Updated: May 23, 2019
Imposter syndrome is real, y’all. No matter how hard you work or how high you climb, there may always be a little voice that says something like “are you sure you’re supposed to be here?” In some ways, I treasure that descant in my brain. It tells me a couple things: 1) it reminds me to be humble. Your successes are, of course, a result of your vision and hard work. But luck, timing, and circumstances are not to be cast aside. They play a huge role in how things transpire.; 2) this voice motivates me to dig a little deeper, question what’s around me to find better solutions, and dream about what comes next; and 3) it tells me I am going in the right direction. When my fears and doubts kick in, it means I’m taking a risk and stretching beyond my comfort zone.
Of course, this is my interpretation of my mind’s dialogue. What I don’t want this voice to do, however, is convince me that I should quit or that I’m not good enough.
This week, I started a new job in a whole new industry with a brand new set of responsibilities. To be honest, my imposter syndrome voice was dominant in the weeks leading up to the transition. My imposter said “Why on earth would they hire you? You should probably just stay put-- it’s going to be a lot of work and you’re in over your head.” I also started to fear that my coaching business would suffer. “You won’t have enough time to do both. You cannot advance as a leader and coach when you’re investing so much elsewhere.”
How do you manage that voice? It’s loud, there’s a part of you that thinks it’s right, it’s unforgiving. And it’s a little like a middle school kid who says the things you’re most insecure about. But here is the thing-- there is no evidence to support it. Past circumstances are not indicators of future outcomes and the voice that speaks to you is like a worried mother, fearful of you taking too big of a risk and getting hurt. It’s your brain’s own survival instinct to prevent you from stepping into metaphorical harm’s way.
Here is what I have found helpful, and will continue to revisit in the coming months when my imposter is sure to be front and center (she loves the stage, she really does):
1) Give that voice a listen. Really hear it. And then ask yourself what that voice’s motivations might be. Is it fearful? Is it angry? Is it referencing past experiences, and if so, how can you detach from those? Once you have a better understanding of it’s intentions, it becomes easier to hear and release (as opposed to hear and internalize).
2) Find a source of truth. Recall a time when you faced a similar situation and remember the outcome. Did you actually pee your pants in front of a crowd? And if you did, so what? Now you know the worst that could happen (true story-- I actually faked choking on a walnut because I froze in the middle of speaking in front of a group), and you got through it, you can release it. Instead of playing into and marinating in those fears, think about the times of accomplishment and success. How did that feel? How did your body react? How did you carry yourself? Embrace the evidence in your past that supports your abilities instead of festering in stuff that hasn’t even happened.
3) Find support. Lean into people who believe in you more than yourself (at times). My partner and friends have been absolute rocks for me. Sometimes, these sources of support can see things without the lens of doubt that you’re toting and can remind you of your own strengths. If nothing else, let it be a little ego boost when you need it the most.
4) Give yourself a break. Cut yourself some slack, man. Speak kindly to yourself and recalibrate your goals as realistically as possible. Did you set out to have a full day at work, host friends at your place for dinner, work out, and clean but only 2-3 of those things happened? That’s ok-- you’re only human, and you have another shot at it tomorrow.
5) Fake it til you make it. I’m serious. Puff up your chest, brush your hair back out of your face, take a deep breath, and pretend like you know what’s going on. Smile. Ask questions. Be engaged. You’ll be fine. No one else knows what they’re doing, either.
Remember, whenever that voice pops up, it’s normal. It does not make you better or worse, it is not an indicator of your capabilities to succeed, nor is it an accurate reflection of who you are. It’s what you choose to do with that voice-- your interpretation-- that determines what comes next.