We all have an inner critic in our head. You know who I mean. The one that holds you back from applying for a role or promotion because she’s telling you “you’re not good enough” or “you’re not ready”?
The one who says “maybe I’m not experienced enough” or “I probably don’t have the right skills” when you’re thinking about putting yourself forward for a new project or to take over a new client account?
How often do you look at other women in the office and wonder “how on earth does she do it?”
How often do you sit down at the table and hear that voice “they’re going to find me out” or “they’re going to realise I’m hanging on by the thinnest of threads”?
How often do you brush aside praise or compliments “somebody needed to do it” or “it was very much a team effort”?
Or when somebody asks you about your career journey and you tell them “I was in the right place at the right time”.
That’s your inner critic … also known as the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. And it affects more women than men.
Career success doesn’t happen by magic
As women we tend to be very good listeners. The thing is … that means we are very good at listening to that inner critic in our head. Very often we take the advice of the inner critic full of self-doubt and fear rather than acknowledge the evidence in front of us.
The thing is, your career success doesn’t happen by magic. It happens on purpose. When I was promoted to Global Head of IT Service in a City law firm, it wasn’t magic. It wasn’t luck or fluke. It wasn’t me being in the ‘right place at the right time‘.
My success happened because of me. Not despite me.
When my teams pulled off a brilliant project, it wasn’t just the team effort. I was the leader. I led the team. I enabled the brilliance. It wouldn’t have happened without me.
So if you suspect that the inner critic in your head is wrecking your career, here are three ways to fix it.
1 – Feel the fear and do it anyway
Sometimes you just need to “feel the fear and do it anyway“. This is the title of book by Susan Jeffers. (From my Leadership Confidence programme recommended reading list).
The theory is that the more often you ‘feel the fear’ and just do it, the less often you feel the fear and the more you expand your comfort zone. Pushing your comfort zone just a little in one area of your career (or life), gives you the confidence to do more in other areas too. Highlighted so brilliantly when I interviewed Cath Robinson, Regional IT Manager at Amazon UK. She noticed that the more she pushed beyond her comfort zone on mountain bike trails, the more her career confidence grew.
What’s your fear? Are you scared of what others might think? Whether and how you will be judged. What if it goes wrong? What if I fail? Will they think I’m being disloyal? That I don’t deserve it? That I’m too old? Too young? I’m not ready for it? I’m not good enough?
2 – Recognise the inner critic for what it is
We all have an inner critic.
And that includes high profile successful women (and I mean seriously successful including Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson). The inner critic in your head judges you for daring to succeed or even daring to dream.
The women who experience this are bright, competent and successful. Yet often they find it difficult to accept compliments or praise because they don’t believe it’s true.
First recognise that inner critic for what it is. The inner critic is the voice of your self-doubt and fears. Your critic is trying to protect you … yet at the same time that critic may be basing her opinions on old evidence from 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. Or perhaps a throwaway comment from somebody who doesn’t know you well.
I still remember my French teacher in Year 9 telling me “a lazy worker blames their tools”. I’d handed in my homework book covered in ink splotches because my pen had leaked on the page.
That “fear” of being judged as lazy remained with me for more than 30 years. Logically I know I am not lazy. However that noisy inner critic in my head brings it up all the time “you don’t work hard enough”, “you don’t deserve that promotion”, or “you’re too lazy”, sometimes whispering so quietly that I almost don’t hear it.
3 – Acknowledge your achievements
Start paying attention to how you receive praise. Be mindful of how you receive praise and compliments. Do you brush it aside or do you thank the person for offering the praise? Notice what you notice. In the workplace, people rarely offer compliments for the sake of it. Accept it for what it is.
For now, if you find it difficult to accept the praise, at least acknowledge that their perception is different to yours. A simple “Thank you” rather than “Oh it was nothing, really”.
All about the team? That’s the other thing that really annoys me about ambitious women. Your manager says “Well done, great job” and you reply “It was all down to the team”. Hell no. For sure, the team had a role to play but who lead the team? Who kept the team together? Who kept the team on target? Who dealt with the niggles and frustrations in the team?
Another way to acknowledge your achievements is to look at all your successes. Make a list. Keep it factual. Don’t qualify what goes on the list. Include things that maybe you didn’t recognise at the time as a success. Keep adding to that list and read it out loud.
Share your achievements with others. Not all at once but give yourself permission to drop nuggets into conversation. Watch and observe how others do this.
Your next steps to fix the inner critic …
Today we have explored how the inner critic in your head is wrecking your career and 3 ways to fix it. You need to feel the fear and do it anyway to expand your comfort zone. Secondly, recognise the inner critic for what it is. And finally acknowledge your achievements.
I’ve got more fixes up my sleeve for example watching your language, understanding the differences between female and male communication styles, uncovering your unhelpful beliefs … and I’ll discuss those in a future article.
For now, what’s the ONE thing you will do differently after reading this article? Post a comment below.