We are hard wired to think that something has to be difficult in order for it to be valuable.
That idea is also reinforced all around us in the platitudes and motivational quotes we use to fire people up: Work hard, struggle mightily, hustle, grind, put in the wrench time, effort matters.
And while effort does matter, it is not the only thing that defines good, valuable work.
Because the better you get at something, the easier it feels.
So when something feels easy, we tend to downplay its value – and our abilities – as a result. We misidentify mastery and mistake it for mediocrity.
Let me give you an example.
Writing comes easily to me. Crazy easy. I can sit down and type out thousands of words in a sitting and they won’t even require that much editing to make them crisp, clear, and compelling. It’s something I can do well partly because I have a natural knack for it and partly because I’ve written thousands upon thousands upon thousands of words over the years, so I’ve put in the reps that make it a far easier process for me than it might be for someone else.
Does that mean my writing skills aren’t valuable? Are they only valuable if I have to kill myself to get the words on the page?
Imposter syndrome loves the paradox of knowledge.
It preys on this broken correlation and, ironically, it can get worse the more experience and knowledge you acquire.
I’ve been a digital marketer for over twenty years. Two decades. A long time to accumulate knowledge and experience and the perspective to know what works, what doesn’t, and how to stay on top of what’s changing and evolving so that I can keep my skills sharp.
That experience means that I don’t have to fight hard to tap into my experience and knowledge to solve problems or to advise my clients or to think up new solutions to things. The library in my head is full of well-stocked shelves, so all I really have to do is pull down the relevant information and get to work.
But imposter syndrome likes to seize that moment and tell me the lie that I’m phoning it in. That I’m not working as hard so the output is less valuable. And that sooner or later, someone is going to figure out that I’m not putting in that much effort and call me on it.
That’s not how that works, though. That’s not how any of this works.
If you’ve struggled with this feeling, here’s the reframe you need:
The very motions that have become easier or habitual because of your experience, knowledge and abilities make room to learn new things since they’re going to be the hard things for a while.
Crazy, right? Yeah, it blew my mind a little too once I learned it and internalized it. When certain areas of knowledge and expertise become so engrained in your work, they CAN go on autopilot so you can add new skills, new information, and spend the effort where it matters: building the new intellectual muscles.
So next time imposter syndrome tells you that what you’re doing is too easy to be important, clap back. Let it know that you’re freeing up brain space for the new stuff and adding value and worth to the world by virtue of all the effort you’ve already put in to master those “easy” things.
It’s a small change in perspective, but it can dramatically change the way you see yourself, your work, and your ability to do hard things.