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Imposter Syndrome: Learning to Say Yes

September 25, 2021

75% of female executives have experienced it at some point. You're not alone.

Imposter syndrome can be very subtle. Doubts about your abilities can creep in slowly and snowball into full-fledged irrational fears about your competence. Most people can relate to this. Even at high levels of leadership, 75% of female executives say they’ve experienced it at some point in their careers. 

We had a chat with Monica Millares, Head of Business Banking & Product Experience of BigPay about the leaps she’s made in her journey as a woman in fintech making waves in Asia. Together, we explore how opening ourselves up to experiences and learning can enable us to grow to our potential, far beyond our perceived limits.

How can we cultivate the mindset that empowers us to say “yes” to opportunities?

Personality traits like extraversion and curiosity may make it easier for some to take risks but everyone can recalibrate their perspective. Many instinctively consider job prospects in view of careers they have charted, making progression and performance primary deciding factors. The alternative is to look within and ask whether the opportunity aligns with what matters to us on a personal level.

In doing so, challenging situations become vehicles that take us to better places rather than roadblocks to work around. The clarity of direction this thinking provides allows us to acknowledge real concerns, unpack unfounded fears, and gauge potential for a more balanced and comprehensive approach.

An internal report by Hewlett Packard found that men apply for roles when they only meet 60% of the qualifications but women will only do so if they meet 100%. While some conclude that a lack of confidence is the culprit, a survey conducted by women’s leadership expert Tara Mohr, suggests this is not the case.

Most respondents, both men and women, believed they needed the specified qualifications to be hired. Only 10% of women and 12% of men thought they might not be able to do the job well. There’s a misconception among job seekers that qualifications are a recipe for success, or are inflexible. Truth is, business leaders and managers consider potential and look for indicators like particular mindsets and soft skills as they recruit for their teams.

If the recruiter has already knocked on your door, this is already a sign that the organization has confidence in you. If you are scouting out an opportunity but have reservations, don’t stop at asking if you are the right person for the job. Ask yourself if you could become the right person and what it would take to get there.

What can we do to grow into new and challenging roles?

Wrestling with imposter syndrome often involves managing the fear of being found inadequate by others. These feelings persist in spite of actual accomplishments and competence. Mentorship and coaching from individuals in the industry whom you trust and respect are invaluable. These professional relationships can help you process criticism objectively, assess ability accurately, explore ideas and gain perspective. 

In transitioning into a new role or taking on more responsibility, it’s important to bear in mind that perfection is not essential to success. Real skill gaps may exist but these can be addressed by acquiring and developing the right set of abilities, skills and attitudes. Reflecting on the requirements and challenges of the role alongside your strengths and weaknesses will help you identify growth areas, and plan your professional development.

Building a network to build your confidence

The key principle here is to surround yourself with the sort of people that you can learn from. 

After pinpointing specific areas of improvement or interest, you can connect with others who gravitate towards the same topics - even those from different industries. The internet has made this much easier to do with LinkedIn, Facebook groups and hashtags. These communities organized around your interests are already out there and it’s just a matter of getting involved. 

Following public profiles of business leaders and signing up for professional memberships are easy ways to get started. From there, seek out opportunities for dynamic engagement with others. Leave comments on posts. Participate in online discussions. Exchange emails. Join video calls. Meet for coffee. Organize a casual networking dinner. The more you interact with people whose passions intersect with yours, the higher the chances of finding like-minded individuals who can offer the professional support and encouragement you need to grow. You may be surprised to find that many people are willing to help others along in their careers.

Final thoughts

It’s completely normal to feel out of one’s depths from time to time, especially when starting a new endeavor. Our professional lives are not defined by getting things right on the first try or accomplishing tasks without any difficulty. Open yourself up to new experiences and give yourself space to grow. Careers flourish when we own up to our roles and embrace what we can bring to them.

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