Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

Note from the Leadership Hub Coach:

Here are two frank stories on dealing with the Impostor Syndrome and keeping your life balance from one of the world's most influential women.

Enjoy these extracts from our February Book of the Month.

"Feeling confident – or pretending that you feel confident – is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized."

1. Sit at the table

My senior year of college, I was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. At that time, Harvard and Radcliffe had separate chapters, so my ceremony was for women only.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women, gave a talk called:

“Feeling Like a Fraud”

She explained that many people, especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Despite being higher achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are – impostors with limited skills or abilities.

I thought it was the best speech I had ever heard.

The Impostor Syndrome

The phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name – the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.

For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of a greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is.

When I don’t feel confident, one tactic I’ve learned is that sometimes it helps to fake it.

One study found that when people assumed a high-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.

Feeling confident – or pretending that you feel confident – is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.

2. Stop trying to have it all

Perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women was the coining of the phrase ‘Having It All’.

No matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all. Nor can they. The very concept of having it all flies in the face of the basic laws of economics and common sense. Being a working parent means making adjustments, compromises and sacrifices every day.

One of my favorite posters on the walls at Facebook declares in big red letters:

'DONE' is better than 'PERFECT'

I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards.

My first six months at Facebook were really hard. A lot of my colleagues followed Mark Zuckerberg’s lead and worked night-owl engineering hours. I worried that leaving too early would make me stand out like a sore—and old—thumb.

I missed dinner after dinner with my kids. I realized that if I didn’t take control of the situation, my new job would prove unsustainable. I started forcing myself to leave the office at 5:30. Every competitive, type-A fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay, but unless I had a critical meeting, I walked out that door.

And once I did it, I learned that I could.

I do not have the answers on how to make the right choices for myself, much less for anyone else. I do know that I can too easily spend time focusing on what I am not doing. When I remember that no one can do it all and identify my real priorities at home and at work, I feel better—and I am more productive in the office and probably a better mother as well.

Instead of perfect, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling.

Extracts copyright Sheryl Sandberg.

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