What matters more, a person's skill set, or the network of people who know about that person and their skillset?  As always, the answer is “it depends.” In this episode, I discuss Imposter syndrome and how it applies to adults (me specifically) and how this perspective might impact my children as they grow up.

Summary and Notes

Episode 17: How we talk to our kids (and ourselves) about imposter syndrome

[00:00:24] – Imposter Syndrome

[00:03:47] – Over-preparing/perfectionism….it’ll never be ready

[00:05:12] – Competence vs Confidence

[00:07:35] – The most important message

[00:11:24] – Conditioning in school vs the real world

[00:14:11] – Building social capital, rather than building a standalone skillset.

Quotes from the Episode:

“A lot of opportunity happens when we don't have full information. And if we wait to have full information on something, then oftentimes that opportunity will have changed or will have entirely passed us by.” [00:02:59]

“The people who have the least competence in a subject area are, generally speaking, those who have no qualms about putting themselves out there and advertising what it is they have and making claims about what it is that they can do.” [00:05:09]

“Rather than focusing on an absolute level of skill and comparing yourself to, other people who you may never meet. Focus instead on who you can help with, the skills that you have developed.” [00:07:38]

“You have to be able to find people who find your skill valuable.” [00:08:44]

Transcript Below

Today I want to talk about one of the things that comes up for me repeatedly, and I think it's useful for my kids to know this, and I think it's useful for other people to understand how I've kind of dealt with this over the years and how I think it's benefited me, but also how I think that it has really held me back. and that is something called imposter syndrome. Now, impostor syndrome is when. You don't feel that you are good enough to be doing what you're doing or you don't feel that you are up to par with your other contemporaries in a particular field. this kind of manifested itself for me early on, I would even say probably going back into, high school where I didn't, I was in the smart kid classes, but. I didn't really feel like I belonged in the smart kid classes, and I realized that there's a lot that just goes into saying the smart kid classes where I went to school, they broke you down into, the a B and C units.

And because they didn't think that kids were smart enough to figure this out, they put all the smart kids in the C. Level classes and all of the kids who are having challenges with the educational system. We're in the A-level classes. And so they thought that if they put the smart kids in the AA classes and the kids who are having problems in the C classes, that would unfavorably stigmatize the kids according to where they were, , kind of stratifying themselves. And they didn't think that we were smart enough to figure that out. So just to give you kind of an idea of the, The what the learning institutions were all about when, when I was a boy, that's the level of intellect that they thought that pretty much everybody was bringing to the game. And of course, the thing was that pretty much anybody could figure out where those kids stratified themselves in terms of not just their intellectual ability, but also their desire to be in school. I remember, there was this one kid who I went to school with who, He actually is a brilliant, brilliant kid. His mother passed away, I think maybe his freshman year of, of high school. And he actually went on to be a professor at a, at an Ivy league, university.

And in high school you would not have guessed that from just looking at his academics. he was, he was in those A classes, but he should not have been there. bringing this back to what we're talking about earlier with the imposter syndrome, so for me, what this resulted in me doing was holding myself back until I was. 100% sure that I could do something and that's always a problem or that can be a problem because a lot of opportunity happens when we don't have full information. And if we wait to have full information on something, then oftentimes that opportunity will have changed or will have entirely passed us by. In some ways it kept me safe by being conservative, but in other ways, it held me back. And I think what it really did, was it made me focus on over-preparing. And over-preparing is just really a way of. Not putting yourself into the game. Over-preparing or perfection, perfectionism, you could say, but I'll just say over prefer over-preparing in, in my particular, situation. You're not, you'll never be ready. It will never be perfect. And so when something is never ready, you never have to put it out there. What's the danger of putting something out there? Well, when you put something out into the public for, for scrutiny or for evaluation, then you're opening yourself up to criticism. what strategy did I adopt was I tried to say, okay, well I am going to try and make myself safe from criticism or safe from scrutiny by focusing on perfection, by focusing on trying to make things perfect. And in that way, I always have an excuse for something to be not ready. And that. Is a blessing and a curse. What ha it has caused me to do is it's caused me to really build up a skillset that is fairly robust in some fairly useful areas, but at the same time, it's also created a situation where.

Even now that I'm aware of that, I still have hesitation to put those things on display out there. And what's really interesting is this is something that I've noticed too in, in my life, but the people who. Have the least competence in a subject area are generally speaking, those who have no qualms about putting themselves out there and advertising what it is they have and making claims about what it is that they can do. I think that that's really interesting. That so, so often the people who are the least qualified are the people who are the ones who are saying. I can do that for you and they have no problem making that claim yet. What often happens too is people who are really good at something are constantly evaluating themselves and are constantly saying, Oh, well, I'm not going to, I'm not going to put myself out there because then I'll have to be evaluated and I might not be as good as I really think that I am and. That's kind of a, the category that I have fallen into. And what, what's really interesting to me is good enough for who right? because we're conditioned from the news media and Hollywood and all these other, external sources of validation. A lot of times what happens is we compare ourselves to people who are on. National media where at least when, when I was a boy, you know, 20 years ago it was, it was the major cable networks. They made major news outlets.

Now it's obviously very different, but when you're comparing yourself to the expert on something, then unless you are that person, there can only be one of them. And because there can only be one world expert in something, there's always going to be somebody who has a bigger boat. There's always going to be somebody who is faster than you, stronger than you, whatever. And even if you're the world champion at something, even if you're the fastest sprinter in the world, you're not going to be the fastest sprinter forever. Even if nobody breaks your record, you're going to get old. And you're going to go on in life and then somebody else is going to come and fill that role. And even if they never actually break that record, it's still going to be, unfortunately, that that identity that you had is going to change over time. I think that the most important message here for my kids is. Rather than focusing on an absolute level of skill and comparing yourself to, other people who you may never meet. Focus instead on who you can help with, the skills that you have developed constantly put yourself out there in. A way that you can help other people and get feedback so that you can improve on what it is that you're doing so that you can get better. Not by just working on skill development in isolation, but by interacting with the market, interacting with, with people who you're helping and getting the feedback from them.

And ideally that will come in the form of compensation as well. That's a great, that's a great way to tell. on a personal level anyway, how how effective you are is if someone's willing to give you compensation for what it is that you're doing. And so that's going back to, you don't have to be the world expert on something. You have to be able to find people who find your skill valuable. And I think where I spent a lot of time was saying, I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready yet. And yeah, I was developing skill over that time, but I wasn't developing wisdom. I don't believe you can develop wisdom in isolation. I think that in order to develop wisdom, you have to have interaction with people and you have to test your skillset in in the real world, not in the ivory tower , so to speak. that's really kind of my takeaway from today is that the best way to not only help yourself but to help other people is to develop your skillset incrementally and find people who will benefit from that skill set. Help them , have them help you identify areas where you could improve what you did well, what was missing, maybe what you could improve on a little bit, and then iterate, go back, improve, help someone again.

And I think ultimately what you'll find is that number one, you will shortcut your path to developing that skill. But most importantly, you will be developing a group of people who will identify you as someone who is skilled in that thing, rather than just showing up one day and saying, Hey, I'm here. Look at these skills. Because ultimately, and here's kind of another big takeaway from this, is that skills are necessary but not sufficient. Ability is necessary, but not sufficient. Because An individual or an organization who works in isolation could have the best skillset in the world, but if they don't have a network of people who know about that, then they're, they're working in a vacuum. They're working in isolation. this is oftentimes going back to the imposter syndrome, why we often see people who are not very good at something getting. A lot of traction because they have focused on building a network and their skill is building a network and what they, what their actual skill is technically is secondary to having let other people know that they have that skill and they can do that thing. I think for me, I was a little bit too focused on one side of it where I was, because that's what we're conditioned to do. We're conditioned, you know, you go to school from K to 12 and they focus on. What do they focus on? They focus on doing assignments by yourself. You're penalized for working collaboratively. Generally speaking, in school, you're focused on your ability to do things in isolation. You're, you're rewarded for your ability to, regurgitate facts and information and maybe there might be some synthesis involved in there. Now, contrast that with, with the real world. Well. In the real world, you need to be able to work as part of a team. In fact, I would say that if you're only able to work in isolation, then your ability to progress as you, get up in your, in your career, in your life, is going to be limited. So in addition, as an adult. We need to be able to not derive things from scratch. That's one of the things in school we need to show all the work well in the real world where we don't want to be constantly reinventing the wheel and you're rewarded for your ability to solve a problem or solve someone else's problem. Not. For your ability to derive that problem. Oh, unless you, you happen to be a researcher, which is a fairly rare occupation, I would say. at the end of the day, skills are necessary, but not sufficient.

Building up a network of people who can help you. Not only develop those skills, but socialize those skills and help other people know that you can be good at those things is, I would say perhaps more important than simply being able to do those things in isolation. This is in case you couldn't tell. This is kind of a challenging subject for me because it's a, it's been frustrating to me. It's maybe only the past. Couple of years where I've, I've recognized this about myself and have been starting to do something about it. And as I look back, it makes me realize that I use, I use college entirely incorrectly because all of the, sorry, I went to a state university and I focused on grades and all of the people who I was friends with who went to an Ivy league college rate nearby. They they, you know, they did pretty fairly well academically, but the thing was is that they could take classes, pass, fail. They could take any class that they were in pass, fail. Whereas I could only take classes that were not, that were elective classes, basically a pass fail.

Everything else came with agreed. Fast forward 20 years. The reason I say I use college incorrectly was because. The folks who went to the Ivy league school were focused on building up networks, professional and social networks that they are leveraging today. And I focused on grades. I didn't focus on networking at all because as a scientist, that's beneath us, or that's what I thought it at the time. That's, that's kind of what that, that whole model of scientific academia focuses on, is that it's the, it's the ivory tower. That's not true. So even the folks who. Worked in science in the Ivy league institution. They were focused on networking was heavily, heavily emphasized. And I couldn't understand that at the time. And my folks being first generation college graduates, you know, they thought it was, you go there to get this information.

Well that's obviously, that's part of why you go there, but that's not the only reason you go there. And especially today, information is everywhere. You can get that information on the internet for free. That's my big takeaway that I want to share. That's my frustration. If I had one kind of really big go back that I could do again, it would be focusing more on building a network, building social capital, rather than building a standalone skillset. That's it. If you have any questions, if you want to. Discuss my frustration with this topic, please send me an email and we'll see you in the next show.

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