This is a topic very close to my heart. So close, in fact, that I considered not to write about it (or to be more specific: I did not consider writing about it), but then one of my best friends told me I should and since he’s usually right, you’re now reading this. Shifting the blame here, yep.
My story starts a while back. After getting my university degrees, I got a job in IT at a company crafting financial software. Though the company culture was a really good fit, I’ve always hated finance. And IT… well, I guess it was alright… but you know what I thought would be REALLY cool? Being able to combine IT with marketing and user experience. To each their own, I know, but for me, digital marketing was (and still is) the dream. And so, I learned more about marketing. I got certified in Google Adwords and Analytics. Took classes in branding and storytelling, SEO and content marketing, social media marketing and A/B testing and e-mail marketing. Went to conferences. Read books. Practiced, both at home and doing marketing for the company I worked for. And then, at some point, I decided to leave the company I was working for.
To become a digital marketeer, you might think? Ha ha, nope. To continue working in IT. You see, I didn’t really think I knew a lot about marketing, digital or other. It’s not like I had a degree in it or anything, right? Sure, at that one marketing conference they said marketeers with knowledge of IT were super scarce and valuable. But I didn’t qualify for that, I wasn’t a marketeer! I’m sure if I’d claim I actually knew my stuff when it came to digital marketing, I would be exposed as a fraud.
… I ended up making a compromise with myself and getting a job as a marketing software consultant.
What if people find out?!
What I’ve described above, the fear of people discovering you’re not really capable, is something I’ve experienced in my life countless times. Turns out it has a name. It’s called the Imposter Syndrome.
I would highly recommend you watch this Ted Talk on the subject, but in case you don’t feel like watching (or aren’t in a place where you can easily watch a video), here’s what the Imposter Syndrome is: it’s the feeling that all evidence of your successes is really anecdotal. Or based on luck. That you’re really not very capable and sooner or later people will find out and expose you for it.
Now what’s really interesting about the Imposter Syndrome is that it’s mostly active with people who are objectively successful. People with good jobs. People who really make an impact. Leaders. Innovators. Sure, these are people who have “more to lose”, they’re up high so they can fall deeper, potentially. But I’ve always wondered if there was more to that, and I now have this theory…
The dark side of a bright mind
Apart from being successful, the people I mentioned usually also have a good capacity for reasoning and self-reflection and here’s what they know: they know that they know some things. They also know there are lots of things they don’t know. They know their knowledge or skill on a certain subject is not complete. And they are terrified of this gap being exposed. They think only 100% perfection qualifies for success and they know they’re never near that percentage.
Here’s how they see other capable people: they see the things these people know. They DON’T often see things other people don’t know. And so, these people around them suddenly get this aura of being superskilled. Measured against this ideal, the self-proclaimed imposters are doomed to fail.
We tend to forget that we don’t see what other people don’t know or can’t do. It’s not on display. More importantly, we tend to forget that nobody ever reaches that 100% perfection. That’s okay. We can still be successful. We can still be experts in our fields, even though we don’t know every single thing. If the average person knows 10%, a beginner knows 25, an intermediate 40 and you know 60… You are the expert (even though you might be missing a whole 40%!). You can still make a huge difference in other peoples’ lives. And you definitely deserve the good things that are coming to you.
As for me…? I’ve stayed in this new job for a year. A week ago, I had my last day. I’m going to grow my own business as a digital consultant. It’s terrifying. I’m still scared I’ll be exposed. But as some nameless guy on Instagram said: “Maybe it won’t work out. But maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever.”