Burnout to Leadership

Ep#23 Work performance and imposter syndrome

February 25, 2022 Dex Randall Season 1 Episode 23
Burnout to Leadership
Ep#23 Work performance and imposter syndrome
Show Notes Transcript
  • Why we're never satisfied with our own performance.
  • Fear of letting people down.
  • Self-criticism does NOT improve performance.
  • Taming our inner critic.

Hi everyone, my name's Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout To Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, people. This is Dex. And today I'm gonna have another of my intense rants about the fundamental ill of burnout, not being satisfied with yourself and your performance. Because if you do experience dissatisfaction with yourself, it could have been going on just quietly for a long time. Maybe you lost contact with your work day's being kind of doable, maybe you're working crazy long hours and you're straining to get everything done. Possibly you're concerned that the quality of your work won't quite cut it, that people are gonna judge you. Or maybe you're just worried about letting people down. Anyway, if that sounds a bit like you, can you even remember when you were last relaxed and content about your own performance, and went home satisfied without a backward glance? Do you fundamentally believe that you're competent and your skills, attitude, and performance are enough? In burnout, typically not. I know it wasn't true for me. When we've got ground down into bottom gear and everything's become painful and stressful rather than challenging, it's pretty rare for us to feel good about our contribution. Actually, it's pretty rare for us to feel good about pretty much anything by then. We've usually lost the vision of our own power and competence, let alone brilliance. No wonder we're run down. Anyway, if that's you, I'm gonna talk a little bit about that, how it happens, and what to do. So the first thing to notice, if you don't like your own performance, is what are you telling yourself about it? Your inner critic probably has a very familiar routine, it's having a field day in there. He'll be telling you you didn't work hard enough, you didn't get stuff done you wanted to, you're avoiding some of this work you haven't finished. Maybe you neglected to ring a colleague. You put off telling someone typically that you're not gonna be able to deliver something, yet you're still saying yes to things you've got no hope of fitting into your schedule. Maybe you're not completely honest with your partner about when you're gonna be home from work. You could be worrying about some task you got no idea how to do, and you're probably almost certainly dreading trying to keep all those plates spinning so nobody thinks you're failing, nervously checking messages late at night waiting for some mysterious axe to fall. And if any of that's true for you, that voice in your head, how much time off does it take everyday? The only time that voice sounds complimentary probably is when it tells us, "Actually, everybody around us is useless and we are genius. They just can't appreciate our talents." Same story, reverse polarity. And probably it feels like that voice's story defines your reality when you're working because it's so insistent and constant. It's a very kind of intimate and familiar story. In fact, very few of us experience the world as it is simply as witnessing the bare facts occurring in the present moment. We always embellish what happens with our thoughts and our feelings, our memories and our opinions. It's basically our identity superimposed on the world. We're constructing a meta world of interpretation, a lens through which we think we know what's going on, but it's just a confection. It's just a web that we weave to make it feel like we've got some control over our lives. And if we were more analytical, we'd see that almost everything that happens in our lives is outside our control, a concept too alarming for most of us since our sense of safety comes from that illusion of control or certainty, or at least predictability. And when it comes right down to it of course, none of us knows what's gonna happen tomorrow. We might live or die, we might get promoted or fired. We certainly won't be in touch with how the world really works, the influence we don't have over external events, or the influence we do have over the energy we bring to them. It can be more helpful to see that even though life is beyond our control, we've lived and breathed every day until now. What unseen power then is conspiring to support us so consistently, so apparently against the odds? I think that's rather extraordinary. So coming back to our work story, we can see that it separates us painfully from our own adequacy, the basic okayness of our existence and who we are. That inner critic, when it writes the story, it writes it based on our fears of inadequacy. It tells us we're impostors, that we'll be found out maybe today, and lose our position, status, income, our ability to be the rock, the good provider. It's a really easy story to spin because it's so terrifying. It doesn't just hit us on a practical level at work, but also our identity, our financial and social standing, family status. When our critic breaks out the "not good enough at work" story, it really has asserting complete control over us. We'll do anything it tells us except resolve our work problems. We're still procrastinating on that bit. And all of this is part of our ego's plan of subjugation. It's particularly tempting, of course, to blame other people and circumstances for our difficulties, and often we lie to ourselves, perhaps to others, or at least disguise the truth. So all these experiences I'm describing here, if you can relate to them, don't worry. They're common to everybody who's in burnout, so let's really just take a step back and notice that this all isn't our fault. We're built that way. Humans have egos, this is how they play out. But the real point here is, if our brains are making the whole charade up, then what if we are actually performing fine at work? Maybe we are capable. Other people might think we're good already, although a little bit nervous and unreliable sometimes. It's just we're not showing ourselves that picture of competence. And that was my story. In my last early start up role, my job was to produce a product and bring it to market 'cause I was the CTO, I was in charge of technology and functionality. I was also heavily involved in research planning, design content, and funding. You know how startups are, we're a team of three. Don't even ask. Anyway, I worked part time on the promise of expansion when we got more funding, so my time was largely diverted into buttering up potential investors. Every day felt like a stonewall from a founder too nervous to let the world see his idea baby. We went around in circles, and I like finishing things. It was unmitigated torture for me. It became more and more clear that I would never be able to launch a product and I became sick with worry about not being able to do my job. 'Cause that had been what I had been known for up until that point, turning people's often rather vague business dreams into a marketable and robust reality. I was known for it, it was what I had come to expect of myself. But this time, it was just me and the founder duking it out every day, me trying to make progress, him back peddling furiously. And it wore on my nerves so badly in the end, I used to dread turning up to work, I'd be looking over my shoulder, hoping nobody was watching me, ruminating all day on what had gone wrong. And in the end, I realized that I could never win, that he had no intention of ever launching anything, and I had a meltdown and left, and as some of you may know right after that, I had a really big heart attack, spent many months recovering. That was my burnout moment, and I truly thought my career was over. However, the reason I'm telling you this story is that a year later, I met up with the founder, and we had a very civilised coffee together, and he shared with me how my departure had affected him, he said, the company almost went under... And he fell into despair. He told me he thought I was brilliant, and he never had any issue or doubt about my work. It just goes to show, the story in our heads, right? We could die from it. Total fiction. Unfortunately, our brains have had a lifetime to perfect those stories, they've been sharpening the knives for years. And then we've got cognitive bias, our inner critic only ever looks for all the ways our story is true, all the ways we're failing. It's become our identity and our ego will always protect that. So, the second part of this scenario is, if we're always inspecting how we did today to see if we're going to approve of ourselves or not, any satisfaction is temporal, task based. It depends on how well we got through our to do list today, probably, and if this is happening for you, I'm guessing at your level of professional capacity, that isn't the real criteria for success. Expertise and skill are a given, no one's gonna sack you because you're incapable of doing your job, only because your nerves are so shot, you're not actually doing it. The worse problem here is we keep running harder on the hamster wheel to impress ourselves every day, and if our self assessment is task based or even revenue based, it can never be enough. We've become a human doing, not a human being. What we do can never create genuine well being. So, usually people do come to me when their career and reputation are already well established. I do sometimes work with graduates in their early careers or out of college, but mostly people who've proved themselves already, and maybe those people have just hit a career plateau, or watching their industry change, or they've got new priorities outside of work. Maybe they're in career transition, under corporate takeover or restructure, or maybe they had a promotion they couldn't live up to. Or sometimes people have just gotten sick. But regardless, they don't see themselves as adequate, as satisfactory at work, and they're setting themselves up to lose more than they think. In fact, more usually then they can afford. The hamster wheel will keep turning because they keep running. So is that true for you? If it is, maybe it plays out a bit like this. The more you fear under performing, the more demoralised you get. Morale slumps, energy slumps, you worry, and you're frustrated, you're not really showing up. Work avoidance peaks, you stop returning calls. Performance becomes worse and worse, and you watch helplessly as fault lines open up in your professionalism, so then you yell at yourself, and then you promise yourself to try harder, but you can't. It's too late. The flame's gone out. And the bottom line of all of this is that in burnout, this cycle doesn't stop. There is no happy ending. No one's coming to rescue you. You probably can't even tell the people around you and how bad things have got, you're trapped. There's no easy answer to self disappointment, because our mind only looks for ways to feel more disappointed and it... Even external validation, even if it does arrive, it's ignored. Self criticism, the trouble is with this, when you believe it, it always escalates, 'cause what you practice, you become more skilled at, right? Ten thousand hours of mastery in self criticism. Our egos love to control us that way. It always did seem really paradoxical to me, 'cause I would expect my ego to want to save me, not want to kill me. So if you're sick of that voice in your ear, what then? Well, that's my biggest discovery about burnout. Here we go, self criticism doesn't make me a better person. To become a better person, I have to outlaw self criticism. It kinda sounds like a big ask, but described by my teacher, is just choosing to make a decision. A decision not to believe the voice anymore, not to accept it, not to indulge it, not to let it rant on. In fact, just to interrupt it and replace it with praise, acceptance, compassion, care. I know that doesn't sound very manly, but believe me, there is no other way, and you don't have to do it out loud, lads, don't panic. So, this is a skill that I teach amongst many others, the antidote to each and every symptom of burnout, even the ones you don't think you can control. In fact, especially them. The inner critic, if you're in burn out and want to recover, has to be tamed and I know it sounds like a woo woo affirmation thing, that's not how I teach it. I'm a practical person, a very impatient person, and only results count, not mantras and navel gazing, not wishful thinking. My clients are often a bit shocked by this as well, maybe like you are, but then they begin thriving again and forget all about that. Now, I will just say at this point, I do still have an opportunistic inner critic, it pops up and it tries it on, but these days, I don't believe it. I offer a kinder, gentler thought every time, a thought that encourages me to relax as I am. A thought that stops the war. So, if you'd like to come out of burnout, this is a key skill. I think you can probably see that, because what would your life be like without that constant nagging and harassment and belittling? Mine's a lot better, thanks for asking, and my clients thrive on it, too. So, if you're crippled by burnout and ready for change, feel free to come and talk to me, minnie.dexrandall.com, we'll sort that out. In any case, thanks for listening today, giving me your time and attention. You can visit my website at burnouttoleadership.com in the show notes, and please do subscribe and rate this podcast. Thank you. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.