How to Kick “Imposter Syndrome”

Have you ever heard of “Imposter Syndrome?”  (Don’t worry – it’s not contagious.)  Chances are, if you are a bright, driven, creatively minded over achiever – and especially if you are a woman – you’ve not only heard of IS, but live it every damn day.

In short, this is the feeling that what you do, what you create, what you produce, and what you are lauded (and paid for) is an illusion; that you’re faking the whole thing, and it’s only a matter of time before you get found out for what you “really” are – a fraud.  As I’m sure you can either relate to first hand, or at least have sympathy for, this inability to internalize our own success and talent is a terrifying feeling.

And it’s a all in your head.

Although not considered to be an actual condition, and not even really related to mental health (certainly not in a cause-for-concern way), IS more or less a filter we run over our brains to see what we create as never ever delivering on point.  Even if those around us applaud, praise, celebrate our work, it is often met with the fear or anxiety that the other shoe is about to drop,  that this instance was just lucky and independent of any real talent, and that we’re this much closer to being found out.  Sounds crazy, right?

So you feel like a fraud.  What next?

I would argue that every single person is creative, that it’s in all of us as humans to make and create; that said, there are definitely distinctively creative people in the world, who kind of operate at a next level of creativity and artistry.  You see it in their clothes, their home, their verbal and non verbal communication, their attitude, their hobbies, their friends, their businesses, their music,  their food, their social channels…it’s as if they art direct their lives.  For those people (yup you know who you are), creativity is not separate from themselves; it’s an integrated way of being, and it’s a gorgeous experience.

The downside, is that because creativity is so ingrained in their identity, if their work isn’t well received, then the message “your work is shit” can be interpreted as “you are shit.”  So the first thing to tackle, if the phenomenon of feeling like an imposter resonates with you, is to detach yourself ever so slightly from what you are putting out into the world, and appreciate that while it’s a real part of you, it isn’t the whole you. 

Secondly, as Woody Allen said (and as countless others over generations have iterated), “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign that you’re not doing anything very innovative.”  Failure and rejection are integral parts of the learning curve of life, and absolutely integral to the creative process, so the sooner you can adopt the attitude that failure is actually success presented differently, you’re one step closer to feeling free and real.

Third, you’ve got to get a real handle on why it is you feel like a fake.  Yeah, you knew this part was coming and yes you have to keep reading, even if the thought of getting real and introspective makes you uncomfortable and squirmy and you think you can get out of this by feeding me tacos and telling me I’m pretty.  Oh yeah, you know me well lovely, but it ain’t gonna work (this time).

You’ve got to sit and ask yourself in a very grounded way why it is you feel this way.  Why is your baseline thought pattern one that tells you you’re not good enough, or that you’re under delivering?  Take ten minutes – today – and write out the very honest answer of what comes up.  Because all this is is a thought pattern, and you can break it and change it once you are aware of it.

To do so, you might start writing little messages to yourself – because if you feel like a fake, the praise of others will not feed you.  In order to feel full, you have to feed yourself (I know, more messiness and discomfort right?).  Get a little note pad and pen, and keep it in your desk or somewhere else you can access it easily.  Starting now – for real – write down three things that you are great at, or are proud of, or do really well. 

They might be tangible things you’ve made or contributed to (i.e. built a killer website, wrote an amazing business plan, climbed the corporate ladder hella young, designed a beautiful space, gave a gorgeous gift, wrote your own rules, bailed a friend out of a difficult situation, defied then redefined all expectations) or they might be intangible qualities you naturally possess (i.e. generous and kind, supportive, able to see and inspire the best in people, natural problem solver, effortlessly sees the forest through the trees and can unravel a complex system into individual moving parts, great with puns).  Whatever they are, write them down and tuck them away in a safe place, like a little box.  Tomorrow, write three more, and repeat for a week.  Then sit back and read what you wrote to yourself, from yourself.  Notice how it makes you feel physically.

Do this every day, even if it’s one thing you jot down, and more if you’ve had a crummy day.  Keep writing all the qualities and notice how they will get easier to find as you go on.  Every now and then read back through the whole stack, and again, take note of what you feel in your body.  This exercise will pull you out of your head in the busy place it is, and anchor you back into the reality of your body, and give you clear perspective on what’s what.

It will also beg the question of who’s standards you need to meet; ultimately you are only accountable to yourself, and need to rise to the level that you deem right for you.  Be mindful that you need to be supportive of your own success, rather than set the bar so unattainably high that you will never ever succeed in your eyes, and thus get to be forever trapped in the pattern of never feeling like you’re good enough.

There’s your homework, darling; I want to know, when you go through the motions and start to peel away the layers of your own – I’m going to say it – BS, what do you see?  What did you learn?  What’s been holding you back from feeling like you’re killing it? Likely it started as someone else’s narrative of you that they fed to you, and you understandably adopted it as truth.  But it isn’t your truth, it’s someone else’s, and that has to stop preventing you from just being you, and excelling at exactly that.  We all see it, everyone around you.  We see your genuine awesome self, and how hard you work at delivering for others every single day.  Start delivering for yourself, and see the incredible person reflected back that we all have the pleasure of seeing.

“You are not an imposter, you are for real.  It’s not timing or a lie.  You deserve it.” Carissa Potter, People I’ve Loved.

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