Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

There’s a scientific theory known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’.  Basically it states that the less competent a person is, the more they overestimate their abilities.  Conversely, the more competent a person is, the more they underestimate their abilities.  Basically this means that the more you know, the more you realize you have yet to learn.

My own experience mirrors this pretty much exactly.  When I first started my company I thought I could do everything.  I would accept any project, do any task, and take on anything that even remotely related to what I do.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was doing a pretty half-ass job of most things but I didn’t know any better.

As I got better at what I do, imposter syndrome set in hard.  I looked back at those projects I had once thought were great and realized that they really weren’t.  I compared my work to others frequently, and I started taking on fewer and fewer projects for fear of being discovered as a fraud. Ironically, it wasn’t until imposter syndrome set in that I was actually doing decent work. I was critical because I actually cared about and understood the work I was doing.

It took time, but eventually I realized that there are a lot of projects I either lack the necessary skills to do properly, or that it wasn’t worth the effort to do it at a standard I’d be happy with. At the same time, I learned there are some things that I enjoy more and could excel at so I started to specialize.  I eliminated most of these tangential tasks that weren’t really what I wanted to do.  I also started outsourcing the parts of my work that I wasn’t that great at or didn’t enjoy doing. I realized that I can do anything, I just can’t do everything.  

Now I pretty much only do one thing, but I do it really well.  That was my way of dealing with imposter syndrome.  I had to let some things go to make way for the things I knew I could do best. By sticking to what I do best, I was able to push myself past the barriers of imposter syndrome.

Don’t be afraid to let things go and don’t try to do everything. The world has enough mediocre.

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