When I started working at Google when I was 19, I was tasked with projects that were way beyond my capabilities. Most people at the company didn’t know how young I was, and that resulted in me being put on tight deadlines for projects that were over my head.
When I was put in charge of figuring out Google’s entrance strategy into Africa and Eastern Europe, I was so focused on rising to the challenge that I didn’t have time to reflect. I was delivering results.
After my first performance review, a strange thing happened: I began to wonder whether I was good enough. I’d done very well on my review. Instead of focusing on the many positives uncovered during Google’s in-depth review process, however, I found myself obsessing over the areas in which I needed to improve. I dwelled on my weaknesses and minimized my strengths.
Looking back, it’s easy to see the signs: I had impostor syndrome.
The Silent Epidemic Of Self-Doubt
Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon marked by chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraud. It often affects bright up-and-comers, but it can also affect highly successful people in leadership positions.
Women business leaders are particularly susceptible to these feelings because they already tend to underestimate or “round down” their achievements. For instance, if a woman wants to go for a big promotion but only meets six out of eight requirements, she’s much less likely to apply for the position than a man with the same qualifications.
Impostor syndrome isn’t the same as being modest. Rather, it’s the nagging feeling that affects your performance and your perception of your capabilities. It’s the voice in the back of your mind that says, “I’m not enough.”
If left unchecked, these beliefs can seriously impact your career and prevent you from realizing your potential.
After my performance review, I started becoming more of a perfectionist. I fixated on the smallest details and was determined to exceed expectations in the areas in which I needed to improve. No matter how hard I worked, I wondered whether people had caught on — if they knew I was a fraud.
These thoughts consumed me. “How did I get here? Do I really deserve to be here?” Google is a terrible place to have these feelings because it’s full of amazing talent. Each day, I felt like I was waiting for that next blow of self-doubt to punch me in the face.
How To Break The Pattern
As these thoughts and feelings began to wear me down, I realized that I needed to do something. I sought out mentors within Google and asked for feedback from my team. I found out there was no quick fix for impostor syndrome. The key is to realize that you will always have these feelings, and you need to develop tools to manage them.
It’s not easy being a woman leading a company in the male-dominated tech industry. These thoughts of being a fraud remain with me to this day, but I’m much better prepared to handle them than I was in my early 20s.
To give me a more realistic perspective of my capabilities:
I did a 360-degree assessment.
I surveyed my investors, advisors, and team members about my leadership, and I did a self-assessment. By comparing the responses, I saw that my self-perception differed greatly from how other people saw me, and I realized that my self-criticisms were off-base.
I built a strong network of trusted confidants.
These advisors help me stop the snowball effect of self-doubt, and I have a very supportive partner who talks me out of this line of thinking.
I actively work to develop strategies to help me be the best leader for my business.
I’ve learned to employ meditation techniques before stressful meeting days, enabling me to walk in front of 20 investors with the confidence that I will perform to my fullest potential.
If you find yourself mired in self-doubt and constantly internalizing criticism, you’re not only damaging your career and personal well-being, but you’re also affecting those around you unintentionally. A leader has to lead, which means managing your feelings of insecurity to gain control and do what’s in the best interest of your company.
It all starts by recognizing your own thought processes, building a support system, and being a little bit kinder to yourself.
This is a guest post by Falon Fatemi, founder and CEO of Node, a stealth startup of ex-Googlers. Falon consults for startups and VCs on everything from infrastructure to drones.
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