The only line of this whole article you need to read is this one, although it goes against much of what other people tell me every day:
Let others, not you, judge how capable you are of doing something.
I'd love to say this was smooth and natural, but it wasn't. There was a specific point in time at which I decided to change the way I saw my work. It was a mix of fake it till you make it and shoot the imposter down, a conscient action of looking at my professional journey and giving more to it than what I imagined it was worth.
Some could say this is lying, or even embellishing my CV, but I disagree completely (more on lying later). It's more about a shift of responsibility than anything else.
I was trying to do freelance work and, well, I suck at it. I don't know exactly how to get new clients, how to keep them, how to charge enough money to pay my bills but not too much so they'll run away.
Being for five years on a regular 9-to-5 (or, many times, 5-to-midnight) made me improve other characteristics than having to market myself and my job. I was already employed, all I needed to do was work, not sell what I did every day to different people.
So, while freelancing, I saw the necessity to go back to the regular market. The imposter syndrome, everlasting and overwhelming, made me think a thousand times that I'd never see the happy face of a fixed monthly income in my life, so I asked for help.
This became the whole subject of weekly therapy sessions, and I'm very happy that my therapist didn't give me a ready answer. She made me think a lot about what I was searching for, where I wanted to go, and, especially, who I am (which is the point of therapy after all). Then, one sunny afternoon (maybe not sunny either afternoon, but bear with me), I decided to try something new. I decided to advertise myself as to how my peers said I was instead of what I thought I was.
I started asking my old coworkers what strengths and weaknesses I had. I asked for honest feedback and crushing truths, and asked them from people I trust. They said a good amount of things for me to get better at but, mostly, they said good things. "They are obviously being dishonest", I thought to myself. It's impossible I have all those strengths and so little amount of flaws.
But, as the point of the exercise was judging myself less and letting others do it, I continued. If you, like me, aren't used to getting compliments, you might understand the pain of doing this and getting praise from people. If I'm sounding a little prepotent to you, I propose a challenge. Stop reading, get your phone and ask your three most trusted coworkers for honest, straight, and direct feedback. Ask them to tell you your strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to understand better what I'm talking about. People will probably praise you more than highlight your issues. If they get to the bad parts, they'll probably not only say you're shit but tell you how to improve. The map is there, we just never asked for it.
I decided to act as if everything my colleagues said was true. I refactored my resumé, highlighted the strengths, and removed the flaws. So, if people said I was good at communication, even though I think I'm a lousy journalist and petty writer? Great, let's put that feature, the one people talked about, way above the others. Do they think I'm a good coder, with quality, readable code, and great with multidisciplinary teams? Let's put that on spots two and three on the list. The list of things I thought was valuable, but that no one even mentioned, were lowered in priority or even scrapped.
There is, of course, some narrative building here. I've studied about this, read books, watched documentaries, and done courses. I know that a good story sells, so I had this knowledge beforehand and decided to put that to use. What could be my tagline, my sales pitch, my one-liner?
I tried writing this a hundred, maybe a thousand times. It always sounded one of two: either posh and entitled, or bland and not interesting. I either could present myself as this very interesting gentleman with varied taste in the finest things of the industry or an XYZ language coder with knowledge of ABC and DEF technologies, like many I see around. So, again, I aimed outwards and begin asking questions.
Most of the people I talked to gave me this one-liner on a plate, almost ready to use.
"You do a lot of stuff".
Some of them said it in a good way, as in "you are versatile and find many ways to solve problems, even outside your area". Others highlighted this as a warning: "you spread too thin, knowing a little about a lot and not a lot about anything". Both of them ended up with the same commonality: I was a generalist, not a specialist.
With lots of therapy and some editorial tailoring, I got to where I am now. I am a proud generalist, can understand most of the problems and, if not solve them, find someone who can.
The best part of this whole process (aside from having tripled my salary in a year, of course) was: if at any time, someone found out I'm not all that I claimed (hello imposter syndrome), I could always rely on this simple idea: it was not me that built that persona, it was everyone else. I could tackle anxiety simply by blaming others for my shortcomings, because it's not my fault if someone saw something in me that I'm not, it's their problem. I'm not bad at describing myself, they are the ones that need to tweak their expectations of me.
This took a huge weight off my shoulders, especially the famous "you are not that much" that kept pushing me down and down. This might sound as if I was cheating the system but... well, it works, so sorry, not sorry, society.
After getting a nice idea of what people thought of me, I organized those thoughts (I had noted everything down, as this was a conscient research action), got some tea, and jotted down (in paper! And pen!) the main characteristics they saw in me. From there, I started building this character, like in a Roleplaying Game sheet, of who this Angelo everyone saw was.
I put up bullet points of strengths and weaknesses, highlighted points of improvement, added technical information about the existing topics (eg. they said I was good at coding, but coding what exactly?) and, before I could let the imposter kick in, I had a nice and clear outline of a resumé. I selected some works in which I had put some of those strengths to practice and bam, resumé ready.
With this character sheet — my own, made from parts of me I didn't know or even agree with — I was able to design a resumé, with an attached cover letter from this "character", and started sending it everywhere.
Go to LinkedIn. Browse to "job search". Put a position you'd like to be in. Be reasonable: don't sabotage yourself with lesser positions than you want (because "you are not good enough"). Some would say "don't apply for positions higher than what you think you can do", but I disagree. Do exactly that, apply for stuff you think you are not capable of. Apply to a lot of things. Trust me, even those positions of leadership, high salary, corner office.
The main point of this section is to repeat to yourself that recruiters are professionals. They are amazing at their jobs and can smell talent from afar. As good professionals they are, they won't turn down a good fit for the company because it does not match exactly the position. Maybe they are looking for a Chief Technical Officer and you do not have the required experience, but your knowledge of making balloon animals or your interest in entomology might make them want you in their company nonetheless.
Their job description is: find and recruit talents. So, my simple question to you is: who do you think is better in knowing who's a fit for a position? You, zero recruiting knowledge, or a person who does that for a living?
So, please, let them do their jobs. Apply for positions. All of them you'd like to try. Again, be reasonable, don't apply for "circus manager" if you don't like traveling and are afraid of clowns, save the recruiter's time. Also, if you start a process and don't feel like continuing, quit it and let them know. Put yourself in their skins.
We are, usually, far too traditional (oh, in so many things) and we do things from tradition without much questioning. What I'm encouraging you to do is challenge whatever tradition pushes you from not applying to the jobs you want. Let the recruiters choose and let them evaluate if you are a fit or not. Be truthful in interviews, know what you want in a job (through exercises or, well, therapy) and go out there, hunt, and be hunted.
That shiny contract is signed and you are working in this shiny new environment, with a lot of new responsibilities and a good amount of pressure on your shoulders? Nice. I hope the paycheck is as big as the trouble you just find yourself into (if not, back to step 1).
Now, maybe the problem is not "I'll never find a job" or even "I wont apply for fancy positions". The issue at this point of the process is something I'm still living and, well, trying to tell you to do something I have to do myself.
I always (I mean, daily) think I'm not enough at my job. Of course, they will find out I did all that embellishment of my resumé and that, in truth, I'm a loser and an incompetent and a really bad professional. This, as you might know, is imposter syndrome at its best, eating your brain inside out like that terrifying amoeba. It's easy to say "don't care about that" because I know I do care. My mind (to which I trust most of my decisions) is constantly reminding me I might be in the wrong place.
What I've learned to do is: evaluate your surroundings and count how many people failed in their jobs if you end up being the fraud you believe to be. Start from the last section of this article: if you are this bad of a professional, your recruiter sucks. If any of your colleagues ever praised you, they are bad at judging people --- personally and professionally. If you have been through a probation period and passed it, keeping safely employed, your boss is bad at their job and just accepted an unfit professional in the company ranks.
A few people, whose jobs are to make sure the company runs smoothly, might have made horrible mistakes to keep you there, and the coworkers might be blind and/or amazing liars by saying good things about you to yourself.
Put things in perspective whenever the imposter hits. Are you ready to tell all of these people they are bad at their jobs? They might be good at it, right? So, maybe, you are not as unfit as you think. You might be even good at your jobif you let these "inside" thoughts off and just focus on what comes from outside.
The whole point of this philosophy of letting others judge you, not yourself, for your professional growth, is exactly to take advantage of their professionalism and skills in finding capable people. You, instead, must focus on getting your goods better or your bads at least at medium. Instead of trying to fit in what you think you should be, work towards improving. Tell them you want to get better, be open about your weaknesses, and be true about what you wouldn't want to pursue.
It's hard to be true to yourself, I do know. Being true to others, though, brings a paycheck home. We think so many bad things about ourselves and never, for once, think we are bad at judging our ability. We might see ourselves as the worse professionals, but never as lousy judges of capacity.
Let the professionals do their jobs: let others judge your value, not yourself, and be surprised by how much people might think highly of you.