We Make This Road by Walking

I don’t belong here and they know it.

Have you ever felt like you’ll never be good enough at your job? That you’re stuck in some sort of eternal asymptotic journey towards "perfect" where each step provides diminishing returns while your colleagues effortlessly sprint towards the goal line?

You’re not alone, it’s a prevalent feeling in our industry — commonly known as imposter syndrome. Learning how to mitigate the effects of imposter syndrome has been one of the most important aspects of my personal career development.

How to get over myself — he’s a real piece of work.

I live my entire life with an inner monologue narrating my own existence to me. At times it’s a helpful ally in objectively assessing my relationships with other people and making adjustments where unhealthy patterns are found. Usually it’s a harsh critic that leaves me feeling drained and undeserving of any successes I have achieved.

Imagine my surprise to find out that not everyone has this experience with themselves (note: not a scientific study). While I’m not alone in my experience, the way that I self-narrate my own life is not a universal truth. Perfectionistic introverts unite!

If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, I identify most closely with the Type 1 personality. I care a great deal about the quality of my work — and to my own detriment — other people’s opinions about the quality of my work because I want to do things "The Right Way™".

In an unhealthy state I will practice in secret a million times before showing anything in public. I wouldn’t dare risk the embarrassment of doing something I’m not good at and allowing others to see it. And if I do fail then the goal can easily shift from "Doing it the right way" to "Being right" as a coping mechanism to protect my own pride.

In a healthy state I recognize that only practicing in secret will never actually allow me to be good at anything. Feedback, failures, and a willingness to live life without the safety of facade of perfection are an essential part of becoming truly good at something. "Doing it the right way" becomes more attainable over time if I am able to respond to feedback and learn from my mistakes rather than just convincing myself they weren’t actually mistakes to begin with.

So we make this road by walking. When we take small and continued steps to improve ourselves we feel the friction of those things that are trying to hold us back.

Why do I fear writing content and putting out it public? Why does public speaking terrify me? Why do I — even though I must have done it a thousand times by now — still get nervous about a new client sales call? It’s because I don’t want to get something wrong and if I do get something wrong I certainly don’t want to do it in front of other people. But protecting myself from the possibility of failure means I’m standing still. Denying opportunity to myself because it’s "safer" would eventually actually make me an imposter.

Knowing this doesn’t make doing the hard things any easier but it does convince me that it’s necessary. That’s reason enough for me to be willing to try.

One step is better than none.

So we should strive to do the hard thing until it becomes a not-so-hard thing. For me, if that means writing articles and speaking to groups of people — and doing it poorly at first — then that’s the necessary price of eventually living up to my own standards. By putting myself in a vulnerable position and being open to feedback I’m creating an opportunity for growth and the identification of truths I don’t yet know about myself.

Is this the best article on this topic ever written? Hardly. Will everyone who reads it find it worth their time? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Does it matter? No. I’m making the road by walking.

It would be incorrect to say "Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there". If you’re like me then you’re always going to be afraid — but do it anyway and eventually you’ll recognize that fear for what it is: the friction of something trying to hold you back.