This isn’t a comment and division-seeking piece claiming Imposter Syndrome doesn’t exist.
That workplace institutions feel less comfortable or all out exclusive to some sections of society, whilst others seamlessly join their ranks with ease isn’t in doubt. But giving something a buzzword syndrome name runs the risk of people believing they are excluded because of the system, when it could be because of you and where you sit on a widely accepted personality trait called Apprehension.
Changing the system is one hell of a lot harder than changing yourself, so before embarking on that quest, let’s take a look at what might be going on in your internal world.
Signs you might be prone to heightened apprehension.
Your inner voice telling you that a big challenge is beyond you, or you’ll screw it up if you try. Whether it’s applying for that dream-job you just found, getting that contract that would propel your business to the next level or being asked to speak to a room of people you’re convinced are smarter than you, that inner voice wears you down to accepting you’re somehow not good enough.
You convince yourself that you can’t do something by allowing the ghosts of your real or imagined past failures to emerge and dwell and become evidence that the new challenge is beyond your capabilities, even when trusted friends and colleagues with firsthand experience of working with you are encouraging you to do it.
When things go wrong, you accept blame if it’s thrown at you, or somehow attach the blame to yourself, even for situations and events outside of your control.
You are your own worst critic, and equally sensitive to criticism from others, which is especially debilitating if you’re also prone to an unhealthy degree of perfectionism.
Apprehension as a Positive
Before moving onto the “what can I do to fix it?”, there are some valuable positives to a healthy degree of apprehension that anyone experiencing that trait should look to preserve:
Avoidance and awareness of risk tops the list. If you want a thorough assessment of the risks associated with a project, give it to an apprehensive person and tell them they’re part of the team making it happen.
The opposite of the Apprehension trait is Self-Confidence, often characterised by people who expect success not failure, over-estimate their abilities, don’t seek advice that they actually need, are complacent to genuine dangers and dismissive of apprehensive people. They’re equally good at interviews as they are at causing disasters – Global Financial Crash anyone?
Being crushed by past mistakes and failures leads people with heightened apprehension to readily put their hand up when they make mistakes and move heaven and earth to ensure they never repeat that mistake. How many investigations have you done whose root cause is a cover-up by someone, who had they put their hand up at the time would have saved money, time and sometimes even lives?
I work with numerous businesses who actively seek out apprehension as a positive personality trait in their job applicants and existing teams, so long as it’s not so heightened that its stops them from working at all. Ask yourself whether you would want bombastic complacent people working on aircraft jet engine design or vaccine development, or would people painstakingly picking through risks and getting it right be better on that team?
Apprehension and Personal/Professional Development
At the risk of telling you something blindingly obvious, our personality traits are not fixed. They change over time, shaped by life events inside and outside of work. Similarly, just because you have a preference towards one end of a trait doesn’t mean you can’t recognise that trait and work against it when situations require it.
For people who experience heightened Apprehension, the ideal outcome from a personal/professional development perspective could be to retain the clear benefits of identifying and avoiding risks without fear of those risks overwhelming your self-belief.
Based on twenty-plus years of delivering personality profile feedback, here’s some of the most effective personal/professional development interventions I’ve seen in addressing heightened apprehension:
Be aware of that inner voice telling you that you cannot do something. While you work on controlling that inner voice, switch your focus to what your trusted colleagues and friends tell you about your abilities, strengths and why they value working with you. Use their views of you to determine whether you can take on the next big challenge.
Accept your accomplishments as valuable and worthwhile elements of your current job and the jobs you will have in the future. Equally, be aware of when you drift towards dwelling on past mistakes or attach blame to yourself for situations outside of your control.
Expect setbacks, inconveniences, and mistakes as inevitable in anything you do. They are common experiences for everyone, and you have an advantage of being more likely to anticipate and avoid them than most.
Expect criticisms too. Some of them will be valuable learning experiences and some unjust.
You’re not likely to achieve many of these developments on your own.
Find out more about the personality questionnaires that comprehensively cover peoples’ interactions, thinking and coping styles at https://www.peoplecentral.co.nz/personality-profiling/