“I can’t seem to keep up with the changes in my job and industry.”
“I’m feeling less and less valuable at work these days… it feels like the younger members of staff are so much smarter than me…”
“I feel so overwhelmed like I don’t know enough. What can I do to have a fighting chance against the competition?”
“I think I’ve peaked. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this anymore.”
I absolutely love what I do as a career and leadership coach, but want to know one of the saddest things about it? Hearing incredible women beat themselves down with self-sabotaging thoughts and then comparing themselves with everyone else, and feeling inferior as a result. Though it comes with the territory, it breaks my heart every time.
What inspired me to write this article is a recent conversation I had with one of my clients. Amber talked about her team of young people with new ideas and fresh perspectives and described how insecure she felt among them. She questioned her ability to lead a group of people who seemed so much smarter and more forward-thinking than her.
And she’s not the only one.
Lately, lots of the corporate ladies coming to me for midlife career guidance echo these concerns.
Today I want to speak specifically to women like Amber who don’t feel as good as their younger counterparts. I want to encourage you to look inside, recognize your inherent worth, embrace where you are in life, and move forward with boldness.
Help! Why Do I Feel So Insecure?
There’s an endless string of possible reasons why you might be struggling with low self-confidence. But I’ve recently observed the following culprits during my client interactions:
Culprit#1: A Quick Overview of Imposter Syndrome
You might not know it, but constantly struggling with thought patterns like the ones at the beginning of this article is a tell-tale sign of imposter syndrome. People that suffer from self-sabotaging thoughts always feel inadequate or, at the very least, not as competent as others perceive them to be. There are five main types of “imposters” that I won’t get into, but you can read about them here.
For now, see if you recognize any of these common symptoms:
- Comparing yourself to others a lot
- Always second-guessing yourself
- Overlooking your accomplishments and accolades
- Staying hyper-focused on your faults
- Doubting your abilities despite positive feedback and successes
Never feeling quite good enough, even after finally getting the promotion you dreamt of for years, or successfully leading your team to new and innovative heights, or conquering that tricky work project. It’s a recipe for a long and painful career experience.
Culprit #2: An Added Complication
What I just described is the typical experience for most people struggling with self-sabotaging thoughts or imposter syndrome. But there’s an added layer of complication for many of us in the midlife stage: age is often a huge factor that plays into how confident we feel about our jobs and career prospects.
And, honestly, with the society we live in, who can blame us? When we watch TV, walk past posters, shop for skincare products, or do literally anything else – the same message bombards us over and over: younger is better.
A 2019 study conducted by Hiscox showed that 21% of workers aged 40 or older were starting to feel the effects of age discrimination at work and that those aged 51 or older were even more likely to experience it. The report also discussed several stereotypes these workers often faced from younger colleagues, such as being perceived as resistant to change, difficult to manage, or technologically challenged. Ageism in America is very real, so it’s no surprise that mid-career women are feeling concerned.
However, while this is a massive problem in the workplace, I want to encourage you to focus on what you can control: how you see yourself. Pursuing your dream career takes grit and tenacity. While some of the judgment you feel may exist only in your imagination, a lot of it probably doesn’t. A positive self-image is critical for wading through the biases you’ll face and getting where you want to be.
Taking Baby Steps Toward Freedom and Self-Acceptance
So how can you manage imposter syndrome and learn to see your mature status as an asset rather than a deterrent?
3 Strategies Against Imposter Syndrome
Unfortunately, there isn’t any “cure” for imposter syndrome; it’s something that most people never really fully overcome. But it doesn’t have to steal your peace, stop you from enjoying your career, or trick you into self-sabotage. The key is to reframe your way of thinking. Try the following:
- List and review your successes
Every time you reach a goal, file it away in a success catalog. Review it every once in a while, such as during your monthly gratitude reflections. Doing so will force you to face the fact that you must have had something to do with your life’s accomplishments so far, regardless of how you feel.
- Lower your standards
Seriously. People with imposter syndrome tend to have impossible standards for themselves. As you work towards your goals, focus less on making huge strides and more on doing a little at a time.
- Compare your “now” self with your “former” self
If you’re going to compare yourself against someone, it may as well be the person you were yesterday. Use yourself as a benchmark rather than the people you only get a glimpse of during work hours.
There are plenty of other strategies to choose from if you need more ideas!
Remember: You’re Experienced, Not Expired
Now, back to Amber and her feeling deficient compared to her younger coworkers.
I came across this beautiful TEDTalk some time ago about this very issue, and I encourage everyone reading this to listen to it. To bring home her points about the value older workers have to offer (did you know that the average age of a successful startup founder is 45 and that prior experience is a significant success factor? Yup!), Jeanne Goldie made this powerful statement:
“Been there. Done that. Not done yet.”
As mature women and workers, let’s learn to view our age as a symbol of the tremendous wisdom and experience we can use to lead those fresh into the workforce.
Also, let’s learn to emphasize collaboration over the competition with our 20-something-year-old counterparts. My greatest message for women like Amber is to embrace what your younger staff know, rather than allowing it to intimidate you. Focus on learning from them instead of comparing yourself to them. You may have a lot to learn, but so do they. You’ve been on the block a while and have picked up a thing or two.
That’s why you’re qualified to lead them.
Seeking Career Satisfaction? Try This.
Most self-sabotage thoughts result from experiencing a low level of confidence and self-comparison. We zero in on our shortcomings and lose sight of the strengths and potential we already have. We also fall into the trap of constantly chasing that next BIG thing instead of seeing the growth and happiness opportunities already staring us in the face.
While I specialize in career reinvention, part of my mission as a leadership coach is to show women how to love the job they already have by helping them step into their leadership capabilities. Instead of wishing you had more, so you could do more, so you could be more? Try it the other way around. Embrace who you already are on the inside, maximize your potential and achieve greater career and life satisfaction than you ever thought possible.
Not sure exactly how to do that? I invite you to have a chat with me. We’ll figure it out together.