Whether it’s in my head or not, I’ve always felt that I’ve had to dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s’. That I’ve had to jump through the hoops to prove I could do it. Prove I could survive anything thrown at me. Before I was ready to knock on the door and say ‘promote me’.
It’s a well documented thing women do. Ticking every box instead of 70% of the boxes, before they say they are ready. But I kinda feel like we do it, because it’s such a drainer to have to have people question your ability or position – just because you are female. The likely scenario if you haven’t proved you’ve already done the job, particularly in construction.
I wish the meritocracy existed, but I’ve come to realise it’s a figment of our imaginations. So much weighs into the decisions around promotions and positioning. Our own biases (of which, I’ve realised I have many), and strategic moves. Political wrangling. Sponsoring. Hard work often bears fruits, but sometimes it doesn’t.
I remember at one stage earlier in my career I took on every shred of responsibility I could on one project, and worked a ridiculous amount of hours, only to end the project without a promotion I thought I was deserving of. It hurt, I was jaded for a long time and it made me want to give up.
Of course in a meritocracy, we all have an equal chance of success if we work hard and persevere through any bullshit thrown our way. We buy into this concept because it supports this culturally-capitalist ideal that we can have it all if we just work hard enough. But unconscious bias, structural bias, classism, sexism, racism, and every other -ism, dampens this narrative. Merit is beloved by our society, but life and people just aren’t this perfect.
I’ve come to terms with this. Until now. Suddenly, my work life has been turned on its head, so to speak. I was recently promoted to Senior Project Manager. I still struggle to even say it out loud. It feels foreign. It feels unnatural. It was a promotion I didn’t ask for…maybe I was seeking it in a roundabout way. But in the immediate present, it was something I didn’t know was coming. Something I thought was a couple years off. It has pained me – caused a lot of angst and self-reflection.
Am I ready? Why am I being promoted? Have I done enough? What are others going to say about this? Will people think ‘why has she been promoted’? Did I get promoted because I’m a woman? Does it look good on paper? Were they scared I was going to leave? Was it just so that I felt like I had a future?
I have tortured myself over the past few weeks. Feeling like a fraud. I’ve analysed and reanalysed my work history. Had I really done enough to be promoted? I hadn’t run a billion dollar project. I was working on a fit-out – yes a big one – but nothing out of the ordinary. I was just doing my job.
So, I did some research. First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, the impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
Oh god. Yes.
I felt like I needed another run on the board. One more project, after the three I had just delivered, to be a thousand percent sure I could do what I had been doing.
People were going to find me out! Realise I actually was just fumbling my way through issues. Doing an ok job, but not a brilliant job.
I’ve already written on my perfectionism here on the blog. My perfectionism has been in overdrive the past few months. I’ve been stretched over a couple of projects, which has made me realise that I can’t give multiple 120 percents. I’m going to have to sometimes live with ‘enough’ rather than ‘perfect’. It’s been hard to take. Feeling like I have done an ok job, but not a great job. Just getting by, because there is a limited number of hours in a day and I actually need to sleep.
Impostor syndrome and perfectionism – well what a pair they make. Commonly they go hand-in-hand. Impostors feel like they have to do every task perfectly, and rarely ask for help (because who wants to be found out, amiright?) Reading up on this, there are two outcomes…An impostor may procrastinate, putting off work they need to do out of fear that they won’t be able to complete it to their necessary high standards. Or, they may overdo it… spending much more time on a task than is necessary. I feel like I have vacillated between the two. But ultimately the latter is where I’ve been hiding the past few months.
So my research also showed there are ways to face these feelings. Talk to your mentors. Recognise your expertise. Remember what you do well. Realise no one is perfect. Change your thinking. Talk to someone that can help.
Some of these have helped me. When the announcement went out about my promotion (along with some others), I felt better being part of a group of people being promoted. I realised that promotions happen all the time and usually I didn’t begrudge others a promotion, so why was I worrying about a small group that may be begrudging mine? One of my mentors called me when she found out and spoke very convincingly that I deserved it, which helped! I looked back over what I had done in the past four years and realised that maybe I hadn’t built the tallest tower, or the biggest project. But I had covered a lot of ground and I had worked on the thing that for me was something I wasn’t good at when I started becoming a manager – bringing a team together. I realised I had become really successful at being a team leader and a small amount of pride in that, changed some of the toxic thoughts around being an impostor.
Another thing that helped was hearing that other people thought they should have been promoted. This is going to sound completely awful, because comparing oneself is not great. But reflecting on their thoughts that they were ready to be promoted, made me question why I didn’t feel the same, when I had done the same amount of work? It made me realise I was falling into an old habit of being unnecessarily hard on myself.
Finally, I have a long way to go. A long way to work on who and what I want to be and how to push upwards without feeling like I’m a fraud. Because it’s only myself holding myself back, right?
Until next time. D.