Overcoming Underconfidence

The New Year is coming. And in 2016, in addition to broken resolutions and seasonal depression, I am fortunate enough to ring in the New Year with a new job.

That, in itself, should be a cause for celebration, an unexpected but appreciated holiday treat. An opportunity to meet new friends, challenge myself creatively, and reinvest in my work. But it’s also an opportunity for the imposter syndrome to rear its ugly imposter head.

All of my soon-to-be bosses and coworkers don’t know me. They don’t know my work. They only know my interview persona and the “greatest hits” that made their way into my portfolio. Deep down, I believe in what I do, but there’s that little voice in my (and everyone’s) head asking, “what if they realize you’re a fraud?”

“Do you even deserve this?”

I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that the easiest way to tank your credibility is to act like you don’t deserve “this,” by putting yourself down and/or acting like a nervous bag of slop.

People take cues on how to treat you from the attitude(s) you project. If you act like you deserve what you’ve been given (or given yourself), people around you will support you in that belief/delusion.

The key there is acting.

You don’t have to believe in yourself, because believing in yourself can be hard…at least at first. But as long as you can convince other people you are the (wo)man for the job, then you can fake it until you start believing it too.

Here are three ways to go from faking it to making it and finding real creative confidence.

ASK YOURSELF “WHY NOT ME?”

Someone’s gotta do it.

If you don’t take the job, someone else will. If you don’t write that book or create that podcast, your idea will infect another person who can bring it to life. While given popular credit for inventing the light bulb, if Edison hadn’t done it, someone else would have. In the 40 years leading up to his final creation, there were 24 other innovators working to solve the same problem.

When you ask yourself, “why me?” your brain will come up with hundreds of excuses – not enough time, not enough knowledge, not enough popularity, not enough skill, not enough originality. When you ask, “why not me?” the roadblocks will be far fewer.

UNDERSTAND CONFIDENCE ISN’T A STATIC STATE

I recently received an email from a reader who, after learning a ton in an improv workshop, felt like she was behind where she should be. That’s totally normal. We all move through periods of feeling like we’re on top of the world followed by long interludes suck, which typically come after we see what could be and get frustrated that it’s not what is. It might feel crappy, but going from confidence to frustration is a sign that you’re learning and growing, not regressing. 

“Feeling confident” isn’t something you achieve on a Tuesday afternoon and cross off your to-do list. Confidence is an emotional state with peaks and valleys. Some days, Obama feels like a kickass president. Others, he sits in the Oval Office hoping no one catches on to the fact that he’s making it up as he goes.

“I thought how life is a lot like a fountain, with its columns moving up and down, and how the low points are actually thrilling because the high points are about to come back…” – Jonathan Harris

You will go through peaks and valleys, high points and low points, your entire life. Know that when you’re low, the highs will soon follow.

REDEFINE “SUCCESS”

“Success” can only be recognized in hindsight. Only when you’re on your deathbed can you survey everything you’ve done and determine whether or not you “made it.” That is less than 1% of your entire existence. The other, infinitely more meaningful 99% of your life will be spent trying to accomplish your goals while maximizing the highs and minimizing the lows.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

Focusing on money, prestige, and power – the traditional markers of success – will only set you back. Getting some will only make you want more. Instead, focus on the process, that undeniably valuable 99%, and make sure you’re learning, growing, and improving yourself every day. That is something you can check off your to-do list. That is as high as the stakes need to be. Those are the building blocks of actual success.

Confidence, can feel like the chicken-egg problem. You can’t truly have confidence until you achieve a small amount of success, but you can’t achieve success without confidence. But when you redefine success – from fame and fortune to learning and growing – you remove failure as a possibility.

Imagine if you stopped worrying about the outcome before you began. Imagine if you didn’t fear what people might think. Imagine if you didn’t accept a new job with the goal of proving yourself, but rather, with seeing how much you could contribute and grow?

Going back to Thomas Edison, he’s famous for saying that he never failed, but instead, discovered 10,000 ways to not make a light bulb.

That is the attitude we should all be working towards.

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The imposter syndrome is trending, check out my buddy, Jason Flamm’s, post on the topic.

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