Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.
Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.
Being accountable to a mentor
Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.
Understanding the internal voice
Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.
If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.
I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.
Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.
Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology