Some Practical Thoughts on Impostor Syndrome - Bookedin

Some Practical Thoughts on Impostor Syndrome

It begins with doubting yourself privately, and because no one else gives voice to their darkest fears, you start to believe you’re all alone.

Everywhere you look for silent support you’re instead being sold an unattainable idea of success.

When you begin to falter or you’re unable to accomplish as much as your idols splashed across the inter-webs you begin to second-guess yourself. But here are the facts: 70% of successful people have experienced the feelings associated with Impostor Syndrome. Feelings such as fear of failure, perfectionism and self-doubt.

And though it tends to hit women and underrepresented groups the hardest – anyone can be touched by this angel.

Impostor syndrome is one of the dark sides of entrepreneurship we all need to talk about more openly. So today we’re going to take the crappy best friend living inside your head who says mean things about you and call them out for who they really are. Once you can hear and recognize that voice, you’ll be able to do something about it.

What is impostor syndrome?

the voice in your head

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.

When was the last time you heard a little voice in your head saying:

  • Why am I here? This must be some sort of a mistake.
  • If I can do it…how hard can it be.
  • Oh, it’s no big deal. I was in the right place at the right time.
  • I’m not as talented as these people.
  • Any minute now…someone is going to point at me and say—what are YOU doing here.

You see, impostor syndrome leaves you with a feeling like you snuck in the back door of life’s theater. As if you’ve slithered up on stage and now you’re constantly having to look over your shoulder. You’re convinced the bouncer will be arriving any moment to toss your fraudulent butt out into the alley.

When you feel like a phony, someone who doesn’t believe that the credit they’re getting is really their due, it can have devastating consequences. Unchecked, impostor syndrome can cause: depression, anxiety, addiction, stalled projects, workaholism, severe procrastination, painful perfectionism, and an unhappy life.

Now, for some, impostor syndrome is due in part to a difficult childhood. Witnessing violence, abuse, serious conflict, constant criticism; alcoholic parents. After years of being criticized for not measuring up, you devote your life to being competent in everything you do. But not all of us had terrible childhoods. After all, 70% of people will experience impostor syndrome at some time or another in their lifetime.

Yet, those who suffer from impostor syndrome all share the same belief that if someone really knew them, they’d realize they have no right to be where they are.

For such an epidemic to be at play today there must be some overarching themes each of us sees throughout our lives that confirm our feeling of not being enough, feeling afraid of failing and our fear of not being able to “get out” of situations.

Related: Burnout: Are We on the Road to Ruin?

Let’s examine the lies we’re told today:

Lie #1: We must measure ourselves against someone else’s success.

Lie #2: A successful career leads to a successful life.

Lie #3: You should never air your dirty laundry. (spoiler: your secrets are not dirty)

Lie #4: Extroverts rule the world. (People who succeed in life are out there spreading their story.)

Lie # 5: Women’s worth is directly correlated to their appearance.

Lie #6: There is a level of successful people who just “get it.” (Aka. The Genius)

Lie #7: You can and should always want to be and do more. {<== this is the *best* version of yourself)

You’re sold a warped idea of success over and over again, via social media, magazines and the news. Through these examples, you begin to build a framework for what you need to do to become successful—anything less becomes failure. But, these examples are flawed.

Let’s use the “genius” as an example. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are held up as entrepreneurs who just get it, men who never once second guess themselves and because of that have reached intangible heights within their industries.

We now take that false “framework” and use it as a measuring stick for ourselves. It’s time for the truth to set us free. We need to live, fail, learn, ask for help and set boundaries.

Here are nine strategies for working through your impostor syndrome:

1. Build an impostor posse

form your own impostor posse

Everyone needs a community they can reach out to when they’re feeling afraid, like a fraud or when they need reminding that they don’t suck. You need other voices that aren’t the ones inside of your own head that can bring you back to reality. Friends and family who give you solid reasons why you deserve the accolades, the promotion or tell you why you’re going to nail that next gig. Make sure you’re there for your group when they need you too.

2. Shine your light out, not in

It’s time to get outside your head as much as possible. Marie Forleo suggests that rather than focusing on your feelings of insecurity, shame, and lack of ability, you need to shine your light (attention) outward and focus on your clients.

What do they need? What do they want? And how can serve and help them? Forcing yourself to focus on your clients will interrupt your internal dialogue and move you to action.

3. Keep a working document of your successes and missteps

It’s important you keep a physical list of both including what you’ve learned. This forces you to look at what really happened and can put things into perspective. Look at it this way. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Either way, it’s going to make a great story.

Think about those you admire. They’re not perfect. We love vulnerable people. After all, we trust those that make mistakes. Learn to allow yourself to live and learn.

4. Think your way out

think your way out of impostor syndrome

Talking about impostor syndrome is great. But it’s only going to get us so far. To escape the hold it has on us we need to think our way out.

Dr. Valerie Young (author, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women), explains: “The only difference between those who have impostor syndrome and those who don’t are different thoughts. You need to think differently.” Easier said than done? Maybe. But no one likes to fail, make mistakes, have an off day, or struggle to master something…the difference here is people with impostor syndrome experience shame when they go through these things.

You need to pay attention to the conversation going on in your head so you can re-frame it. For example:

You’re with a group of artists who are discussing different techniques they’ve used over the years on their clients and they’re comparing images on their phones. Some are showing black + grey work, others color and still other portraits. The person with impostor syndrome says; “My black + grey work is terrible, I need to improve my color and I’ve never done a portrait. I don’t deserve to be here”

It doesn’t help to tell her; “Oh, but you’re so talented! You deserve to be here” You need to say, “It’s OK if you’re not the best at everything.” No one else in that group worries about being amazing at everything.

In reality, feelings are the last thing to change. You need to stop thinking like an impostor to stop feeling like one. Once you’re able to harness your feelings you’ll have impostor *moments* instead of an impostor life.

Related: Why Is “Busy” a Badge of Honor?

5. Share your secret, aka the lie

Why do you think you’re an “impostor?” According to Phil McKinney, retired Chief Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard and currently CEO at CableLabs it’s because you’re harboring a secret that’s telling you that you’re not good enough.

Once you say it out loud (to yourself or a trusted friend) your future will begin to unfold. It could be that you never graduated from college (Phil’s secret) or your books are full of clients but you’ve only been in the industry for a year so you feel like a fraud.

Whatever your secret (lie) is you think it disqualifies you, so you’ll do anything to protect it. You panic about what the repercussions will be if this “lie” gets out into the public. When in reality, nothing is going to happen. The sooner you can free yourself from the grip of this fantasy, the happier you’ll be.

6. Become a world-class cheerleader

words your friends can tell you to ward off impostor syndrome

It’s important that you verbalize how awesome those around you are whenever you see them doing well. Become an encourager. Tell your staff or co-workers how great they are—out loud. This simple act of telling them how talented they are will change how they feel about themselves. If you’re looking for an easy way to stop impostor syndrome in its tracks—this is a great place to start.

7. Create an “I’m amazing” file

There’s nothing better than a compliment, as awkward as it can be to accept, it makes you feel incredible and does wonders for your confidence. Why not start a file that’s jam-packed with all the compliments, comments and nice things your clients have said about you? Each time you get an email thanking you for the work you did or a DM saying how nice it was to meet you—save it into a file or print it out so you can refer to it when you’re feeling lost.

8. Don’t let the fear eat you alive

Knowledge is power.

Using that logic, once you acknowledge your *impostor thoughts* you can start to become less afraid of them. Recognize they’re fleeting ideas and try to dig deeper and discover the “what” behind them.

Begin with “What do I feel unqualified for?

Next step, break it down. What or which parts are you unqualified to do? Look at it and be realistic. You need to get honest. Is it because you have no experience {<== not because you’re impostoring but because you actually don’t have the experience}? Once you’ve made a factual list of what disqualifies you from what you’re fearful of you’ll feel better because the list is never that long.

If, after you’ve gone through this exercise you realize you want to head towards qualification for the new role, task or skill you need to figure out your path by:

  • Starting to learn more about what’s required to get to the next level
  • Get educated (find resources to help you gain new skills)
  • Take it one step at a time (make a plan)

During his TEDx talk in Sydney, Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of software company Atlassian explained real growth and success for yourself are about always questioning your ideas and your knowledge. He stressed that you need to remember:

  • It’s OK if you can’t push the eject button. There’s no need to panic. Plan.
  • Don’t get paralyzed. Impostor syndrome is only toxic within inaction.
  • It’s not about overcoming, it’s about harnessing

You can check out his inspiring 2017 TEDxSydney here.

9. Ask yourself. What advice would I give a friend?

man walks down the middle of an empty highway

Would you tell your best friend they landed their gig as a stylist at their dream salon out of dumb luck? Not likely. In all honesty, that thought wouldn’t even cross your mind. So why do you insist on telling yourself these lies?

Rather than filling your brain with toxic self-talk, write down the version of the conversation you’d have with your sister—or your husband. The way you talk to others is how you should talk to yourself. You’re far less critical on someone else. Use that as a guide on how to re-frame your inner dialogue.

The unfortunate truth is impostor syndrome doesn’t magically disappear once you reach any peak level of success – most indicators demonstrate it gets worse.

However, if you work hard using the nine strategies outlined above, it’s possible to live a thriving existence with impostor syndrome humming along in the background. As someone who fights the good fight daily, Meredith Peebles (COO, Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation) says you have three advantages:

Intellectual humility. You understand the limits of your own knowledge. Though this may be frustrating until you learn to embrace this, humility will become a superpower when you learn to lean on those around you, building community and partnerships.

You look at situations like an amateur. You’re unafraid to ask questions, so you’ll never stop learning and growing.

Impostor syndrome can push you to action. It’s up to you to do the work.

The problem with destructive or toxic impostor syndrome is it can force you to live inside your mind. Using these strategies you can break free, adapt to the condition and motivate yourself forward into action. You can rest easy knowing that no one will ever point at you and say— you don’t belong here.

Do you struggle with impostor syndrome?

We want to keep the conversation going. Let us what strategies you’ve found helpful in the comments ⬇️.