The Imposter Syndrome and the Talent

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Once a teacher asked all the students during a class: do you think you are talented people? The students began to look at each other, stunned and in silence, in front of the question that the teacher had just thrown.

Then and seeing that no one answered, the teacher decided to ask the same question again, this time individually: do you consider yourself a talented person? It was clear that the students were not expecting that question at the time.

Surely they would never have asked themselves that same question before. But there they were, exposed to the challenge of giving an answer to the teacher. The answer was simple: yes or no. The reflection on the question was a really complicated thing.

When the round of questions ended, more than fifty percent of the people answered: NO. The teacher — who was already used to this type of situation — began to give a motivational speech and ask out loud why these people did not consider themselves talented.

More than fifty percent of the people answered: NO

These people thought they had no quality, skill, aptitude, or attitude to be considered talented. They hadn’t stopped to think that they really were unique. It was clear that his answers were wrong. But they did not know.

It may seem fiction, but the reality is that it is a situation that I experienced back in 2017 when I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Sociology. At that precise moment, these people did not stop to think about what they meant and the value they were really bringing to society.

Nobody had told them: you have a natural talent for being unique. Publicly accepting that statement is the true ally against the impostor syndrome.

This same week, my partner and People Manager of z1, Aure Contreras, raised this question, and, as always happens in z1, the debate arose.

There is no doubt that this sentiment is quite common in the digital sector. The challenges we face as creators of digital products exacerbate our mistrust. Day by day we face different and complex problems that require agile solutions in a sometimes hostile environment.

I am sure that we could brainstorm great and put on the table the main variables that can highly impact the appearance of this syndrome. However, I am going to focus on one: trust.

For me, in addition, trust also has two aspects: internal and external. The internal is the confidence that you have in yourself. The external is the trust that you transmit and receive from your environment. And both feed off each other.

From my point of view, in our professional lives, the trust that you place in your environment and vice-versa can clearly balance and unbalance the scale.

If you are in a safe environment, where you are provided with the necessary tools so that you can develop smoothly and without fear of making mistakes and where those are considered a learning point, the chances of the syndrome appearing will most likely be drastically reduced.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

On the contrary, if you are in a more complicated environment, where making mistakes becomes a fear and mistakes are seen as a failure, the possibility that your confidence will decrease will increase. Not to mention your ability to develop as a professional, although that is another matter.

That is why I believe that the environment is the most important part to explain this phenomenon and that the tools we have to combat it are adequate, it is essential.

A hostile environment is most likely to trigger the onset of this syndrome. Self-pressure and ego-based battles can also play a role against you. And this is quite common, mainly in the world of software development.

In the end, the impostor syndrome is still a mental image that we potentially mold to our own detriment, when we try to self-answer questions such as: do I really know how to do what I am doing? Do I really know what they expect me to know?

When the right question should be: why do I judge myself if I’m already here? In the end, the image of reality is quite different.

What you think vs reality

We have to be able to control the events and variables that are within our reach and depend entirely on us. Take responsibility for executing your work without fear of being wrong. Learning from your mistakes and making your environment learn from them too is an essential part of the process.

However, there are also another series of variables that are totally beyond our control and that are more casuistic and random. It is better not to pay attention to this series of variables directly. As Michael Jordan would say: “why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken yet”.

I know that it is not as easy as saying: obvious this. But the reality is that we must put the spotlight on the variables that we can control, and simply prepare for what is to come. I am sure you will know how to deal with the problem.

One of the most famous shots of Michael Jordan in the finals against Utah Jazz

If we go back to the example of the teacher and the students, we can realize that the students were wrong because they had never really stopped to think about their answer to that question.

It is difficult to think about this type of approach individually. It is always the environment that urges and pushes us to bring out the talent that we carry inside.

It is when we face the problems that appear when we work as a team that we have to bring out our skills to solve them. Trying to fulfill the expectations that others have of us increases the levels of self-demand, and that is not necessarily bad.

It’s important to note that we must assume our part of individual responsibility in the process, always bearing in mind that proving who we are is not a matter of a specific moment. It is part of a whole process that requires time, effort, and dedication. It is a curve that we must overcome, and it is better that the team guide you until you reach the finish line and you collectively enjoy the success.

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