To Be or Not to Be: How to Verify Your Talent with Confidence

“I believe every artist had someone who told them they were dirt and someone who told them that they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and they believed ‘em both”.

Bruce Springsteen BBC Radio 4

Springsteen’s observation got me thinking…

Is this paradox limited to artists?

I don’t think so.

Here’s why I think it extends to me and probably you, too.

Modern research tells me that my brain is unreliable (e.g. confirmation bias). It also tells me that I don’t know how talented I am.

According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “people who say they’re great at something are unlikely to be better at it than those who ‘confess’ being bad at it”.

So let me get this straight – people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect might say they’re great at something when in fact they’re merely average. But people suffering from the other trick of the brain (Imposter Syndrome), might say they’re not great at something when in fact they’re quite good at it.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, The Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement”. They “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds”.

Sound familiar?

It does to me.

I can’t say for sure (obviously) but if I had to choose, I’d say I’m better acquainted with the Imposter than the DK Effect.

As a reader of this blog, I believe that you’re still striving for your “peak performance”. Therefore, I’m going to say that you’re more at risk of feeling like a fraud than feeling like “the greatest of all-time”.

This is not to say that you lack confidence or haven’t had moments of feeling like one of the greats at your craft. After all, you believed them both, right (“dirt” and “baby Jesus”)?

So if you ever find yourself doubting your abilities or feeling like a fraud, I’ve got a few ideas I’d like to share with you…

 

5 WAYS TO VERIFY YOUR TALENT

 

  1. Take inventory of your skills and accomplishments.

Review what you’ve accomplished over the past few years. This helps to remind you that you bring and have brought a lot of value to your work. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been chosen for this present task. Someone thought you were up to the task. Obviously, you did too. Therefore, be confident in the abilities you know you have and be confident in your ability to master new ones.

Practical tip – if you’re struggling to come up with concrete examples, ask a trusted friend or colleague for their perspective (you might be surprised at how “great” they see you).


 

  1. Get diverse feedback.

Constructive feedback is invaluable, although not easy to get – especially the critical kind. Positive feedback of course feels good, but it’s the negative stuff that’s most valuable as it can shine a light on your “blind spots” (if you’re unaware of something (i.e. blind), you can never change it). Therefore, it’s mission critical that you get it. Seek out people with expertise and experience in the specific area/s where you need it most.

Practical tip – create an informal 360° feedback questionnaire for a few peers, superiors and direct reports (or project team members you lead).


 

  1. Discover and transform your natural talents into strengths.

According to scientists behind Gallup’s StrengthFinder: “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”

By focusing on what makes you stand out instead of what you lack, you can build up your strengths and protect yourself against the Imposter Syndrome at the same time.

Practical tip – ask yourself these 3 simple questions and note down the answers:

  • What makes me stand out?
  • What skills or abilities come easy and I enjoy using?
  • What can I do well that others can’t?

 

  1. Recognize the value in you.

On paper, your verifiable skills and professional accomplishments may look like your greatest asset. Without a doubt, those things are important. However, you have something else that’s even more valuable: You. In all your past and current successes (projects, jobs, roles, etc.), you are “the common denominator”.

Here’s The Leadership Mind’s Jim Elliot on why:

“If change is to occur, some sort of intervention is required. And the only tool that any individual has to bring about change is themselves – their actions, behaviors, questions, etc. They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to influence others. In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change” (see DEEP DIVE for more on this).

Practical tip – To develop your Self further, start by paying attention to what’s driving you. 

DEEP DIVE – 

In my line of work, one can never have enough qualifications or certifications. After all, I help people learn and learning never ends. And with frequent market disruption and fast-changing conditions, the demand for consultants with the latest tools and methods is growing just as fast (Agile, Servant Leadership, Design Thinking, etc.). However, due to time and money limitations, it’s impossible to be certified or even knowledgeable in all of them.

Therefore, the most powerful tool in the toolbox of any coach or consultant is oneself. This simple, yet powerful concept is known as Self As Instrument. It’s also the best antidote to The Imposter Syndrome. BTW, it’s the most powerful tool in your toolbox, too.

 


 

  1. Name, understand and accept it.

First step to dealing with the Imposter Syndrome is knowing what to call it. The second step is recognizing that you’re not alone (Google it and see who pops up – Meryl Streep, Chris Martin). Third step is to understand why you feel this way. One possible explanation given by psychologists is that we tend to discount the value of a skill if it comes too easily. This may or may not be the case for you. The fourth and final step is learning how to live with it. So when it does sneak up on you, look at it, remind yourself why it’s here and don’t try and push it away.

After all, common wisdom teaches us that the best way to combat a fear is to confront it. Watch what happens when Fantastic Mr. Fox comes into contact with his worst one:

 

 

Practical tip – take a few minutes to reflect on your situation and note down your thoughts:

  • Why do you think the Imposter Syndrome rears its head with you?
  • What helps makes it less intense? 
  • What needs to happen for it to go away? 

 

CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, here’s how each of these ways verifies and validates your talent:

  1. Taking inventory of your skills and accomplishments = validation of facts.
  2. Getting diverse feedback = collegial validation.
  3. Discovering your natural talents = scientific validation.
  4. Recognizing the value in you = “the common denominator” validation.
  5. Name, understand and accept it = psychological validation.

So the next time you start to doubt yourself or your ability to get the job done, remind yourself:

“What I’m feeling is the Imposter Syndrome. It’s normal to feel this in my current situation. Many highly accomplished people suffer from it. I have a natural talent for this and I was chosen for it. I’ve done great things before and I’ll manage this, despite my current doubts.”

What’s your experience with the Imposter Syndrome? What additional tip can you give me and my readership?

 

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10 Comments

  • Veronica Lillo-Roith

    Reply Reply October 6, 2017

    Great Post Tim! Nice to read about vulnerabilities so openly! As you said, only by being aware of something we can change (it) and further develop. And by feeling in company and not alone getting awareness is much easier. I also know the imposter syndrome well. It accompanies me from time to time, especially when I start something new, a new challenge. I think that this syndrome – that has something to do with humbleness and self reflection from my perspective, too – has also a positive side: it promotes you to move on and keep on learning. Maybe it is a companion of a growth mindset? If there is nothing that drives you to question the status quo, would there be any evolution or development?
    The 5 ways to help handle it also correspond with my personal way of handling it. For number 4, recognize the value in you, I can recommend following book “Wenn die Ziege schwimmen lernt” (german only). It is a book for children, but this animal fable is a very good and funny example on having the right of not being perfect at all things at the same time, the right of having one strength, that might differ to all the others.
    Cheers, Veronica

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply October 6, 2017

      Thanks for your comment, Veronica! And thanks for pointing out the positive side to the Imposter. I like your question about it being a possible companion to a growth mindset. And thanks for the book tip! BTW, what is your strength that is different from others’?

  • Gifford Tanser

    Reply Reply October 7, 2017

    Hi Tim. I love the idea of getting into the practice of taking inventory of your skills and contribution on a regular basis. It’s only when we look back do we realise how far we have come

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply October 10, 2017

      Thanks, Gifford. BTW, what’s a recent accomplishment you’d forgotten about, but on reflection are quite proud of? Thanks for sharing.

  • Josef

    Reply Reply October 9, 2017

    Hey Tim, it was a pleasure to read your latest blog – and yes, it sounds familiar, haha.
    Cheers,
    Josef

    PS: And yes again, what a beautiful creature!

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply October 10, 2017

      Thanks, Josef. BTW, what makes Mr. F so Fantastic (in your opinion)?

  • Laurence Clarke

    Reply Reply October 13, 2017

    Tim
    Great blog! I’ve struggled with IS for most of my life or more exactly a fear of being seen to have the opposite stance – Dunning-Kruger Effect! I particularly liked your 3 questions under section 3.
    I’ve always struggled with critical feedback, I think because I’m a closet fixed mind set person. I had a colleague, now retired, who was great at giving me “helpful hints” which I found easier to assimilate.
    Take care
    Laurence

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply October 15, 2017

      Hi Laurence, Thanks for your comment! I like that – “helpful hints”. BTW, what has helped you move from a fixed to a more open mindset?

  • Greg Coster

    Reply Reply November 17, 2017

    Great blog post yet again Tim.
    You raise some great questions on the nature of self confidence, or sometimes the lack of it, and the desire to always improve.
    Question; Isn’t it really a blessing in disguise to suffer from a non negative form of imposter syndrome? One which constantly motivates you to evolve and improve your abilities without all the negative effects of anxiety and demotivation? One with an underlying sense of self belief I guess. Don’t know where the tricky balance point of this might be on this one.
    Good to see Mr Fox facing his fears though. Although, as I remember, he was a very confident fox.
    Cheers. Greg.

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply November 20, 2017

      Yeah, and a helluva a Whack Bat player, too. Thanks for your comments/question. I would agree that the Syndrome drives many of us to improve and is healthy…if kept in check, I suppose. Question back at you – is it better to burn out than to fade away?

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