Zebras are surprisingly good at hiding from being noticed by their prey. Their stripes, which to us seem bold, are great at camouflaging them in long grasses. It’s only when they move that you see them.

Similarly, when we don’t want to be noticed, we try to merge into the background to become invisible.

As well as being perfect camouflage, a zebra’s black and white stripes are entirely individual, as unique as our fingerprints. Just as we humans are unique, even though sometimes we want only to blend in with everyone else and not be noticed.

Distorted Blending

It’s a little-known fact that black and white patterning has a way of distorting the outline of the zebra, or whatever the monochrome pattern is seen on. That’s why when car manufacturers want to test drive their prototype cars, they cover them in a black and white patterned wrap. Doing this helps prevent people from seeing the new design and photographing them when they’re out on the roads. Bizarre, but true!

When people don’t want to stand out and be noticed, that usually comes from a place of low confidence and imposter syndrome. The problem with blending in too much is that you’re also missing opportunities from not being seen. If that keeps happening, ask yourself what you’re hiding from.

Some of my recent work with clients has been on goal mapping, specifically to find your voice and get your message heard. The obstacle here usually comes from imposter syndrome and being worried about the response you may get.

When I ask: What are your reasons for not wanting to be noticed? What are you holding back from?, almost all of my clients give a typical imposter syndrome response: I’m worried about what people will think of me. Am I as good as they think I am? Can I live up to expectations?

When your ‘normal’ is to go with the flow and keep your head down, you’re more likely to be overlooked when opportunities come along. You probably want to be noticed, recognised and rewarded for all your hard work, so the only person who can help you do that is you. Oh – and your coach, of course!

Stand Out from the Herd

There are times when we need to blow our own trumpets, stand up and say, “I’ve done a good job today. I’d like some credit!” To be able to do that, there are two things to do first – fight our imposter syndrome tendencies and interact with others more.

A couple of my current mentees are looking for promotions. So, we worked on how to do that positively, which involves regularly making positive contributions to be recognised, noticed and given due credit. That way, when they apply for promotions, they’re immediately recognised as good quality candidates.

I’m even seeing top executives struggling with imposter syndrome, mainly coming from being hidden away at home for so long.

At the start of lockdown, we were all delighted to be safe at home. We would have meetings on Zoom, then get on with our work. Now, people are recognising the limitations of online meetings, saying that once they’re done, everyone signs off. With fewer personal interactions and no chats around the coffee machine, we’re not gathering extra information on one another or within the organisation.

Before the pandemic, those chats may have felt superfluous or time consuming. In fact, it’s those coffee point chats where we pick up nuggets of information and become more connected with colleagues.

During a recent workshop, we discussed how to bring back connection and collaboration. It’s surprisingly simple:

  • Instead of just emailing people, pick up the phone.
  • Take time to ask people how they are and really listen to their responses, especially if they’re being vulnerable in opening up to you.
  • At the end of a meeting, ask someone or a few people if you could have an extra ten minutes just for a catch-up chat. You can even do this at the end of a Zoom call!
  • Be visible in meetings – push back that inner imposter and demonstrate your knowledge by speaking out more. Yes, that may feel scary, but you will benefit when you are noticed and appreciated.

The less interaction we have with others, the less we know what people’s expectations are of us. It’s that not knowing that can increase a sense of imposter syndrome. Interacting more gives people more positive impressions, helping you to be noticed. And being noticed means you’re in their minds when opportunities occur.