Halloween is right around the corner, and it’s the one day a year when it’s perfectly acceptable to dress up like someone else and pretend to be a nurse, fireman, or political figure. However, no one expects you to administer medicine, put out a fire, or pass legislation. It’s all done in good fun; adults and children alike get in on the action.
But what happens when you feel like you’re wearing a costume every day at the office? What happens when you show up at work and cross your fingers no one will know you’re hiding behind a mask and are not really who they think you are?
This fear is a reality for so many professional women (and often, men). They are terrified their secret will be revealed and everyone will know they’re a fraud or an imposter. They fear that a small slip will let everyone know they’re not as smart, successful, or talented as they pretend to be.
Some women feel that previous accomplishments, acknowledgments, and accolades somehow were a fluke and not fully deserved. Women lack ownership of their successes and the confidence that they can keep the winning streak alive. They think, “If people really knew the truth, they’d know I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m an imposter.” This is not simple modesty; it’s an expression of self-doubt characterizing a scarcity of self-belief on a fast-track to self-sabotage.
Not only is the “fraud and imposter” costume extremely popular year round, but so is the mask of “perfection”. Women are deeply committed to appearing perfect even though they know it’s a façade. They want to look perfect, be perfect, and have the perfect career.
In fact, many women will not pursue a new position or an advanced position if it’s not perfect. When evaluating a new job description, women believe they need to have nearly 100% of the requirements and qualifications in order to apply for the position. Women want a perfect match and a high degree of certainty before moving forward. Otherwise, they will hyper-focus on the one skill they don’t have, or don’t have enough of, and obsess over the possibility that the hiring manager will discover they’re not perfect.
Women become crippled with self-doubt and insecurities to the point where it sabotages their careers. The reality is that women are low risk-takers and are paralyzed at the thought of looking stupid, silly, or incompetent. They hide behind their make-believe personas and internal fantasy dialogue, and ultimately end up killing their careers.
Not having the all the answers is often viewed as a sign of weakness, which is why venturing outside the comfort zone is awfully uncomfortable for many women. The truth is that it’s a sign of strength. Great leaders have always surrounded themselves with top experts in specific fields, and are openly grateful for the help and support. Know what you do best and delegate the rest.
Pretending to be someone else at work is not only exhausting, it’s inauthentic. Authenticity is critical to being an effective leader and to developing quality relationships. People can sense a fraud a mile away and will actually try to distance themselves, which is exactly the opposite of what’s required for a long and successful career.
Building strong relationships in the workplace, in an industry, and throughout a community is the key to success. People hire, promote, recommend, and refer people they like, and especially people they like authentically. Networking has always been, and will always be, the most effective job search strategy with a 75-80% success rate and 90% success rate for executives.
According to author Breen Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
It’s these brave choices, and the choice to ditch the preverbal “mask”, that leads to true happiness, fulfillment, and success in the workplace. Instead of putting energy into perpetuating an imposter or perfectionist persona, focus on personal and professional development and being the best, and most authentic, version of yourself. It’s time to pull on those “big-girl panties” and save the costumes for when you go trick-or-treating. Woman UP!