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Fight the insecure compulsion to downplay strengths

Coach's Corner--October 20, 2008

The Client
Name: Mary
Age: 45
Title: Director, Customer relations
Time at company:  5 years
Industry: Telecommunications
Issue: Feeling like success is faked
Q. I’m pursuing a promotion that seems like the logical next step for my career. I’ve been encouraged to apply and meet all of the requirements. Yet, on the inside, I feel like I’m faking it because I’m not really qualified or ready for this step. What should I do?

A. Despite high levels of capability and achievement, people often feel that they fall short. Prevent this from limiting your next steps through an in-depth inner reality check.

The inner game
Get centered so that you’ll be ready to look inward. Breathe deeply, letting yourself relax and releasing any anxiety about the promotion process. Close your eyes and picture yourself doing an activity that gives you a feeling of competence.

Notice your strengths. Compile a list of the technical, professional, and personal abilities you show in your current role that’ll fit your future position. If you’re having trouble identifying strengths, imagine the list that your boss, co-workers, partner, and friends would attribute to you.

Pay attention to your internal reactions. Which items trigger the sense that you’re lacking? Flag them as areas for special attention. Also, look for patterns. They likely form clusters, and seeing the pattern will help you address them. For example, you may feel less adequate in your ability to communicate, to show authority, or in some other area. Also notice how you feel when that “I’m a fraud” reaction kicks in, so that you can catch yourself at it later.

Face your fears. Using your list, take an objective look at your performance on the areas where you feel that you fall short. Do a personal reality check. Pretend, if necessary, that you’re evaluating someone else on these key areas. Also, ask for feedback from someone whose input you won’t reject as unrealistically biased in your favor.

Consider ways you could improve, looking for areas where improvement would make a difference. After all, it’s important to continually learn and grow. Acknowledge these as positive next steps, rather than letting them diminish you.

The outer game
Once you know how you downplay your strengths, make a plan to keep that dynamic from holding you back.

Be alert. Notice when your “faker” feeling kicks in. Stop, take a breath, and counter it with positive messages about your capabilities and skills.

Get support. There are many others who feel this way, and opening the door to discussing it will be a relief to them and valuable for you. Find the right people who will reinforce the positives and keep you grounded and realistic about yourself.

Persevere. You haven’t reached your current level of accomplishment by accident. It has been the result of talent and hard work. Continue to push yourself because each time you succeed despite the limiting thoughts, you weaken their hold on you.

The last word
Through careful observation and conscious action, you’ll be able to set aside your sense of being an imposter and rise to the level that your ability and vision take you.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted October 19, 2008
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