Do you have imposter syndrome?

Do you have a deep nagging doubt that someone will discover that you are not good at what you do? Or that your IT skills are less than stellar? You shouldn’t. Here’s why.

I’m a fraud and soon someone will find out. Then what will I do? I feel this every time I sit down to write something. I’ve got it bad. It’s part of my life and some months ago, I discovered the feeling is actually quite common amongst professionals. It even has a name: imposter syndrome. It’s that deep nagging doubt that someone will discover you are not good at what you do. Sometimes it’s paralyzing, leading to a loss of productivity, which leads to missed deliverables. It can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I often encounter this when coaching our member firms, only it’s verbalized as: "I’m not really good with a computer" or "I can’t review on a monitor" or "Smith is so much better at using software than me."

Sound familiar? Over the past several months on these pages we’ve been visiting concepts that I hope will put this imposter feeling into perspective.

Take "A Peek Into Our Plentiful World" (Technophilia, September 2015). The theory of the Long Tail posits that the marketplace of products we can use in our profession is ever increasing, with each new product offering becoming more and more specialized. When the profession only used pencil and paper, none of us felt the imposter syndrome. Accept that you don’t need to be an expert on all apps. You need to be functionally proficient only on apps you use in your core production.

Thankfully, technology is making it easier to do just that. Massive open online courses or MOOCs (see "Professional Development, Free of Charge," October 2015) have taken learning outside the brick-and-mortar classroom to wherever you want. This online, anywhere, anytime, on-demand access to the training you need is often available at little or no monetary cost.

Having explored the ever-increasing selection of productivity tools and previously unknown learning options, we looked at understanding how we are on the innovation curve (see "What Is Your Technology Profile?" November 2015). Bottom line: just because you are not at the front of the line 24 hours before the next iPhone release, you need not feel like a dinosaur.

Speaking of dinosaurs, in "Why You Should Shush Your Lizard Brain" (December 2015), we looked at the amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight survival response. The key takeaway: fear is natural, so don’t focus on it. Set goals and push ahead, just as the digital world is. In the columns "Giving Voice to Technology" (January/February) and "Open Sesame" (March), I tried to showcase just how far technology has come in allowing us to use our Knowledge Age tools more "naturally" via voice and biometrics. In "Deliberate Practice" (April), I dished out some not-so-fun advice. No one masters a skill unless he or she does boring, repetitive practice. Learning to use a tool is not the same as learning a new professional concept. Each tool requires practice so that our memories can allow us to do the next step without conscious thought.

So that brings us back to imposter syndrome. Stop comparing yourself to someone else. We all have different technology profiles. Be transparent with all those around you. Ask how to learn to do a task within a specific app. It is not an admission of failure but rather an example of collaborative learning at its best. Finally, remember that we are all financial professionals whose ultimate knowledge and value is not in what we can do on a computer, but rather what insights we can provide in our deliverables. Recognize that imposter syndrome is real. Embrace it. The next time you know what you want to do but don’t know how to use the tools to accomplish it, don’t feel like a fraud. Simply say to your computer, "Hello, old friend; let’s get down to work."