Aim for the Median: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

  /   2 minutes   /   career   advice  

When I left Stormfront Studios way back in the year 2000 to join PlayStation’s San Diego Studio, one of the best known game companies in the world, I was filled with excitement and apprehension. I couldn’t believe my fortune; I really felt I landed in the big league! Along with that came the fear of not living up to my teammates’ standards, which led me to a severe case of impostor syndrome. Did I really deserve to be here, I wondered?

As I thought about it more, I realized I was setting myself up for failure. I couldn’t continue in that mental state and expect to do well. I needed to set a realistic goal for myself. One day I thought, “relax, just be better than the median and you’ll be fine.” It wasn’t until I aimed for a modest yet effective performance goal — performing a little better than the median — that I started to feel more at ease and focused on doing the best work I could. This approach, which I later encountered again as “raising the bar” in Amazon lingo, offered a practical and achievable way to challenge myself without feeling overwhelmed.

The idea of “just being better than the median” means performing at the median level of your peers and then striving to improve just a bit more. This modest performance goal helps you focus on your own work without fear of failing to reach some probably-unachievable rock star level. Being in the upper half of performers makes you less likely to face layoffs and more likely to be considered for promotions. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about outperforming everyone or encouraging a competitive work environment; it’s about finding a sustainable performance level that allows you, as an individual, to excel.

To adopt this mindset, focus on personal growth, and observe the performance levels around you. Learn from your colleagues and engage in open conversations with your manager about your performance. Seek guidance on areas that need improvement by explicitly asking for critical feedback. This approach is about understanding the expectations within your team and pushing yourself to exceed them without succumbing to the pressure of perfectionism.

In conclusion, aiming just above the median is a powerful way to find your performance zone, overcome impostor syndrome, and make a meaningful impact in your field. By embracing this, you can set achievable goals, raise the bar, and grow in your career. It’s not about competition or outshining everyone; it’s about finding the right balance that propels you towards success while maintaining a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.