Have you ever felt out of your depth, a fraud, a fake that everyone will discover that, find you out?
So have I. So have your parents, your friends, your teachers and believe it or not have some of the worlds most successful and influential people.
We all, all of us, have experienced this feeling. The feeling that we are Imposters.
An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. Impostor syndrome affects all kinds of people from all parts of life: all genders, all creeds, colour, nationalities and profession. 70% of us suffer from what is now called Imposter syndrome.
Some people associate imposter syndrome to anxiety, stress, depression or self esteem issues but the truth is that it is not necessarily a cause or symptom to these issues. And the really strange or possibly annoying thing about Imposter syndrome is that success and accomplishments don’t cause it to go away.
Niel Gaimen famously had a conversation with Niel Armstrong at a meeting of some of the most brilliant, successful artists, writers and scientists in the world, where Armstrong asked him “what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent. Niel Armstrong. The first man on the moon felt like an imposter. It boggles the mind. But he is not alone. Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Niel Gaimen, Natalie Portman, Arianna Huffington, David Bowie, Emma Watson and Mark Gates all have commented publicly about having imposter syndrome.
Now these are brilliant and successful people. Maybe even people that you personally look up to. And they feel the same way as you. They all feel or felt like imposters.
And therein lies the key to understand why we feel like imposters and that is because we have a hugely impossible and unrealistic picture of other people- we honestly believe that we personally are flawed and they are not . We know ourselves from the inside. We have intimate conversations in our minds about our flaws but all we know of others is from the outside what we see and they tell us. And they only know what we tell and show them.
When we suffer from imposter syndrome we are failing to imagine that other people are as failed and flawed as we believe we are.
And the surreal thing is this actually comes from what I call the BIG LIE that started in all of our childhoods. Do you remember as a child believing that our parents knew it everything, could do everything and that when we grew up we somehow would magically grow up to be able to do that? I certainly do. And then what happens we become adults. And we wait expectantly for the transformation to being a proper grown up. And what happens? It never comes. If you ask your parents how old they feel on the inside they feel a lot younger. I remember my Mother at 60 she still felt inside that she was a teenager who was still trying to figure it all out. And I was like whaaat? Here was the person I thought of a proper grown up saying she felt as much a kid as I did at 30. See that is the BIG LIE. As children we believe that we become grown up. The truth is we don’t. We may become wiser, understand things we didn’t as children, and even learn to become experts. However, a lot of the time we ALL feel like small kids on the inside. We all start out with a false belief that other people are more capable than us and of course they can walk, talk and cook when we can’t. But when we get older we can do those things but inside, inside we are all just trying to figure it out.
The imaginary pedestal we put other people on or the pedestal they put you on creates imposter syndrome.
So if we all have this and success doesn’t make it go away how the heck are we supposed to deal with our imposter syndrome? And more importantly how do we stop it taking over our life, destroying both our dreams and our self esteem?
Well my friends there is only one way to deal with Imposter syndrome and that is to work with it.
There is a lot of motivational woo-woo info out there that covers up some really practical advice on how you can do exactly that. So for you I have removed the fluff, brought it down to earth (and I mean really down to earth, keep reading you’ll see what I mean) and I have for you some of the ‘real’ tools and realizations that I work with to deal with my imposter syndrome and now sometimes can even treat it like a friend, well no not exactly a friend more like that teacher that makes you feel uncomfortable but helps you reach your potential even when you don’t want to!
We are all imposters - commit to believing it
Remember the BIG LIE. We all of us have self doubt, we all of us have flaws. Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne said “Kings and Philosophers Shit- and so do ladies.“ If you translate that to modern terms you could say “Every successful model on the planet has picked their nose”. We all have things we are ashamed of hidden inside our head. The biggest part of dealing with your imposter syndrome is to remember that EVERYONE is an imposter just like you.
Every person you have ever admired who did something for the first time was an imposter. JK Rowling, Niel Armstrong, Einstein. No-one did what they did before they did, ergo they were imposters. Any other person under the surface is very much like us. It takes a leap of faith to understand that and see them that way. You have to commit to seeing beyond the surface level. Don’t admire their success. Admire their internal journey because in reality it is not very different to your own.
Don’t freeze. Learn
When imposter syndrome gets bad we sometimes freeze and let it stop us from trying new things, daring to do what we want to do. We are scared people will figure us out if we try. Instead try thinking from this perspective.Know you are an imposter. You are. We all are. Don’t freeze. Try and turn your imposter syndrome fear into something positive. Whatever it is you are afraid you don’t know or can’t do, question it, question your knowledge, ask for advice, to learn. It’s ok to be out of your depth. That is how we learn and become less of an imposter. Bottom line, don’t freeze and try to turn it into a force for good. Mike Cannon-Brookes did a great Ted Talk called ‘How you can use impostor syndrome to your benefit’ I highly recommend it for exploring the benefits of imposter syndrome.
When we own our imposter conflict we allow other people to own their fears and insecurities. One of the best ways of owning it is talking about it. That takes bravery but then again “Bravery is not the absence of fear, it is having a fear and doing it anywhere”. When you own it, you can start to figure out where you feel like an imposter and begin to own those areas of your life. Own what you do. Own what you want. And allow your ideas, your integrity to be your north star. Owning your life is very much about living a life of integrity. If you live a life aligned with your integrity you rarely feel like an imposter. You will never be a fraud if you empower yourself to own your own life, your dreams AND your flaws and insecurities.
Debate your imposter syndromes opinion
In Peter Shepherd’s great Ted Talk ‘What if imposter syndrome is a good thing?’ describes a brilliant tool for taking charge when your imposter syndrome is trying to talk you out of doing something he calls it the Two Step. It involves asking yourself 2 questions.
- What is my imposter saying to me ?
- What am I gonna say back?
Your imposter syndrome is not the boss of you. You are the boss of you. So when it pops up ask it what is going on. The same way you would if a friend was asking you for advice. Don’t agree with it, I challenge you not to do that! So if your imposter syndrome is saying don’t apply for that job they will figure out you are underqualified, you could say well if I don’t apply I will never know if I can or can’t, or what have I got to lose? Become a friend to your imposter syndrome and question and debate it’s opinions. Change its opinions of you the way you would help a friend who needed a boost.
Compare to yourself
You have to get past the comparison game to deal with your Imposter syndrome. Nobody can compare you or you with them. You are not meant to be like anyone else on the planet. As Lady Jill Scott said it “ We all have our own thing — that’s the magic– and everybody comes with their own sense of strength, and their own queendom. Mine could never compare to hers, and hers could never compare to mine”. The comparison game is just a distraction. It’s like the mental candy crush of your mind. Snap out of it. Your only job while you’re here on the planet is to be as good at being you as everyone else is at being them. So when your imposter syndrome tries to use other people as an example of why you are an imposter go back through your life’s progress. You will have progressed. Granted you might not be where other people are but that’s because their experience of life’s journey is different to yours. That does not devalue your journey. Compare to only one person yourself. Your progress is your benchmark for success.
Honestly since I realised that I am an imposter just like everyone else life is somewhat easier. My imposter syndrome doesn’t win as much as it used to. And I take that as a win!
That is my experience but I LOVE to hear from you. How do you deal with your imposter syndrome?
Let me know in the comments below.
Love Emma-Jane <3