Have you ever had that feeling creep in, where you’re at the top of your game – you’re successful in your career, you get a promotion or win an award, or maybe you’re just in the public spotlight, sharing your ideas, etc. – and you feel TERRIFIED that it’s all going to come crashing down any moment, because you are a fake. A fraud. A charlatan.
There’s a name for that feeling, and it’s Imposter Syndrome. It’s a real thing (phew… it’s not just me!), and many people, but especially women and minorities, experience it. While the reasons we experience Imposter Syndrome vary (perfectionism, pressure to succeed from our parents growing up, etc.), it always boils down to one simple thing:
When we start comparing ourselves – our looks, our achievements, our intelligence, our material possessions, our partner, our social or economic status, even our spirituality – to others, we start questioning if we’re “good enough”. Even when we’re wildly successful and at the top of our game, we can start fearing that someone better is going to come along and outshine us.
The problem, then, is that we start limiting ourselves. We don’t want to shine too brightly and attract attention – because the higher we climb, the harder we could fall.
I have definitely struggled with Imposter Syndrome, but I’ve learned how to work with it, instead of letting it work against me.
For me, it feels like a weird push-and-pull… I’m a natural extrovert (ENFJ-A, for those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs); I’m creative, very driven, and I like things my way (I’m working on that!). But lingering behind my pushing and striving, there’s this lurking sense of fear, doubt, and dread. I want to be in the spotlight – to be known and appreciated for my talents and gifts, and after all, who doesn’t want that? But the thought of putting myself out there, on public display for the world to see and judge, sends my anxiety through the roof.
When did I get like this? When did I step aside and let Fear take the lead?
The when and why don’t really matter. The fact is, I recognize this habit of letting Fear prevent me from shining my light, and I’m not OK with it. So, what do I do?
I feel the Fear, and I do it anyway.
Whatever brings up that old, familiar feeling of dread, the worry that I might be judged – I do THAT. Because I recognize that my Fear is really just trying to protect me – from being judged, from embarrassing myself, from making a mistake. But since when did making mistakes mean that your life is a total failure? Since when did someone else’s judgment mean that I’m not good enough?
I recognize these thought patterns and behaviors; I see them for what they are: just my false beliefs. And I take action in spite of them.
If you’ve ever experienced something similar (and I bet you have, at some point in your life), here are a few things to keep in mind to help you overcome Imposter Syndrome:
- Remember that FEAR is just False Evidence Appearing Real – it’s your beliefs and opinions, not FACT.
- Fear is only trying to protect you from feeling embarrassed and ashamed. But does that serve you? It keeps you stuck right where you are – no growth, no new experiences – only stagnation and staying small. And that’s not what life is about.
- Making mistakes is how we grow. If a small child is learning to do something new, like riding a bike, you expect them to fail. They have to fall off so many times before they get they find their balance and get the hang of it. You would never get angry at a child for not getting it right the first time. Why do we treat ourselves any differently? It’s through trying and failing that we find mastery.
- If you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, chances are you’re onto something big! It indicates you’re pushing yourself past your comfort zone, which means you’re ready to grow. And that is what life is about!
So if you’re wondering if you’re a fake, the answer is, you’re not. You are an amazing, unique human being who is ready to grow. You are talented, capable and worthy of the praise and admiration of others. And if you question that, remember that’s just Fear speaking.
You ARE ready to take the leap, go after that job, start that project, talk to that cute guy/girl, speak up for yourself, be a leader, or whatever your soul is calling you to do. You are ready. You can do it. Remember to ask for support from your family, friends, and colleagues. Find a group on Facebook and speak up. And don’t compare yourself or your journey to anyone else’s. I love this quote I’ve seen floating around online. It goes something like
Don’t compare the beginning of your story
to the middle of someone else’s.
And lastly, get comfortable with your fears. Remember that they’re really just trying to protect you, but you don’t have to listen to them. It’s kind of like our parents when we were teenagers. They told us not to do all the fun things we wanted to do because they wanted to keep us safe – but did we always listen? Probably not! Did we learn some hard lessons sometimes? Probably. But did we survive? Probably (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this).
Feel the fears. Acknowledge them and thank them, but then do it anyway.
Yes, you run the risk of failure, but when in life are we absolutely guaranteed to succeed? I’d rather fall down and get back up 10,000 times so I know I’m learning and growing, than never try and guarantee that I’ll never be any better than I am.
Which would you choose?