This latest blog is brought to us by Dr Kassi Klein:
A young, well-dressed gentleman walks into the room and slumps down into the red chair with a quiet sigh of defeat. He did not want to be there. As he begins to tell me his story, it becomes evident that he is a very successful businessman with an impressive career track-record, and yet he felt unable to get back into the workplace.
From the outside looking in, it was hard to understand - this was a very smart and capable guy. What was holding him back? It was the hidden fear of not being ‘smart enough’ when compared to his colleagues. Something that plagues many men, but is simply not talked about.
He imagined that all the ‘really smart people’ were decisive and certain about their decisions. He had become aware of his own profound uncertainty about things, and that it took him longer than others to solve complex problems on the spot. He had to mull questions over in his mind before he could say something intelligent and this made him very anxious.
It was sabotaging his career progression, causing him great distress and affecting his mood. He wanted help and had finally built up the courage to ask for it, after feeling ashamed and alone with these beliefs of not being good enough, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Herein lies the paradox - the research suggests that the more competent and intelligent you are, the more likely you are to doubt your intelligence. That is, you are more aware you are of the uncertainty of what’s ‘out there’, and the limits of your knowledge. But how do we address these feelings of not being ‘smart’ enough for Men? We hear about this kind of imposter phenomenon for women in the workplace, and new research suggests that men are plagued with these feelings of self-doubt just as much as women, they just don’t talk about it.
A feeling of not feeling good enough lies beneath the surface for many high-achieving businessmen and entrepreneurs. Due to the male stigma surrounding expressions of vulnerability, emotional openness and the need to maintain one’s perceived status - many men feel too ashamed to admit these internal feelings of self-doubt. Men also feel that they need to adhere to traditional masculine norms of ‘success’ and a strong performance-based esteem. These narrow societal standards of perfectionistic competence are not traditionally placed on women at all.
We all have worries, but if severe and left unchecked, a harsh inner critic can undermine our abilities, and prevent us from stepping up into more senior roles, take on new job opportunities, and succeed in new business ventures. It can even lead to chronic feelings of low mood, anxiety and burnout in the workplace.
So what can we do about it?
The best way to address it is to be aware of it within ourselves, to recognise the harsh inner critic when it rears its ugly head and then learn to communicate and share our experience. Opening up to those closest to us can release some of the pressure we hold to always perform.
The good new is that this psychological state is hardly a permanent state or a medical disorder. The pressure we place on ourselves based on how we think society might judge us- is often an internal story we tell ourselves and it’s something we can work on to overcome.
Here are 6 Extra Tips to help let go of not feeling ‘good enough.’
- ‘Fake it till you make it’ - rather than waiting until everything is ‘right’ - it’s better to jump straight into action. Instead of viewing ‘winging it’ as evidence of your inadequacy, hone it like skill that you can use - don’t wait until you feel ‘confident enough’ to start. Sometimes we gotta drive the car before all the parts are put together and actually ‘fake it till you make it’ like a pro. People don’t want ‘fancy’, they just want ‘real.’
- Break your own ‘rules’ - Recognise that things aren’t black and white. We often create our own rules of how we ‘should’ always know the answer or never ask for help. Sometimes we gotta let go of our own rules and actively break them!
- See failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. After all, failure plays a powerful part of achieving any kind of success.
- Realise that feelings are not facts! Just because you feel inadequate, doesn’t mean you actually ARE inadequate. Recognise this as simply a feeling, a part of the way your brain reacts to certain situations and uncertainties, and is not necessarily a true reflection of your skills.
- Be a healthy perfectionist! Perfectionism has its quirks, but redefining our idea of what ‘perfect’ means can help you learn to be equally as comfortable being imperfect! Distinguish perfect from ‘good enough’ and the difference between being ‘right’ and being effective. Sometimes prescribing yourself mistakes - that is taking the wrong exit on the way home on purpose or voluntarily making the bed backwards can help you recognise your own judgement patterns and to not see perfection as a yardstick for measuring your success.
- Ask yourself, ‘Who actually has the power to judge my worth?’ Realise that it’s a choice to give people that power. Sometimes we gotta actively ignore society to free ourselves from the fear of uncertainty, so we can embrace the world with more curiosity.
The young and capable gentleman I worked with learnt to face the transient feelings of inadequacy with courage. Instead of holding himself back, he was able to set his feelings aside from the facts. A kinder relationship to himself created an entirely different person. One who no longer went to war with himself. One who could lean into the world and its challenges, rather than shy away from it.
I quote, ’Eventually you have to realise that it’s not about winning, or being ‘smart enough’ and that you can control the story you tell yourself. It makes life a whole lot easier.” Sometimes we need to be dragged, kicking and screaming back into the real world where nobody’s perfect and uncertainty becomes our constant companion.
Dr Kassi Klein is a Medical Doctor working in Mental Health, and a Lifestyle Medicine Physician based in Australia. She is also a Relationship Coach for Men offering 1-on-1 Coaching.
Dr Klein advocates for men’s mental health - addressing the male stigma around mental health issues and helps males attain optimal mental wellbeing using her knowledge, ongoing learning and clinical expertise.