Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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How I Overcame Impostor Syndrome



Several years ago, back when I had hair, I attended a conference in Colorado.

The fact that I had hair meant I was just starting out in my career and had lots to learn.  I was young, and impressionable.

The fact that the conference was in Colorado meant it was a two hour time difference from where I lived.  Which meant that my body hadn't adjusted to the time zone yet and  I was up very early in the morning.

There was one other person in the hotel restaurant at 6am - the keynote speaker from the night before.  He invited me to join him at his table.

This gentleman was highly renowned in the world of computer aided design (CAD). He was also a PhD level scientist with some impressive research under his belt, and although he seemed ancient at the time, he was likely in his mid forties.  I was sitting with one impressive, experienced person who's portfolio of experience was a treasure for me.  I knew I could learn from him, I just didn't expect the lesson I got, which impacted me for years.

The conversation went well until he said. "Do you ever get the feeling that one day you'll go into work, or stand up to speak at a conference and that will be the day that 'they' discover you really aren't qualified?"

Perhaps he was joking.

Maybe it was the time zone induced insomnia talking.

Maybe he was going through a personal reflective time.

It didn't matter.  The outcome in my life was profound.

To an impressionable mind, hearing this from the de facto expert meant that I probably didn't stand a chance in my career. But having been raised on John Wayne movies and Batman comics, I wasn't about to share that with anyone.  But it haunted me for a lot of years.

I continued in my career, but every time I met was sitting around a table of people who I judged "more qualified" - having more education, or more experience, then the insecurity would arise.

This lasted for years.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome in developing a successful career as a leader, but the biggest obstacle can be yourself.

It is one thing to have an over-inflated sense of your abilities, but constantly undermining oneself with a feeling of being an impostor, not fitting in to the team, the company, or with your colleagues is more common, and more insidious.

Does any of this resonate?

Thankfully, I think I have resolved my core issue.  And the answer came out in a golf game.

I was on the links with a good friend who was a CIO who had gone through University on a golf scholarship (if you knew how I golf, you would know that this was an opportunity for me to reinforce my feelings of inadequacy, but I digress).

I asked him about competition on the course.  He replied "You are not in competition with anyone else on the course.  You are in competition with yourself.  Your last game. Your last shot."

That was my epiphany that addressed my case of the Impostor Syndrome.

I had been measuring my abilities and qualifications against other people's abilities and qualifications, rather than the goals and objectives I had set for myself to achieve my responsibilities.

If I achieved my goals with excellence, then certainly I was qualified.

I could also talk about my experiences in achieving the goals.  It removed the need to be "right", and gave me the freedom to tell my story.

Setting measurable career goals was a key ingredient in my recovery.

Reviewing my progress on these goals allowed me to see and believe that I was actually accomplishing things.  I can also see my progress over time as I continually stretch myself with new big, hairy audacious goals. (BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them in Built to Last.)

Some of the goals are about education, credentials and key experience that round out your experience as an IT leader, but they should be pursued because they help you be a better leader, not because everyone else is doing it.

If you find yourself in a room full of people, and you are quietly measuring yourself (and your qualifications) against theirs, you are severely limiting your potential as a leader.

I'd love to hear your feedback on this.

Maybe I'm the only one who was bothered by Impostor Syndrome... but I doubt it.


This post was previously published by the author on LinkedIn

About the Author:

Kevin Pashuk is Chief Information Officer for Appleby College, in Oakville, Ontario Canada, where his team is transforming the delivery of education through innovative application of technology.

Kevin is convinced that IT leadership needs to dramatically change how IT is delivered rather than being relegated to a costly overhead department.

In addition to transforming IT in his role as CIO, he looks for every opportunity to talk about this... writing, speaking and now blogging on BeBee, LinkedIn (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/kpashuk), ITWorld Canada, or at TurningTechInvisible.com.

He also is an avid amateur musician and photographer (but not at the same time).  Check out his photostream on Flickr  or on beBee hive: serious-amateur-photographers

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Comments

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #12

The older I get, Kev, and the more presentations I sit through, the less tolerant I get of those who beat their chests and try to impress with their 'expert' knowledge. Invariably the truth will out. It's appears to me that those who convey their message based on examples of their own errors and mistakes leave a more lasting impression than those who attempt to use their achievements to impress and to inflate their status. Someone who has something genuine to present and teach based on illustrations of his/her own blunders, bungles and botch-ups, cannot help but be qualified to talk in front of their peers. That being said, I believe that it doesn't hurt to have a little humbleness, a modicum of self deprecation, to speak from the heart, and to practise, practise, practise, so that you know your content more intimately than a rooster in a henhouse. The best advice I ever got, while preparing for a presentation, was from an older colleague, who suggested, somewhat tongue in cheek, "Don’t try to be too charming, too witty or too intellectual, just be yourself.’” 🤣

Martin Wright

4 years ago #11

I do find you end up finding out how much you don't know, but somehow you still end up calling it better than government experts. But, for example, with Brexit it is amazing how many posing as experts are really just frightened by no longer having the control.they used to have.

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #10

Inspiring Kevin Pashuk, I think many of us subconsciously measure ourselves against others and that can cause a person to stagnate.

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #9

This is a very good healthy conversation about the way we project ourselves into the world. We have a whole economic system based on this projection and the creation of image, and we carry stories of people in our head that become our markers for success, and then if we remain empathic and intelligent people, we question why there is a developing gap between image and reality? So we end up in this strange world where people who are smart over-estimate the intelligence of people around them and people who are not so smart who under-estimate the intelligence of the people around them. Then there is this continual gap in motion. Now one has that economic system operating with image and multiply that with your own family and close inner circle projecting their expectations or estimations out at you. Now that whole "your not good enough" shtick comes layering on people and instead of walking into a world that would wash that bullshit off - we walk into a world that manifests itself in bullshit. This world operates on BS, what part of that economic reality have we not encountered. For you it was a golf game that burst through that bubble, for me it is a constant and growing disdain for the effects of personal brand and worse the branded existence that is our conditioning and indoctrination from all quarters of existence. At the point where your will ceases to want to play this game, now it is you who end feeling like the oddball. That is the funniest irony of all :-)

Wayne Yoshida

4 years ago #8

You touched on several points, Kevin Pashuk - like college class competition. This was pretty difficult for me while going to school, where the classes I went to were very competitive and we were being "graded on a curve." This often meant that when you goof on one question, you'd earn a "C" in class, because everyone got perfect scores. I was the guy that missed the A by one point. Regarding the speaker's confession -- scary, but maybe an indication of a mid-life crisis. Or a realization based on -- maybe tough questions from the audience? When one teaches or lectures - the Q and A challenge offers a way to exercise application of knowledge-sharing in a different way, instead of a one-way transmission. One must think at a different angle. This is why I admire (some) people who teach. Mostly, though, I think this is a bit of a confidence thing. I wrote something related to this in my post about blowing horns. https://www.bebee.com/producer/@wayne-yoshida/blow-your-horns Funny trivia about this post: The blue horn in the foreground is a Despicable Me Fart Blaster. Meant to be a joke. On golf -- I tell people my handicap **is** golf.

Kevin Pashuk

4 years ago #7

#8
Thanks Phil. In my mind you are certainly no imposter... You are the one and only genuine thing.

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #6

Kevin, this is an interesting post, and it is good to see it surface again. My intuition tells me that Imposter Syndrome is likely more prevalent among the truly knowledgeable and accomplished -- for the more you know, the more you understand how much there is still to learn. I too used to suffer from the malady, but then I began hanging around on social media and reading some of the pure BS published by self-ascribed gurus, thought leaders, experts, ninjas, black belts, knowledge masters, and the like -- and I realized that when it came to being an imposter, I was completely bush league.

Kevin Pashuk

4 years ago #5

Being a busy week, I am resurrecting some of my old (favourite) posts. I have to re-read this one occasionally to remind myself who I am in competition with.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #4

#4
Unfortunately the type of situation you described Phillip Hubbell just made the anxiety worse for me - until I realized that (sometimes) I had the most experience in the room. I now am careful about not overstepping my qualifications (the polite term for bullshitting) but use my project management and research skills to ensure we get the right answer in a timely fashion.

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #3

I have come to believe, Kevin, that confidence comes with achievement and that we are responsible for mentoring our younger staff, not only to broaden their experience but to gain confidence. After all, without confidence it's not possible to 'fake it till you make it', and lack of confidence instills doubts in our capabilities.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #2

#1
Thanks Ali Anani, Sometimes I wish I had learned certain lessons at a much younger age. In my part of the world they have a saying "Too soon old, Too late smart." Blogging is a way that I can hopefully share these important lessons with the generation coming up behind.
Owning a goal is the best prescription against the feeling of inadequacy and the Golf lesson is a solid proof of this. This is why many strategies fail. They lay out the goals for others and feeling the Impostor Syndrome builds up. It is self-defeating. Thank you for wring a lovely post Kevin Pashuk

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