that need your attention, you will figure it out. There is no need to stress about being an imposter. You are not an imposter. You already got the job. The experts hired you so you can’t be an imposter!!

“When you assume you might make an ass out of U and ME…but at least you were decisive!”

-Sean Kosofsky (plagiarizing, ahem, innovating) 

The fact is, you bring all sorts of abilities to your job that other people can’t. So instead of fixating on what you don’t have, think about all the ways you will innovate in this role. You are an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs aren’t just people who start businesses. An entrepreneur works to solve problems without being held back by the lack of planning, strategy, or resources that exist at this moment.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Amelia Earhart

Screw the Haters

As a nonprofit professional you have dedicated your life to service. So don’t be so hard on yourself or expect to be a rock star in your first month. No one is expecting it. You’ve earned some goodwill. Remember your experience, skills, and instincts and you’ll be fine.  

Own what you do have, don’t focus on what you don’t have. Stop wasting energy wondering if you are right for the job you already earned!

“God grant me the grace period to get my act together, the courage to pretend I have it all under control, and the wisdom to know that everyone else is doing the same.”

-Sean Kosofsky

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