How Confident Are You?

I’m teaching a writing workshop. Writers have all kinds of problems. A common problem is the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. “Who am I to write this? Will anyone believe me? Is it valuable?”

Imposter Syndrome arises when you think you’re not capable. Or, that your success arose from luck, not your hard work.

There’s a difference in “still having something to learn” about writing and being a “bad writer.” I don’t know too many bad writers. I know writers who need to learn how to simplify sentences, use examples, title their work, find endings, and more. How can I enumerate this list? Because I continue to work on all of these things myself.

Imposter Syndrome arises from a lack of self-confidence.

How do you gain more confidence? Practice.

The first time I proposed and delivered a workshop at a conference, I was scared. I asked myself, “Who am I to teach this? Why should people listen to me? What if I can’t provide value?” My self-esteem was not high.

Then, when people told me they had never thought of the content in that way, I realized I was the right person for these people at this time. I practiced more content development. I practiced delivering the content. Now, when I develop new workshops, I am confident I can do a good job. And, if I realize I’m not doing what these people need now, I can often fix it in the moment.

I practiced. With practice (and feedback), I gain confidence and expertise.

In my first management position, I certainly felt as if I was an imposter. I practiced. I screwed up sometimes, and my team members let me know when I did. I learned what worked, what didn’t work, and how to tell the difference. I found management practice more difficult than development or testing practice because the feedback loops are often longer.

I like writing because my feedback loops are often quite short. I can learn a lot, just by writing more. I gain more confidence in my writing.

It’s okay if we feel as if we are imposters. The question is what will we do about it? Will we learn or worry? Will we try practice with feedback or worry? Or, will we just worry and hope everything will work out?

I have not found hope to be a useful strategy. Hope does not build my confidence. Hope does not enhance my self-esteem.

I use experiments and adaptability to build my confidence. I ask for feedback and help. I use my support system to learn, improve, and build my self-esteem. I find all these build my self-confidence.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: How confident are you?

6 thoughts on “How Confident Are You?

  1. Jim Grey

    I’m getting married in July and my wife-to-be and I are doing premarital counseling. It began with a battery of questionnaires to gauge a bunch of things about us as individuals and as a couple. One of the things it measured was self-confidence, and I rated far above average.

    That surprised me. I would have guessed average.

    A few years ago as the company where I worked was stumbling badly through an agile transition and refused to pay for outside help, I bought some of my own in the form of some 1×1 agile coaching. I worked with the coach for maybe ten sessions and learned a few important things — but was surprised by what I already knew. Towards the end of the engagement the coach said something to me that radically boosted my confidence. I think he could see, actually, that lack of confidence was my biggest challenge. “You are in the top 5% in what you do in this market, and probably in the top 10% in the nation,” he said. “Anywhere you go for an interview, you will be the leading candidate by a mile.”

    This flattened me. It actually felt uncomfortable even now typing that because it seems so boastful. But I chose to internalize it (cautiously; I didn’t want it to go to my head). But it did help me be more confident in asserting myself at work. I’ve changed jobs twice since then, and both times I’ve gone in much more boldly. I was laid off in June and this boosted confidence led me to network like a madman and landed me a short-term consulting gig advising a startup. And the interview for my current job was supposed to be an hour of me answering questions, but turned into 3 hours of me asking most of the questions and describing several solution paths I saw to the problem spaces they described.

    I’m not the end all be all of the world, but at least I am not hobbled anymore by underestimating myself.

    1. johanna Post author

      Jim, Congrats on the upcoming wedding!

      In my experience, the people who are most capable have some form of Imposter Syndrome, or some sort of self-doubt. In my case, that’s because I know how good things can be and I want to make them that way. I bet that’s at least partly your experience, also.

      Too many people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. They think they are much better than they are. Couple DK with Imposter Syndrome and you have people who cannot consider other options. A dangerous situation.

      I’m delighted you took over that interview. When we have real conversations in an interview, we make more possibilities.

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