This is not only a question that bugged me for the longest time, it also bugged a lot of friends, colleagues, and clients. They even have a term for it- imposter syndrome.
And most of the time the two thoughts in our heads are:
I will be found out. I don’t really have the skills to do this job!
I wish I could speak my truth without worrying about how I will be judged.
And if this sounds too familiar, my friend, you are right in here with us because in the last 2 weeks, this is what I have been talking about on the Not-so-Corporate podcast. Here are the episodes.
Not a fan? Prefer reading? Good choice! I am much more eloquent when writing too. And funnier!
You’ll see what I mean but for now, get this- most people think that it’s the hard skills that will magically get them over the line from not confident to confident. After all, our society is obsessed with grades and SAT scores and pseudo smart Ivy League grads… who by the way are also suffering from the same impostor syndrome! I work with them, play with them, and also philosophise with them. So, if hard skills were indeed the driver for confidence, why do even the elite grads and professionals suffer?
The truth is that hard skills won't solve this problem. It’s not technical competence but social competence that is valuable- you are in search of hard skills, whereas actually, people want to see the human skills. You can complete 50 courses on AI and Machine Learning but if you become a robot, you are incredibly hard to work with. People work with people. And people skills are where we invest the least as professionals.
And this is something that we don't realize- when hiring managers are hiring when managers are assigning tasks when they are looking at people for appraisal, they are not really going around and seeking people who can write 10 lines of code to perfection. They are looking for people who are smart, and savvy, in the human sense of the word. They are looking for people who understand the problem, who can logically solve it using the resources that they have. And more often than not this means that you can influence other people. When you get along well with other people, you can actually make things happen.
And this is a skill that I actually polished during my career gap just when I moved to London. (In case you are wondering, when I moved to London, I was confident- confident that no one was going to hire me ever again! Don’t be that Sudeshna… she’s no fun!) During the day I would apply for jobs and by the evening, I would meet people, direct short films, find fellow travellers at the pub and so on. This meant that though I wasn’t sitting in front of my laptop and trying to calculate numbers on an excel spreadsheet, I was actually developing a far more valuable skill that made me magnetic in the interviews to follow. I could now relate to strangers on a whole different level, based on our shared experiences. Not small talk! God, I HATE small talk!
And this meant that I could now connect to my interviewers, fellow candidates, the receptionist, and later my clients. Of course, it is not therefore a surprise that I landed so many top jobs in a couple of months that I had to prepare a script of politely declining offers. That’s another story, but the reason I am telling you this is because, it was my people skills, not hard skills, that set me apart from my competition. And gave me the confidence to be myself.
Now I know there’s one of you out there who wants to take me to court for saying hard skills don’t matter. And remember, I never said that! Of course, you have to get two plus two, correct! Otherwise, the systems will fall apart and no one wants that! Even though we know that two plus two could be five if the definition of five was different, you have to play along! ;)
What you need to do is to stop obsessing about “I don't know enough, therefore, I'm not enough”, because you weren't enough, my friend! You are just second-guessing yourself. And guess what second-guessing does? It lowers your confidence! Basically, increase in cortisol and adrenaline and a dip in oxytocin and testosterone. More on that some other time!
But back to hard skills- look, I'm not the person who will say that you don't need any technical competence! Of course, you do. And you, of course, need to be constantly striving to make yourself better technically, as well, if you are choosing a technical career path. But that doesn't mean that whatever value you have, at this point is not enough to get to a certain point or get to where you are.
Of course, if you don't know how to perform heart surgery, and you will start saying that, “Okay, I'm confident I can do surgery”, that's crazy. That's madness, and that that doesn't work. But what I am saying is when you can play the guitar, and you are just not playing it in front of your friends, you are being shy, you are probably lacking confidence. And what I am saying is that instead of focusing on the hard skill of playing the guitar, focus on the human skills of entertaining your friends. And that actually makes your technical skills better as well. Because guess what, the more you interact with people around you, you tend to get asked tons of random questions that will make you think very deeply about your technical expertise as well. So it's a virtuous cycle.
And if you keep obsessing about hard skills, you will miss out on the big picture of what it is that you are doing this for. Because who wants to do heart surgery for the sake of heart surgery? You want to do it because you want to save the patient!
I hope I’ve driven the point home on hard skills. Now let’s speak about something else - clarity.
Clarity is a key unlock to confidence. I mean, have you ever come across a leader you admire who was confused about their message? Confused about what they wanted? Second-guessing themselves on which path to take?
You haven’t. Because clarity is the first step to confidence. Whether that be clarity in what you want to be doing or clarity on the message you need to be delivering. Clarity is worth more than confidence to me because confidence is a by-product of being clear on your direction of travel. And if you want to be confident at your work, you need to be clear on the career path you have chosen for yourself. What are the expectations? Where is the value unlock of the role? How and how much revenue are you impacting? What support do you need? What are the dependencies?
And you need to be clear about your path- why are you doing what you are doing? What are your motivations for doing this? How does this relate to your values and so on? This by no means is a trivial exercise and I can’t solve this over a blog post. So I’m hosting a Career Clarity and Dream Job Finder session later this month. Here’s the link to apply to be a part of it.
I digress! Back to clarity, it is really the missing piece of confidence. And once you solve this, your career takes on a whole different direction. Because you can now ruthlessly prioritise and deprioritise what does or doesn’t serve you. And when you know your priorities, it helps you with the confidence to stand up for yourself, your decisions, and your work like you have never done before.
So if you are looking for the first step to being more confident at work, apply to join my Beta programme to gain more clarity in your career.