Feeling like an imposter

Most folks feel like imposters at least some of the time. That is especially the case when we’re thrust into new experiences and feel out of our depth.

The way out, I’ve observed, is not to push the feeling away or attempt to resist it in some way. Instead, folks who deal with these feelings well remind themselves that it is just another manifestation of fear.

And, the way out of fear is to take action with the knowledge that there’s no getting rid of fear.

Action, it turns out, is simply our way of acknowledging that there are things more important than fear.

Voice of confidence

The voice of confidence is different from what many people imagine.

Before you do something
What people imagine: This is going to be AWESOME. I am going to be the best.
The real voice of confidence: This might not work… and that’s okay.

When things don’t work out
What people imagine: This sucks. All my plans are not working. Do I suck? No, it is due to all those idiots around me.
The real voice: We learnt something. We’ll try again tomorrow.

When things do work out
What people imagine: I am so good. So so good.
The real voice: We learnt something and it is great that this worked. Let’s try the next thing tomorrow.

The voice of confidence isn’t loud and doesn’t appear strong. It almost appears to quiver at times with vulnerability and is generally soft.

But, let’s not mix volume and clarity.

PS: If you are wondering, confidence and courage are like twin siblings. You could substitute one for the other in this post and it’d still be true.


3 things I’m thinking about as I complete my 26th year –

1. Self confidence and the unwillingness to compromise on what matters. The primary reason for starting this blog was to learn to get over my own insecurities and build self confidence. I’ve learnt a few things about confidence over these past few years and a key part of this learning has been the understanding that confidence doesn’t come from dots, it comes from lines. So, a consistent set of small wins does more good for your confidence than an out-of-the-blue big achievement. It is that realization that’s led to an intense, obsessive, sometimes pedantic, focus on process over the past few years. This focus on process has resulted in better results, more happiness and, over time, more confidence.

I’ve begun to observe that this increase in confidence has had an interesting side effect – an unwillingness to compromise on what matters to me.  I think that’s because confidence brings with it a sense of comfort in your skin. And, a mix of this comfort combined with a sense of purpose that’s been a result of all the thinking on the topic for the past 2 years has led to more clarity on why I do things. This, in turn, has helped with making all those little decisions that make up our days. And, as we live our days, so we live our lives.

It is a fascinating evolution though. And, I’m enjoying the change.

2. History lauds the individual but it is teams that make history. Hat tip to Walter Isaacson and “The Innovators” for this one. I’ve really been struck by how every great innovation in the past 150 years was brought forth by teams. I always considered myself reasonably well acquainted with the history of technology and I associated many technology shifts with lone geek genius. I’ve been blown away by the recurrence of this very simple idea – history is made by great teams. That, in turn means, if you want to really make a positive difference, you want to hone your ability to build great teams. (Note: build doesn’t necessarily mean lead)

I have 3-4 interesting team projects in progress and, in the remaining year or so of being a student, I am really interested in digging deep and understanding how great teams are built. It is nice to be able to experiment with no serious consequences. :-)

3. Learning to “see” and learning to make the most of an inch by going a mile deep. A close friend recently said he thought I was very observant. I found this to be an interesting observation as I have always thought of myself as someone with really bad observation skills. And, in some senses, that is very true. I am lost in my own thoughts and world far too often. But, observation in his eyes was to be able to view a situation and take insight from it. And, I think what he described as observant is what the wonderful Seth Godin describes in his post about “learning to see.” 7 years of looking for interesting ideas to blog about has inadvertently taught me to scratch beneath the surface a lot more. Allow me to digress for a moment here – it never ceases to amaze me as to how often people around you can point out things you never knew. I’ve learnt nearly everything about myself, especially about my strengths, thanks to insightful notes from people around me. I do my best to do the same to others around me. These observations around strengths are very valuable – we focus on weaknesses far too much.

His comment, however, led me to think about the idea observation some more. And, the more I think of it, the more I realize that observation is as powerful an idea as it gets. Great learners don’t need too many experiences to learn powerful lessons. They make the most of experiences by extracting an unimaginable amount of insight. I’d like to be able to do that more. And, perhaps that’ll be a great theme to take forward into this 26th year – to be able to make the most of the experiences I choose to immerse myself into by learning to make the most an inch… by going a mile deep.

Thank you to you for reading these notes, liking, sharing, and sending in your thoughts and comments. It is always lovely hearing from you. You make this blog a blog. And, for that, I am very grateful. Thank you for all you do.

(Past birthday notes: 25, 2423)

Lines give us confidence, not dots

One of the ideas that has helped me understand the nature of confidence is that it is lines that give us confidence, not dots.  So, a single incredible game does not make anyone a great player. Greatness and confidence come from enduring consistency over a long period of time.

One powerful implication of this idea is that we should abandon the ‘one big win’ mentality. Many build careers around the assumption that a stint at a prestigious firm or business school will mean they’ve “made it.” Similarly, many try to build companies and become crest fallen when a prestigious venture capital firm turns down.

While all of these undoubtedly help, they are, at the end of the day, just dots. You don’t become a great presenter by giving one big speech. Instead, you notch a thousand speeches that build your confidence. So, in our search for confidence in what we do, it is critical we approach it as a long process where our focus is on notching small wins. It follows that making a big difference in our lifetime isn’t about making one big choice or one big turning point – it is often a result of many many small wins over the course of a lifetime.

This, then, leads to my key takeaway from the “lines, not dots” principle – true confidence comes from a great process. Great inventors and thinkers across time had a phenomenal learning process. Think Richard Feynman, Benjamin Franklin among many others.

And, similarly, true self confidence comes from a great life process. Great habits, a great process and a purpose driven approach to life, for example, are the dots that, when joined together, provide the foundation for self confidence. Mastery in one aspect isn’t enough. It is all about lines, not dots.

A beautiful mind parallel

I wrote about dealing with insecurities by making a case for selfishness a week ago. There are were a couple of sentences in that post that I thought I’d revisit.

“I am of the view that you don’t ever get rid of your demons. But, you do learn to keep them at bay. So, I don’t think you ever truly get rid of insecurities. You just learn to accept their presence, work with them, and consistently let your best self shine through.”

This was the single hardest concept that I have grappled with over the years. I initially operated with the assumption that you build self-confidence brick by brick and reach a point when you don’t ever see your insecurities again. It turns out that that is not true.

A parallel that came to mind was John Nash’s experience as depicted in the Oscar winning movie ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ In the end, Nash is shown to come to terms with his schizophrenia, but the characters from his delusions don’t go away. They’re still there. He’s just learnt to ignore them and carry on with his own life.

That’s a great way to think about insecurities. The best outcome of dealing with them and building our self-confidence isn’t that they disappear. We just learn to develop the self-awareness necessary to overcome them. Courage isn’t the absence of fear and insecurities, it is the realization that there are things more important than fear.

And, from personal experience, it is definitely the happier path…

Confidence is..

Confidence is not knowing that you’ll sail through with no difficulties. It is knowing that when difficulty inevitably arises, you will be able to deal with it.

Confidence, hence, is a state of being. Yes, you can “feel” confident – invincible, even.  But, it is in being confident where happiness lies.

(I am in a place with intermittent connection this week. So, please forgive me if I miss a day. It won’t be for lack of content. :))

How self awareness and security drive behavior

Below is a 2 x 2 that describes how self awareness and security drive behavior. This isn’t a well researched graph. Instead, it is one that I’ve put together from observing myself and other people.

Before we dive in, I’d like to quickly describe the axes –

X Axis: Self awareness – Oblivious stands for an inability to be self aware.
Y Axis: Security – Secure doesn’t mean the person has no insecurities. Secure just means that, on average, the person is a lot more driven by security than insecurity. Every one of us have our insecurities but some choose not to be driven by them. Another possibility here is that, sometimes, environment plays a role in increasing the insecurity level.

Self awareness and security 2x2

I can’t say I am happy with every data point I’ve described on the graph. I recognize the ones I have experienced well. I have also not marked many interesting points in the middle which is probably where we spend most of our time. However, I think this should work for all practical purposes. Over to the takeaways –

1. Aggressive behavior always arises from insecurity. Vulnerability can only rise from confidence. The causes of these two behaviors are often swapped. Vulnerability, the ability to ask for for help, the ability to be kind, etc., can only come from a place of worthiness.

2. I find it very helpful to think of my behavior within a particular situation on this chart and understand what drives it. For example, I was on a call yesterday when I started out behaving aggressive. The call was a first-of-a-kind discussion in my experience with 10 people via Google Hangout on a topic that would have really benefited from a face-to-face meeting. I had no idea if we’d even be able to facilitate such a discussion via a video call with it’s lags and disconnection. 5 minutes into the call, once I began to realize that there was no need to worry and that I should really calm down, I began to settle. Soon, I was back to normal behavior.

3. My idea of normal behavior has changed a lot over the years. From my limited experience, it is easier to move right before you move upwards. We can all work harder on our self awareness by setting aside more time for reflection and taking stock. It begins there. Insecurities are a harder beast to tackle. They are often so deep rooted that it takes a fair bit of self awareness to even realize that is the case.

4. I’ve deliberately stayed away from the concept of “ego.” I’ve observed large egos when you feel insecure and manageable egos among the more secure folk. That said, I am always left with the feeling that there’s more to that word. So, I’ll come back to it when I feel I’ve understood it enough – maybe 4 years from now. :)

This graph is a culmination of observations over the last 4 years or so and is the first time I’ve been able to put these thoughts and ideas into a frame. These ideas have had a lot of influence in making me a happier and more secure person. And, if there is anything I have learnt, it is that we can all benefit from self reflection. Positive change almost always begins there.