Weekday Wisdom, Episode 27
Vanquishing Mind Goblins #3: The Imposter Syndrome
Do you think you’re a fraud? And that people are going to find out that you really don’t know your stuff? That’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s Weekday Wisdom.
Today’s episode is a little bit longer than usual because the Mind Goblin we’re going to vanquish today is The Imposter Syndrome. This is really meaty stuff. I even have PowerPoint slides, that you can download (at the end of this post, of course).
This is a particularly insidious Mind Goblin because the more successful you are, the more likely you are to experience it. In fact, Maya Angelou suffered from it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if all those big-name, famous entrepreneurs you use as your role models and idols — they probably feel it at times, too.
Just so that we’re all in the same place, I’m going to define what Imposter Syndrome is first. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who are American psychologists, defined Impostor Syndrome back in 1978 this way:
- “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people are “highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve experienced this. I know I totally have! There are times when I feel like I’m being pushed out to the edge of my incompetence. At any moment, people are going to figure it all out.
The thing is this: since the Imposter Syndrome is something that everyone who is really successful will probably face, you’re going to have to learn to roll with it.
Here are the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:
- A sense of incompetence.
- Frequently comparing yourself to others. The compare game is really bad.
- Low self-esteem and self-worth.
- Fear and anxiety, especially regarding an achievement related task.
- Immobility. Some people get so caught up in their Imposter Syndrome that they can’t move forward.
- Stress and burnout.
- Underperformance. When you feel like an imposter, sometimes you hold back. You don’t play full out.
- It’s hard for people with Imposter Syndrome to accept praise or compliments. They will often argue why praise they do receive isn’t deserved. I know I suffered from this symptom big time when I was younger. In fact, to overcome it, I took a year to practice saying, “Thank you,” when someone complimented me. And then just stop. Not, “Thank you, but…” Not, “Thank you, oh that thing?” I just said thank you. And I stopped. At first, it was really, really uncomfortable, but over time it got to the point where I could just say thank you. Sometimes I don’t fully receive the compliment, but at least I’m not pushing the compliment back into the person’s face, which is kind of not very nice.
- An inability to enjoy your accomplishments. You just accomplished something amazing and you’re like, “Eh. That was nothing.” You don’t enjoy what you just achieved.
- Going overboard on a specific task because you’re afraid of failing. Failure is a part of success. Read Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell. When it comes to this symptom, everyone brings up Edison. He discovered a hundred, or 500, or however many ways how to not make a light bulb. But he kept moving forward.
- Needing to be the very best and diminishing your own talents when you aren’t. Perfectionism is really bad. In fact, you might want to check out this post about a book called The Perfection Deception. The book is about how perfectionism is really harming us. It was a really good read. I recommend you read it.
- Setting nearly impossible goals and feeling disappointed when you fail to realize them. That’s just setting yourself up for failure. Oy! I know, when you’re really ambitious, it’s really easy to set yourself up for failure like that. Therefore, sometimes you have to think your big, ambitious thoughts, and then put milestones that are smaller along the way, so you can succeed.
- Feeling guilty because of your success. That just comes from a place of thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t be a success. Therefore I must be taking the success away from someone who really deserves it.” That’s bull hockey puck, in my opinion. So stop that! If that’s where you’re going.
Research has shown that 70 percent of people have felt Imposter Syndrome, especially if they are smart or talented. So think about this: If you have ever felt that you are a fraud, more than likely, you’re actually really smart and talented. Isn’t it that awesome?! Food for thought.
Now, I didn’t want his episode to simply be, “Here’s Imposter Syndrome. It exists. Oh well.” I wanted to give you some concrete ways that you could combat it. So, I did some research. Alas, the advice I found wasn’t that great. I discovered that the bottom line, when it comes to Imposter Syndrome, is that you’re going to feel it. You just have to embrace it, move with it and learn from it.
That said, here are some ideas that can help you live more gracefully with Imposter Syndrome.
- Invite it in and learn what it has to teach you. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I think if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re starting to realize this is just Imposter Syndrome raising its ugly head. That silly, ole Mind Goblin’s trying to beat me down. Then maybe you can go, “Oh! Come on in Mind Goblin. How are you doing? What do you want to teach me today?” Then it might be taken aback and reply, “Oh, well, I just wanted to teach you that you are smart and talented.” You can then respond, “Yeah, okay. Cool. Thanks.”
- Be honest when you don’t know things. Remember being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. Now, I’ve known people who absolutely cannot admit when they don’t know something. They go ahead claim they know things that they couldn’t possibly know. That just looks bad, because people can spot a fake. They really can. Don’t do that. In addition, I have written two blog posts about how vulnerability is really key to being strong: Leadership includes vulnerability and Vulnerability is crucial to courage. Honestly, it’s better to admit that you don’t know something than to be found out later.
- Mentorship. Find a mentor who’s been there, done that, for whatever it is that you want to be doing, and have the guide and advise you. When you start feeling Imposter Syndrome, they’re going to know you well enough to say, “You know, OK, you’re right. Right here you probably are going a little bit beyond your abilities.” Or they’ll say, “What are you talking about? You’re awesome! Stop that!” Mentorship can be very helpful with Imposter Syndrome.
- Channel your energy into learning. If you don’t know something, but you think it’s something you really should know, or you want to know, start training in it. I’m a continuous learner, which, of course, is one of the traits of successful entrepreneurs. I may know a thing or two about videos or about social media. I’ve written a book about it. But I don’t know everything. And so I’m constantly taking lessons.
I’ve been writing since I was a toddler. I love writing. And for about three or four years I subscribed to Writers Digest magazine, which is really aimed at more beginning writers. But I liked reading it because it always gave me a fresh perspective. Yes, I know this topic, but, I missed that point when I learned it. Or, I remember that point. I had forgotten it. Continuously learning skills that even you think you know is a good idea and can help strengthen your ability to handle Imposter Syndrome.
- Avoid defensive pessimism and self handicapping. How many of us do that? We way to ourselves, “Things are going to go bad,” so that if things do go bad, we knew it all along. If things go well, we say, “It’s icing on the cake.”
Don’t do that! It is like negative Law of Attraction. It will make things go bad. This thought will get into your subconscious and you’ll end up sabotaging yourself. This is a form of self-handicapping. Don’t do that. This is the worst thing you can do. It can actually make you an impostor when you aren’t.
- Accept that you have some role in your success. This is really for people who feel that “Oh, I did this amazing thing, but it was just a fluke.” No, it wasn’t a fluke. Not everybody can do that. You had some role in playing your success. You did this. You did it. And even though, maybe, some of it was luck, that luck wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t know something. If you didn’t do something. You played a role in your success every time. Accept it.
- Focus on providing value. If you’re always providing value, like I’m doing with this video blog — I mean I’m fairly new to Facebook Live. I don’t get everything right. But I’m really focusing on providing you with really good information. And hopefully, you’ll get value out of that. I’m focusing on value. And this is something that can help you overlook where you’re not perfect. And help you combat Imposter Syndrome.
- Keep a file of people saying nice things about you. The reason why you keep that file is that when you’re feeling like, “Oh! I’m not good enough.” You get out your file and you read all those things that say you’re wonderful. In fact, this is kind of a funny story, when I was a kid because I have dyslexia — we didn’t know that at the time — it was really hard for me to learn how to read. Once I learned how I shot to the top of my class and was reading at the 12th-grade level by the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade. But the start was so hard. So, my dad, who was an educator, would bring home books and help me learn to read them. One book I remember reading that was particularly challenging was The King, the Mice and the Cheese. But eventually, I did read it. Every time I would complete one of these books, my dad would give me a little certificate. He’d even laminate it. I literally have a folder with all the certificates that my dad gave me. These may seem like little things, but it’s nice to look back and see that you did something that somebody else valued. You have awards. You have testimonials of how you’ve helped someone. Listen to those testimonials. Read those testimonials. People don’t give testimonials about how awesome you are, when you’re not that awesome. They really don’t. So, it’s a really good idea to keep that around.
- Realize that when you hold back, you’re robbing the world. This bares repeating: Realize that when you hold back, you are robbing the world. You were born with this unique, wonderful gift — possibly even more than one — that you alone were meant to give to the world. Yes, that gift may look a lot like a gift that somebody else is giving the world. That’s OK. Their gift is not the same as yours. It may be on the same topic. But only you can give your gift to the world in exactly the way that you can give it. And when you aren’t giving that gift to the world, you are making the world a less good place. So, stop holding back because you’re afraid of being a fraud. What you’re actually doing is being a thief. So, don’t do that.
Because this is such a persistent and recurring Mind Goblin, you can’t really vanquish it for good. But you can at least get it to stop bothering you and holding you back. Try all those above suggestions, and keep plucking forward.
You are amazing. You are awesome. Own it! OK? Will you do that for me?
Don’t box yourself in.
Spread your wings and fly.
Because you — yes you — are capable of more than you know.
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