In this week’s episode, I want to talk about imposter syndrome.
I’m sure most of you have heard this term before, but let’s define it. It’s characterized by internally refusing to believe you are as good, accomplished, competent, or capable as others perceive you to be. Basically, you feel like you’re a fraud or that you just got lucky to get to be where you’re at. You won by accident or you were promoted by luck. People with imposter syndrome tend to overwork themselves to ensure they are keeping up and have feelings of inferiority, even when others consider them experts. What is dangerous about this way of thinking is that you are afraid to step off the hectic treadmill of hard work because you’re afraid everything will fall apart. People with imposter syndrome have a difficult time celebrating their success or accepting their achievements.
If you recognize some of this behavior in yourself, how do you start improving on it? First is to know that there are a ton of people that you look up to who also feel imposter syndrome- it’s more common than you’d think! In fact, it was reported that 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome!
- Show vulnerability. Something that has been really helpful for me is showing vulnerability. It’s scary at first because you’re putting it out there that you aren’t as perfect as people think you are, that you make mistakes, that sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’re doing… but instead of others thinking – “oh! I knew that person as a phony!” Chances are, they’ll respect you even more. It humanizes you, but that doesn’t make you less than. It also will help you practice more self-compassion when you feel like you can be yourself and show all parts of what you’re doing, not just the highlight reel of your successes. People want to share in the ups and downs of your journey and the downs don’t make you an imposter. An example of a time I showed vulnerability when it truly scared me to do it was when I took a video of myself crying uncontrollably in the hardest race I had ever done to that date- the Yak Attack in Nepal. I did a TED Talk about it and how to define success in your life. Putting a video online and later, in a TED Talk of me crying like this still makes my chest tighten. Crying publicly and even in front of friends or family is something I do not do. I’ve never wanted to share that side of me, but as terrifying as it was to share have this video live on the internet, it was amazing how powerful and impactful it was. You gain strength and can positively impact others through vulnerability.
- If self-critical thoughts pop up and your imposter brain starts taking over, don’t fight the thought. Use the meditation technique of RAIN- Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Non-Identification. Recognize it, take a moment to accept it and allow it to be there, ask yourself if it’s really true and where you might feel it in your body, and last – say something to yourself like “this is just a thought, it is not me. I’m separate from this thought. I’m okay. It’s okay.”
- Be aware of when you are comparing yourself and it brings up feelings of inferiority. Personally, this happens when I’m looking at social media. I see people who seem to be racing more, training harder, better at promoting their podcast, or who seem to have it together more than me. It feels icky when I look at it from an “I feel like I’m not enough because of this other person’s post.” I don’t always feel that way, but there are vulnerable moments throughout our day where a photo or video can impact us in different ways. If I find myself looking at social media with my comparison lens, I make myself close the app. Delete it for the day if you have to. Use social media for inspiration and connection, not to measure your self-worth. As Sharon Salzberg says, “Comparison is dangerous when you try to reference who you are compared to someone else’s status or achievements.”
- Do you really need to work that hard and are you addicted to validation? This was a new concept I learned after reading upcoming podcast guest David Roche’s article on TrailRunnerMag.com. He talked about how imposter syndrome affects athletes. He used examples of how overworking is due to insecurities- like overtraining in athletic endeavors or if you win, you think you just got lucky. I also interpreted this article to imposter syndrome manifesting itself as workaholism in other areas. It really resonated with me because I’m prone to overworking because I’m afraid I’ll fall behind, I feel like I’m not doing enough and if I stop I’ll fall way behind, and then it’ll just be proof to everyone around me that I’m actually not good enough. It’s been interesting to recognize in myself because I will confidently take on new roles (I did a career transition from having my Master’s in Electrical Engineering to taking on a large marketing role with no experience). Same goes when people ask me how I became a speaker or a writer, or even an athlete- I just did it and didn’t worry about the label, but imposter syndrome rears its head in the form of “I must work harder and continue to do more and more.” I truly worry about falling behind and even though this year, I’ve been really good at creating time to “do nothing,” it still makes me feel anxious. In David’s article, he had two great reminders- “Growth happens in empty spaces” and ” remember that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, just more tunnel.” There will be no endpoint… you can be world champion of your discipline, have accomplished more than you had ever dreamed, but it still won’t feel like enough. You can’t outrun those feelings of not-enoughness by working hard or achieving more. Take it from me… hard life lesson I have to remind myself always. So if you feel sucked into the “I must achieve more or work harder to prove I’m good…” PAUSE. Remind yourself that it won’t help. Ask yourself what is really important or introduce relationships or hobbies into your life that you don’t use to validate yourself.
- Recognize a fixed mindset and perfectionist tendencies. Remember that you aren’t born with a set amount of talent- that you can change. Also realize that it’s okay to ask for help, even if you’re viewed as an expert. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” It’s not proof that you aren’t good at something- in fact, it shows the opposite. You’re good at it because you are always willing to learn more. Some people will avoid tasks all together because they’re afraid it’ll be proof they aren’t good enough. This goes back to vulnerability- it doesn’t mean you’re a fraud if you don’t know all the answers or need help. It makes you even more real.
Remember that you are not your career label, you are not your accomplishments, you are not defined by how fast you are. You are awesome, loveable and amazing for the human being that you are, not for what you have achieved. Achieving more will not make people love you more (something I struggle to remind myself!) It’s okay to have feelings of imposter syndrome, but by recognizing them, it’ll help accept and move past it in the moment so you can internally remember that you are great no matter what.
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