Six Strategies to Play Big (+ Giveaway!)

Written by Marisol Dahl

Did you know that over 70% of people have felt like a fraud at some point in their professional life?

Impostor syndrome is much more common than you think, and it is especially common in high-achievers. This phenomenon occurs when a person is convinced she is a fraud, a fake, able to pass off work that only “seems” good. Despite clear evidence of a job well done and the praise of peers and bosses, she just doesn’t think she deserves such success. It’s inevitable: one day they’ll catch on that she’s an impostor just flying under the radar.

But if you think impostor syndrome is just a matter of confidence, think again. It can have considerable effects on our careers. Studies have shown that when we think we’re fakes, we only apply to safe jobs we think we’re totally qualified for, we’re less likely to show off our good work, and we find it much more difficult to negotiate salaries and work responsibilities. Not to mention the constant anxiety that one day your cubicle mate will turn around and shout, “Aha! Quick Watson, I’ve found the impostor among us!”

There are many classic signs of shying away from your achievements and value:

  • Dismissing your work as “easy”
  • Attributing your success to luck
  • Shrugging off praise from others
  • Thinking your work looks better than it really is

But what if you don’t show the classic symptoms? How can you tell if you are hiding from your true value, strength, and potential?

Hiding Strategies and How to Play Bigger:

In her new book Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, Tara Mohr calls us out when it comes to not stepping up to the plate and playing big.

An expert on women’s leadership and well-being, Tara has identified six sneaky “hiding strategies” we use to avoid playing bigger and to trick ourselves into thinking we are making strong progress in our career endeavors when we actually aren't.

Hiding Strategy #1: This then that

What is it? This is the false belief that things must happen in a certain order.

What does it look like? “I want to teach a class, but I need to build a website about my classes first” or “I want to apply to this top-level job, but I need to move up the ladder first.”

Play Big: Know that there is no one right order in which things can happen. What is the most direct action you can take right now to play big and achieve your goal? Go for it. Submit that job application—what's the worst that can happen?

Hiding Strategy #2: Designing at the whiteboard

What is it? Creative work in isolation. It’s safe yet unproductive work that is out-of-touch with reality.

What does it look like? Brainstorming for a project without input from co-workers, building a business without talking to your ideal customers.

Play Big: Get out there and strike up a conversation! People often see advice- and feedback-seekers as smart players in the workplace. They admire you for wanting to up your game and are happy to help.

Hiding Strategy #3: Overcomplicating and endless polishing

What is it? Finding reasons to delay the launch of your finished work, often stemming from a desire to ensure your work is high quality and robust.

What does it look like? Constantly adding new elements and features to your project, finding new parts to revise or write anew, endless researching.

Play Big: Simplify and launch a bold bare-minimum—you can always add to your work later, and publishing an early version of your work allows you to get helpful feedback!

Hiding Strategy #4: Collecting or curating what everyone else has to say

What is it? Leaving out your own opinions and ideas. This is a classic way of presenting great thoughts, but protecting oneself from the vulnerable position of claiming ownership of innovative, sometimes provocative ideas.

What does it look like? Writing a book about people’s perspectives of September 11, but not including your own. Curating other people’s ideas on how to solve the ebola crisis, but not adding your own solution to the mix.

Play Big: Share what you have to say.

Hiding Strategy #5: Omitting your own story

What is it? This is the fallacy that the work you do should stay completely separate of your inner passions, questions, and curiosity.

What does it look like? “If I include my own experiences as a mother in my article on education reform, people will think I’m just another biased, harping parent. My research and ideas will be discredited.”

Play Big: Share why your work matters to you. There is no such thing as pure objectivity in the work we do—own up to how you are approaching your work, and this adds greater nuance, depth and productivity to the conversation.

Hiding Strategy #6: Getting more and more and more education

What is it? Retreating to the comfort of more school, more training, and more instruction, instead of leaping into the next big thing. This is a classic stalling tactic.

What does it look like? “I should get a PhD in education before I get elected to my district’s Board of Education.” “I need an MBA to start my own business.”

Play Big: Share what you already know. Trust that you have enough expertise to make an impact right now.

Book Giveaway

We’re excited to give away a copy of Playing Big by Tara Mohr to one lucky Life After College reader. To enter, answer the following question in the comments by Friday, November 14:

Comment to Be Entered to Win: What hiding strategy do you use most often? What's one action that you could take this week to move past it?

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About Marisol Dahl

Marisol is currently a Sociology and Education Studies major at Yale University. A longtime New Yorker, her interests include business, communications, and marketing. Marisol started her blog in 2011 as a way to document her college years and beyond. When not running around campus and catching up with her school reading, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading dystopian fiction, and trying out new recipes. She can be reached  on Twitter at @marisoldahl.