“So, what exactly do you do?” a new acquaintance asked me while I sipped cheap chardonnay at yet another one of my husband’s work functions.
I took a deep breath and braced myself to spit out the canned response I’d repeated so many times before.
“I work for myself as a freelance writer,” I replied, pausing to take a look at the confused face I’d become so used to seeing in response to my answer—a face that conveys the messages, “Oh, so you don’t really work” and “Hey, what’s daytime TV like these days?” simultaneously in one simple, judgmental look.
“Oh, so you’re, like, writing a book?” she pressed, obviously hoping to get extra clarification on how I managed to score a career as a professional lazy person at such a young age.
“No, not at all,” I responded, subtly scanning the room for how I could manage to snag another glass of free wine without looking rude, “The majority of my work is writing career advice to help people find jobs they love and then succeed at them.”
She paused, bit her lip, and then looked at me as if I had just spoken Gibberish. “Well, how do you know enough to write that?” she asked, “How can you offer career advice when you don’t have a real job?”
Immediately, I was irked by her question. But, not for the reason you might be thinking.
I wasn’t irritated because she had flat out insulted me and my career choices. I wasn’t even all that mad about the fact that she was keeping me from that buffet table of lukewarm chicken skewers and more wine (alright, that was a little agitating).
No, instead, I found myself most annoyed by the fact that she had just put into words all of those nagging thoughts that had been keeping me awake at night: How am I qualified to do what I do? How did I go from reading other people’s advice to writing it? What if everything I’m telling people is wrong?
Call it imposter syndrome, call it a lack of confidence, or call it fishing for compliments. Slap whatever label you want on it, but I’ll just put it all out there: I don’t always know how I got here. True story: I almost choked on my afternoon Diet Coke the first time an article cited me as a “career expert.”
But, that doesn’t change the fact that people really do listen and value my suggestions and opinions. Even more, people seem to respect them. Scratch that, not seems, but do. And I know this because I receive numerous emails from readers who ask me for further advice about a specific topic I wrote about because my words connected with them in a way they hadn’t experienced before. That during a long job search or a stressful day at work, what I said to someone helped him or her feel better and ready to tackle the next challenge. And that’s my job in a nutshell—making people feel more confident about their career choices and chosen paths.
While you may not be a writer like me, I’m guessing you’ve still experienced similar feelings of inadequacy at times. Perhaps you recently moved into a management role. Or, maybe your department has experienced a great deal of turnover, and you’re now the most senior person there—despite still feeling like a total newbie. That feeling of self-doubt can be universal.
Let’s face it—making the transition from being the one asking the questions to the one answering them can be strange, and it’s usually enough to inspire a hefty amount of self-deprecating thoughts.
But, I’m here to remind you (and, admittedly, myself) that—despite what that critical voice in your brain has to say—you’re good at what you do. And, that means you’re more than qualified to share your knowledge and your expertise.
Think about it this way: If people are flocking to you to get your thoughts, insights, and opinions, there’s likely a pretty solid reason behind that—you obviously look like you know what you’re doing. Either that, or you’re one heck of a convincing actor.
Believe me, I get it—there’s a little sense of arrogance that comes along with declaring, “Hey, I’m great at what I do!” And, I know that it can feel totally unnatural to think of yourself as an expert or a thought leader in your chosen field.
However, in those moments when you feel like a no-good, no-talent hack who should be receiving instructions—rather than giving them—remember that you’re smart, you’re resourceful, and you deserve to be respected and commended for the things you know and have accomplished. You don’t need to know it all in order to know something.
Yes, I’ll likely always feel tempted to be the first to scoff or roll my eyes whenever I’m referred to as a “career expert.” But, I’m going to make my best effort to stop shying away from that acknowledgement and instead own that respect and recognition. And, I hope you’ll join me in feeling good about the fact that—while you’re by no means perfect—that doesn’t mean you can’t be admired.