In the last article we explored feeling like "The Perfectionist" from the book "The Imposter Syndrome" and ways to overcome this at work.
In this post let's look at another facet of Imposter Syndrome, a character called "The Superhero".
- "The Superhero"
- Personal Reflection
- Finding Validation From Within
This person tends to go above and beyond at work to prove they are worthy of their title. Even if this person is producing strong results, they still feel like a fraud.
One way they cope with this feeling is to overwork, sometimes to the point of burnout. Working hard and getting great results is usually a good thing, but that isn't the case for this Imposter Syndrome type.
Their superhuman effort given is really to just cover up feeling insecure. So instead of feeling fulfilled, they continue to feel unworthy.
- Addicted to External Validation: Often from work, getting validation from others about the quality, time, and effort spent on a project can feel life-changing. However, in this case, it is the only or at least the main source of validation.
- Low Self-Esteem: Ironically superheroes don’t feel like this label. They feel subpar, not exceptional. Because healthy self-esteem doesn’t come from within, being alone can be uncomfortable.
- Unhealthy Boundaries - Inner: These relate to our emotions and how we handle the effect of things happening in the external world around us. This might look like not taking a day off because we are worried about doing well on a big project. Or feeling defensive about accepting criticism of our work.
- Unhealthy Boundaries - Outer: These are boundaries between yourself and other people. It often centers around knowing when to say “No” and not try to do it all. Often times saying “Yes” to something great, means we had to say many “no”’s to things that were’t serving us as much.
- Unhealthy Relationships: One example of this is over-working all the time out of insecurity and a boss takes advantage of it or continually expecting it.
- Burnout: All of the above can lead to feeling drained, resentful, and feeling even more unworthy since now we have no energy.
Like the "The Perfectionist" this type of Imposter Syndrome really hit close to home.
The book listed the following three questions that throughout my career I would have to answer a resounding "yes".
Question 1: Do you work later than others, just to be sure that your required 8 hours was really good enough?
Because I felt unworthy of holding a certain job title or the responsibility that came with a project, I felt like I could "make up the difference" by putting in extra hours. I began to believe that my work ethic and not my skillset was what was valuable.
When a request would come in at 4:50pm to design a website that needed to be presented the next day, I felt validated. Because I knew if I spent all night on it, I would get a "thank you for saving the day" from my boss.
The problem is when this became year in and year out, no matter what job I went to. My behavior resulted in my feeling burnout, sacrificing time with my family and friends, and still not feeling worthy.
Question 2: Do you struggle to have downtime because you feel like you should always be doing, and working more?
Since college I have heard that "a really graphic designer is always learning and always freelancing". Later as a developer I would hear "a real developer contributes to multiple open source projects and stays up until 3am coding for the joy of it".
When I did do all of those things, there were some benefit for sure. Again, great effort will usually bring at least some results.
However, as hard as I tried there was never enough time to learn EVERYTHING and take on every kind of client. I was doing it because of other people's expectations and to get their validation. Not because I enjoyed it.
Question 3: Do you feel undeserving of certain aspects of your life even though you worked hard to learn and earn them?
In 2020 I worked at a fast paced design agency full time, while going almost full time to a coding bootcamp at night. I worked really hard at both.
Eventually I left my job and spent 8 months learning code all day and fine tuning projects to become a very specific type of front-end developer / designer. That again took a lot of work.
It paid off and I landed my dream job, where I absolutely love what I do and who I work with.
Yet with all that being true, I have continually struggled with feeling like I belong. Specifically, feeling like I am not worthy and one day it will all be taken away. I would feel like a fraud, even when those around me are saying "good job". (It is the very reason I started learning more about Imposter Syndrome.)
The following are some helpful mindset changes from the book that resonated with me…
By just recognizing the behavior and knowing when we seek approval, can be so impactful in starting to change it. Keeping a journal can be a good way to document and analyze this.
When you're about to ask for someone to validate your work, stop for a moment first. Ask yourself what do you think about your work. Do you think it is good and do you like it? Why or why not?
By literally giving ourselves self-validation, we can start to build up self-worth. Look at a task you just did objectively and really ask if it was a solid job and if you did well. 9/10 it is worthy of some self-praise.
- I did my best.
- It is ok to not feel great all the time.
- I am worthy, just the way I am.
- I'm proud of myself and all I have accomplished.
- I work hard and deserve a break.
- My feelings matter.
- I trust myself.
- I like [blank] about myself.
Do not make crazy expectations for yourself and then allow other people to let you down. Your internal and external limits should be equal.
Our brains are hardwired to center on thoughts that are easier, not necessarily more logical. When feeling unqualified this can lead to thinking negative things about ourselves that the rest of the world doesn't actually believe. This can also lead to our thoughts controlling our behaviors.
Our purpose and someone else's purpose are not the same. Comparison is unproductive
Like I said in the last post, I am still a work in progress. 😅 But since learning about "The Superhero" traits and imbalance it feeds in, I've been making some changes.
- Some weekends or days I still work late, but they are now much fewer and far-between. When it does happen, I give myself grace and don't hold the same expectation to practice code that day.
- Saying "no" to all freelance work these days has been life-bringing. It has open up time to do things I really love. Some things are related to code/design, but also starting new hobbies and having time with my wife and friends. Some weekends it means getting to sleep in and just watch movies, guilt free.
- When I work on projects, I have been trying to take pride in my work vs basing its success completely on what other people say about it.
- Sometimes my code gets a lot of feedback and change requests. That doesn't mean I should quit code and am unworthy. Instead it can be a moment to be grateful. "I am about to learn something new, which will make me more equipped the next time. This is kind of exciting!"
- I have been trying to be a lot more open and vocal about my feelings to my bosses and co-workers. Feeling safe to share who I really am and capabilities, and then still be accepted for any shortcomings has bred new self-confidence.
I think a standout lesson learned from reading about this type of Imposter Syndrome for me is:
Perfection doesn't equal self worth.
I'll be good at somethings, maybe great at one of two and have a whole lot of things go wrong along the way. But that is ok. Who I am currently is enough. It's ok to have plans to grow and improve, but that also doesn't all have to happen to today. One day at a time, is more than enough. 🧡