How to deal with Impostor Syndrome

 

Impostor Syndrome; the crippling belief that your accomplishments are a fluke, you have no real skill, and you’re sure to be exposed as a fraud at any moment.

Impostor Syndrome is an insidious beast. Not least of which because it likes to convince you that you are the only person “unworthy” enough to be suffering from it. (Despite the fact that it’s actually such a widespread issue that everyone and their uncle’s monkey are talking about it…)

The truth is, everyone has moments of feeling like a fraud (narcissists aside of course).

One of my favorite anecdotes about Impostor Syndrome comes from award winning author Neil Gaiman;

I was lucky enough [to be] invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.

Unfortunately, knowing that everyone else feels the same way doesn’t automagically make Impostor Syndrome disappear… so to help you with that, here are my 3 favorite techniques for giving Impostor Syndrome the boot!

1. STOP comparing yourself to others

SO MUCH of Impostor Syndrome comes from playing the Comparison Game; paying too much attention to what other people are doing, what other people appear to have accomplished, and judging ourselves as “less than” in comparison.

When I first started coaching, I would look at people like Martha Beck and Barbara Sher, or my own coach Pamela Slim, and I could hardly stand to call myself a coach, or market my business. Compared to everything they had done, everything they knew, everything they had to offer, I felt woefully, painfully inadequate…

And of course they had accomplished more than I had – they’d been doing their work professionally for decades!

But that didn’t mean I had nothing to offer, or shouldn’t even bother. After all, every single one of those women had to start at the beginning as well – if they hadn’t bothered, I would never have had the benefit of learning from them. Which by extension means that if I never bother, no one else will have the benefit of learning from me…

You can’t get a solid sense of your own accomplishments by comparing them to someone else – that’s like comparing apples to starfish. You have no idea what they went through, what kind of support they had, or even how happy they really are with whatever it is they’ve built.

The only comparison that will ever mean anything is you to you – how have you grown compared to where you were last year? 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

How do you continue to grow, to push yourself outside your comfort zone, to work towards YOUR dreams and aspirations?

Keep your eyes on your own paper, as it were, and you’ll find Impostor Syndrome has a hell of a lot less fodder to throw in your way.

2. START listening to your own voice

The thing about Impostor Syndrome is that it will do everything it can to convince you NOT to do your work;

  • There’s no point writing that book, somebody else already did it (and they’re probably much smarter than you)
  • You definitely shouldn’t teach that class, ’cause somebody else is already teaching on that subject (and they’re probably doing a better job)
  • Don’t even bother trying to start a business… {Famous Person} is so good at the thing you want to do, why would anyone ever want to hire you?

The thing is, it doesn’t actually matter how good or smart or famous other people are. It doesn’t matter what other people have already done.

Somebody, somewhere, needs YOUR voice.

We each have our own unique perspective, our own lived experiences that inform our worldview, our message, and how we share those things. Just because somebody else has shared a message similar to yours doesn’t mean there aren’t people who need to hear your way of sharing that message.

Don’t believe me? Consider this;

In 2007, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love took the world by storm. It spent over 200 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Just three years later, it was adapted into a major motion picture.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s website refers to it as “one of the most iconic, beloved, and bestselling books of our time.”

And you know what? I have a friend who absolutely hates that book. (Seriously – she calls it “Eat Whine Cry” and thinks it’s one of the biggest piles of drivel she’s ever read.)

Now when you read that you’re likely to have one of three responses;

  • Either you think my friend is crazy…
  • You have no idea who Elizabeth Gilbert is and why anyone should care…
  • Or you’re sighing a huge sigh of relief and thanking God that you aren’t the only one who can’t stand Elizabeth Gilbert

Regardless of your personal feelings about Elizabeth Gilbert, the important thing to note is this;

even a renowned author like Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t resonate with everybody

Now, I do think there was a nugget of wisdom to be gained from Elizabeth’s book, which I’ll sum up to say;

Building a life based on society’s definition of “success” often leads to misery and suffering. Taking the time to connect with yourself and identify what you need to feel fulfilled is valuable and worthwhile.

Unfortunately, my friend hated the details and the delivery of Elizabeth’s story far too much to ever absorb the underlying message.

Which means, if nobody else ever bothers to share that message with the world, people like my friend will NEVER get a chance to hear it.

3. Give yourself permission to NOT have all the answers

The most effective tool I’ve ever discovered to beating Impostor Syndrome was learning how to say “I don’t know.”

After all, the reason Impostor Syndrome is so effective at holding us back is because it convinces us that if we’re anything less than Perfect Experts, everyone is going to realize we don’t actually know what we’re doing and we’ll be exposed as the Complete Frauds that we really are!

The truth is, there’s no such thing as a Perfect Expert – nobody knows everything, no matter how long they’ve been working in their field.  

When I realized that I could tell someone, “I don’t know… but let me find out and get back to you,” it was like having a HUGE weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t have to pretend to be an Expert In All Things, which meant there was no way for me to be “outed” as a fake – because I wasn’t faking anything!

Acknowleding my own areas of ignorance also gave me the freedom to embrace the areas I am an expert in. There’s no need to be falsely humble when I know that I’m perfectily willing to admit to the things I don’t know much about.

There’s also the added benefit of making other people more confident in my abilities – when I’m willing to say “I don’t know” about one thing, it reinforces the fact that I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and that I’m not going to pretend otherwise just to impress them or make a sale.

So next time you feel Impostor Syndrome creeping up on you, remember…

  • It’s not a competition, so stay in your own lane.
  • There are a million different ways to get a point across, and someone needs to hear your way.
  • You don’t have to know All The Things in order to know something worth sharing

Remember, some people will resonate with one approach, other people need a different approach.

If we only ever get to have ONE person sharing each message, that means millions of people miss out on that message.

How important is your message?

Note: I’m not asking how important you are. This isn’t a personal value issue (regardless of how much Impostor Syndrome tries to make it out to be). This is about your message.

And if you don’t share your message than somebody, somewhere, is going to miss out on that message.

And that, my dear, would truly be tragic.

P.S. Don’t think you have a message?

I’d wager you do… and I’d suggest that you take some time to dig into your roots, ground yourself in your You-ness. Find the thing that fires you up, and you’ll start to find the voice that needs to be heard.

 


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