Gaj Ravichandra is an organizational psychologist, career, mindset and peak performance coach and a mental toughness expert, as well as co-founder of Compass Consultancy. He splits his time between Sydney and Dubai helping a roster of international clients with everything from overcoming self-doubt and imposter syndrome, to job search and interview skills, to mental toughness and resilience, all through the lens of psychology. He brought some of his top tips for tackling change – an apt topic for January – to The Livehealthy Podcast.
Can you help us understand imposter syndrome?
Can I tell you a funny experience I had recently? I was on a webinar, and on that webinar were a couple of lawyers. One of them was a lawyer that’s doing space law, something really unbelievable, actually writing law for doing things in space. The other one was financial services lawyer. I would’ve thought if either of those, if I was to pick one of them that was going to have imposter syndrome, it would be the one who was making up stuff about space. No, it was the financial services one. I was really intrigued by that and why that was.
When you looked into it, 70 percent of people around the world have experienced these, I call them ‘imposter experiences’. The idea that we have these moments in our lives that don’t necessarily cut across everything in our life, but they’ll cut across certain aspects that result in us believing that we have this gap between where we need to be and where we are.
For me, what I find fascinating is that gap is the opportunity, that’s the golden nugget for us. If we take that gap and say, ‘Well, what is it about this gap that actually terrifies us or that results in us procrastinating or stopping or not necessarily moving forward?’ I think that is a wonderful. I had imposter syndrome coming into this podcast today.
I have it every time I do a podcast…
Isn’t that fascinating? I think it does tell us something really interesting about ourselves. For me, it reminds me about firstly, humility, the openness to learn, also to be present, to observe and watch what’s happening around me. Sometimes I find if I really think that I know what I’m talking about, I’m motoring ahead and everyone’s left behind. There’s that little trigger in me that says, ‘Hang on, just slow down a little bit. Just make sure that we’ve got everybody with us’, which is terrific.
A lot of it really comes back to the triggers that we have in our lives and the anchors that we have created. Sometimes, I use an analogy like a boat. If we imagine we’re on a boat or a nice yacht in the Mediterranean and when we put our anchor down, that anchor allows us to see the world with a particular view. Over time, that view doesn’t really change much, that anchor is held us there.
It’s almost like a visual representation of taking that anchor up and going around another part of the cove or the ocean or the sea, and seeing what other perspectives are there. That is a constant reminder, I think that has to be something that we do, I think very consciously to be able to do that. Going into situations and saying, ‘Well, what I want to learn is how are you feeling right now? What’s happening for you?’ and actually being comfortable enough to ask that question, I think is sometimes a challenge because we don’t know what we’re going to get on the end of that.
For me, it’s having some awareness of asking that question to let somebody in and to raise that knowledge for yourself. I find that a lot of leaders at the moment, particularly with things like COVID have really struggled to open up that conversation, because they’re afraid of what they’re going to get at the backend. ‘What will it mean for me as a leader? What am I going to have to change? How am I going to have to do things differently? How am I going to serve this person, where I’ve got all this pressure on me from above? I got to hit my P&L, I got to make sure these people are retained, I’ve got to do all these other things’. That fear almost paralyzes us, to then even have that awareness or willingness.
Do leaders have to be able to be comfortable with their emotions?
Yes, I do find that it’s quite challenging to accept the emotions of other people if we haven’t tasted some of it ourselves. It’s a bit like when we put people into a stressful situations, and we haven’t done it before. It’s a bit like the blind leading the blind. That naturally is going to diminish our confidence and our capacity to look at things differently. Absolutely, that self-leadership has to start. We’ve got to start with ourselves. A lot of the time that we spend on coaching is really around self. What am I doing to unearth these things there?
I was talking to a therapist a couple of weeks ago, she’s an adult therapist, works with adults and she said, ‘God, I’ve never actually in all my years of therapy, sat down with an adult’. I said, ‘Well, hang on. I thought you only treat adults’, she was, ‘No, no, I’m always treating the child’. It was a really interesting way for her to make that suggestion that, there’s lots of things that a number of us need to deal with, probably all of us need to deal with at some point. We kick it forward, and we kick it forward, and we don’t necessarily get a chance to deal with it because we’re busy. Actually making that time is so critical for dealing with things for today.
Is that why people in their 40s start having emotional problems?
Yes, there seems to be a bit of a crash of all these things coming together at that time. Whether that’s an existential crisis that we face when we are starting to look at our own mortality and the impact that we’re having in the world. These things all come together, at that time. I think it’s also, we do need some time to create awareness for ourselves and to become more confident, to challenge those questions.
Let’s face it, it is uncomfortable sometimes, to ask ourselves these questions. Why do I behave like this with this person? Why is it that I’ve left a train wreck of relationships, personal and professional in my life? Why is it that parts of my family aren’t communicating with me? Why am I being ostracized? It can be difficult to have that conversation with yourself.
Why do some people do something about it and some not?
One of the things that seems to come up is the perceived consequence of that. I don’t know many people who when they have a consequence, they know it’s going to be great for them and they can see that they’ve got a path to achieving it, but they don’t go ahead necessarily and do it. Because the pros outweigh the cons and we all naturally make those decisions.
I think when the path is unclear, and I think when the outcomes are unclear, there’s a destabilizing that takes place. Whenever we have destabilizing, I think over the last 18 months to two years, I think we’ve been all experienced some element of destabilizing. That then makes us drop back down Maslow’s hierarchy, back down to basics of what we are trying to achieve.
Then our focus is very different. It’s not about our social impact or self-actualization, whatever it might be. It’s, ‘How do I survive?’ The mindset of survival is very different, as we all know about thriving. I think if we don’t have a clear path and if the outcome is unclear, then we tend to avoid it. Then it becomes easier to distract ourselves. That’s what we do and works a great distraction. We just go and do stuff rather than thinking about it and finding a way.
How do you speed up that process?
What’s the shortcut? Yes, I think there’s a couple of things. I think if we use this as an analogy of life, basically, right? If you want to get better at anything or to be able to get some success, we need to firstly seek help. To seek help, there needs to be an awareness that, ‘There is something that I need to work on, or I see that I could improve in some areas’. Some people genuinely don’t want to improve. They actually feel they’re pretty good. They’re happy where they are. Regardless of what impact, positive or negative they’re having on the world around them, they will continue on their journey.
For others, I think that sense of seeking help, having a tribe, a group of people around you, that can actually point out things to raise your consciousness and your awareness is really important. We’ve got trained experts and access to people around us. Whether it’s a coach, a psychologist, a therapist or whatever you want to have that frameworks and tools and the objectivity to be able to support you on that. I think that seeking out help and having that awareness is probably, the first step.
The second thing, which is probably the most challenging, I think is the sense of commitment to that path. There are lots of disablers for us as we go through lots of blocks and challenges. If we have a path that’s great, we’ve got some support that helps us, then knowing that at the end of this work, that there’s going to be something rewarding for us. Why would I want to go and do this if I don’t feel the outcome is worth it and all the effort is worth it? That ‘prize’, whatever that is, needs to be worth it for us. What is it actually going to be? If I’m going to go through this challenge, I need to make sure it’s going to be valuable to me. Other than my family, my friends, my work is also really important as well. If those things are not clear, it can minimize and limit us.
What is the prize?
Well, I mean, the prize is different to everybody. I was actually having a workshop the other day on what does success look like for people? What does it mean when we say you want to be successful? That’s the part that is an individual journey. That’s the part we have to work out. Is it about helping my community to rise and gain access to certain resources that are going to help the people around us? Is it about helping my family? For some people it’s about survival. ‘I just want to put food on the table for my family so that they can get through each week’. Is it about, being able to take my organization from a startup into a unicorn over the next 10 years?
Everyone’s level of, firstly, what is success? Even more important than success, what is the fulfillment that I’m trying to achieve? What is that going to look like? Is very much linked to these values, these motivators, these drivers that we have in our lives. I think that part is still unclear for a lot of people. If we don’t know, what’s actually important to us from a values and motivation perspective, how are we going to go and achieve these things? What’s the criteria for us in terms of how we live and work and socialize and so forth.
I was listening to a number of people recently, and this there’s this big movement about, you should wake up every day and do things that help you towards your goal. If those things do not help you towards your goal, don’t do it. Find something else that helps you. That’s great. It’s a bit like having a sage that goes and sits up on the top of the mountains or a mystic that just meditates and lives off air for 48 days.
That helps an individual, but it actually help a tribe or a community. I think we don’t live in a vacuum. There needs to be some positive impact around us. For us to feel like there is some positive impact from what we do, that’s why a job exists. Society has determined that that job needs to exist, that it’s there. How do we understand that about ourselves and what’s important about that? There’s a whole process around that.
What about that intersection between therapy and coaching?
I guess if we look at therapy, therapy is about healing some of the wounds from the past, right? Things that have happened. Coaching tends to be more forward-looking, right? They’re actually different skill sets. This is one of the reasons as a psychologist, I wanted to get into coaching, I wanted to blend the two together because I do believe for people to move forward, there’s a lot of things in the past that hold them back, and so we need to combine those two things but everyone’s got a different approach to things. A good coach, if they’re not a therapist or a psychologist, whoever might be, in that chemistry session should be able to determine whether, actually, this is therapy or is it coaching. You should be able to find some difference or connection between them.
Then, if you feel that there are some things in the past that you need to heal, I would suggest to be a little bit more selective about the coach that you have. There are some coaches who are specifically trained in those areas and that’s wonderful, look out for those qualifications and accreditation and what they’ve done. Just going and getting a random coach that has done a qualification and expecting them to be able to look at things from the past isn’t necessarily going to be due diligence from your side either.
What’s a common problem that you see?
I think there’s probably a few that come to mind but I would say the main one right now is around this concept of dealing with some of the instability that’s coming up in the world around them and how do people compartmentalize in their own minds, the destabilizing effect of the world that they can’t control, and the things that are in their control?
I’ve seen many leaders and been coaching a couple of billionaires who have struggled with this. They have been masters of their domain to achieve this kind of success from a financial perspective and have forgotten that to do that, they actually had to feel in control of things. All of a sudden, when COVID came along, they relinquished control. They kind of gave it up, and all of a sudden, they started feeling massively anxious, and they socially withdrew, and all sorts of things happen.
I think that perception or that awareness of being present and understanding what is happening right now can make a massive difference to people. Some people call it mindfulness. I think it’s a little bit more than that. I think it is a little bit about being present and then actually asking yourself the question, what is in my control and what do I need to do next?
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.