“Impostors don’t get impostor syndrome,” declares a headline in a recent blog post from now-unicorn startup Zapier. This is a great hook because according to a systematic review from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, up to 82% of professionals grapple with impostor syndrome on a regular basis. The term—first coined “impostor phenomenon” over 40 years ago by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes—has an especially powerful grip on us in times of change or crisis.
To help you navigate choppy waters, you seek out a guiding hand, someone who’s sailed these seas before. Then another mentor catches your ear, so you start following them, too. A variety of opinions are good, right? More and more mentors enter your orbit, each with their own unique approach. And before you know it, so many outside opinions have your attention that you’ve forgotten how to trust your own gut.
A mentor can help you navigate your career and even your life. But having too many cooks in the kitchen can get messy and even perpetuate your impostor self-talk. (Y’all, I even had impostor syndrome while writing this piece, because every article I found previously written on the topic gushed about how having a smorgasbord of mentors was amazeballs.) Personal growth and improving yourself are worthy virtues, but when does seeking out mentorship or expert approval actually devolve into a crutch?
Why we’re so susceptible to information overload
As a recent article published in the Annals for the Romanian Society for Cell Biology notes, we’ve become increasingly acclimated to information overload. Analysis paralysis is a way of life, and in our world of ubiquitous internet, our knee-jerk behavior is to collect every morsel of information we can get our hands on. You know it’s bad when Netflix has to start telling us what to watch.
Information overload is certainly preferable to the Dunning–Kruger effect, the psychological phenomenon in which the least informed people think they are the most informed because they are not capable of identifying their knowledge gap. But too much information could be disastrous as well.
I experienced this early on in my career when I enrolled in music school for classical French horn. I was driven—it was “America’s next top horn star” or bust in my eyes. For years, I trick-or-treated around the country, taking private lessons from different celebrity French hornists to glean new pearls of wisdom. But soon I discovered that the pearls often clashed. Who do I follow? I wallowed in these conflicting opinions, and despite going above and beyond I soon found myself progressing more slowly and being passed by my more focused peers.
What ultimately tempered my ambition was to make a choice and follow one and only one mentor’s methodology at a time. Once I did this my progress skyrocketed. I was focused. I had a framework to follow. And when things got rocky, I didn’t go shopping for another opinion; I went to the person entrusted with guiding me and took on their guidance fully. A mentorship style like this might appeal to you as well.
Less coaching, more doing
As a small business owner under constant pressure, it is imperative that I get outside feedback on a regular basis to make wise decisions. But then here’s the kicker: I actually have to put that feedback into action rather than think about it all day long. All information and no implementation certainly makes you more aware of the world, but for mentorship to really sing you need to take that guidance and actually do something with it.
This is not new. But it hits differently in the era of information overload. Information overwhelm is now so mainstream that our modus operandi is to seek out more information when, often, we already have everything we need to move forward and take a big swing.
How to soak up analysis without reaching paralysis
Don’t stop going after the valuable information and insights that will keep you charging forward. As you soak up knowledge like a sponge, remember these tips to help you stay the course.
Beware of confirmation bias: You love being right—and really, who doesn’t? This is confirmation bias, the tendency to gravitate toward information that validates your existing perspectives, and you need to be mindful of this as you seek out a mentor. Seek out someone who’s a natural fit, but also someone who can check you and call you up. Look for a mentor who can both inspire you and challenge you to eradicate blind spots.
Embrace repetition: Reviewing the same information or anecdotes over and over again is hugely underrated. Why expect yourself to master a methodology or approach after one pass? Information is fun to learn the first time, but you miss many jewels in your initial flyover. Retrace past coaching again and again to glean new insights.
Relish deep relationships: Mentorship truly hits its stride when your mentor knows you better than you know yourself. This one takes time, so resist the urge to focus only on osmosis. When you hit a snag in your career, the person who knows you well will give you the insights you need to power forward.
We all want to grow in both our careers and lives and mentorship is a tried-and-true resource to help you level up. But much like saffron or truffle oil, too much of a good thing can end up overwhelming the whole dish. As you seek out mentorship and go after your dreams, remember that your own perspectives and actions have the final say.
Nick Wolny is a former classically trained musician and a current online marketing strategist for small-business owners, experts, and entrepreneurs.