You know that voice in your head questioning your credibility? The one asking “who do you think you are for even trying this”? Instead of trying to silence it, give that voice a warm welcome. Embrace your imposter syndrome. It’s critical for creativity!
Creativity is often defined as having new and novel ideas. Imposter syndrome often creeps in as we’re facing new ideas and situations. So just when creativity is starting to take shape, that’s exactly when many of us start to doubt ourselves. What would happen if we make plans for dealing with that lack of confidence? Maybe if we embrace those feelings, even start looking for them as a sign we’re growing, our capacity for creativity will bloom.
I know, I know, moving forward when we don’t feel confident is much easier said (or read) than done. Imposter syndrome is a real road block for many of us: stopping us in our tracks and pointing us back to our comfort zones.
So how can we embrace our imposter syndrome? How can we be more confident, more creative?
Understand the source of your imposter syndrome
Being afraid of failure is one source of imposter syndrome, often rooted in needing approval from others. Some people who deal with imposter syndrome are worried other people will see them as not qualified or credible. If this is where your imposter syndrome lies, it might be time to take a look at how you define your worth. Is it based on intrinsic values (your internal motivations) or extrinsic (those based on outside influences)?
Perfectionism is another possible source. Some people don’t recognize the work they’ve already done is good enough to do The Thing they’re wanting to do. They think they need to be better, get more training, have everything in tip top shape. If this sound familiar, keep a list of achievements you’ve reached, tasks you do well, kudos from managers and peers. You’ll see progress is made even when it’s not perfect.
Remember not everyone knows everything
Successful leaders freely acknowledge what they know and what they don’t know, staying curious about what they don’t. It’s OK to not know how to do something. In fact most organizations want you to be learning! Lean in to that space of not knowing. Be authentic about your level of understanding. It could be as simple as:
1 – stating your idea – to the group, or your boss or even your journal
2 – sharing your growth opportunities – what skills do you need to move forward or what research do you need to do to more fully understand the implications of your idea
3 – learning the skills / researching those implications
Analyze the risk
What’s the worst that’ll happen if you move forward with this idea and it doesn’t go as planned? How can you mitigate negative outcomes? Hopefully your leaders encourage a healthy level of trial and error – it’s a hallmark of successful growing credit unions – but knowing what that healthy level is can help you frame up the possibilities in a more positive light.
Frame failure as feedback
Thomas Edison famously went through 10,000 ‘failures’ before he got to the light bulb. Each one helped him plan what to do next, and next, and next. For those who are afraid of failing, reframing it as a stepping stone to success provides a more helpful perspective. Need inspiration for how to shift that perspective? Look at author J.K Rowling, world-class athlete Michael Jordan, and diplomat Colin Powell. They and many others society deems ‘successful’ have written about their ability to work through failures as a key element to their success.
Build up your creative muscles
Being creative is a skill we can learn and master. It is very different than being artistic, which is more innate. To be more creative – to develop new and novel ideas – practice the skill! The more time spent doing divergent (branching off from one central theme) as well as convergent (connecting disparate ideas) thinking, the stronger those creative muscles become. There’s science behind it even – see this study which shows combining both divergent and convergent practices improves creativity. To get you started with divergent thinking, here’s a list of creative exercises. You can get started with something as simple as spending five minutes a day writing down ideas – on anything, not just ideas for work!
Confidence is in the doing
These methods for embracing your imposter syndrome lean heavily towards taking a deep breath and just moving forward. And by moving forward, doing The Thing, you’ll also gain that illusive trait “imposters” are seeking: confidence. Confidence comes from doing. We certainly don’t develop it by sitting around feeling our feels. If doing The Thing is a really big bite to take, try small new activities to build your confidence. Let’s say you typically don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. Give yourself the goal of smiling at a stranger each time you go out. It’s a small activity to do which can lead to the larger goal of being more comfortable talking to strangers. The more you do the smaller goal, the more confident you’ll feel, building up your esteem for that larger goal.
Creativity is in the space of not knowing
The more time you spend in those moments of uncertainty, of not knowing, the more creativity you’ll welcome into your work and life. You’ll start to recognize and implement innovative ideas as you become more skilled in divergent thinking while telling your imposter syndrome to just take a seat to the side. Before too long you’ll be welcoming those imposter syndrome signals, knowing your next great idea is not far behind!
Those imposter signals we often get when we enter new territory or try new techniques are actually letting us know we’re on the right path for being creative. New territory is inherently uncomfortable and unknown – of course we don’t know everything!
Blazing new trails, even if they are new to us but worn down paths for others, is tough, slow work. It’s like we’re taking a machete to dense jungle growth. It just might be our trails lead to a new process or ad campaign instead of to a lost city of gold.