How to slay imposter syndrome (and own your success)

Imposter syndrome. Ug.

That sweaty, gut-wrenching feeling of being found out. Found out as the person who doesn’t actually know what they’re talking about. The person who shouldn’t be there. The fraud.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re punching above your weight, you’ll understand these feelings well.

I know them. I’ve felt them. Often. I still feel them.

Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it a name in 1978: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Sound familiar? (Source: NY Times)

Imposter syndrome came up in my recent chat with Pamela Wilson (on the Hot Copy podcast). Pamela was a graphic designer turned marketing writer and now author. She writes for her own successful business, Big Brand System, she wrote for Copyblogger for many years and has published two books. She’s writing a third book and yet, she considers herself an ‘amateur writer’.

That proves to me that how you feel about your skills and how other people feel about your skills can be miles apart.

Imposter syndrome “reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.” Fast Company.

I wonder if you started nodding at the first part of that statement but didn’t let the second part sink in; “despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.”

So, you’re actually killing it but your internal monologue keeps bringing you down a peg or two.

In my experience, that’s how imposter syndrome works.

The upside of imposter syndrome is that it drives you to be better. That alone puts you in front of a lot of your competitors.

You are driven to try harder, to keep learning, to always improve.

But what’s the cost?

How can you stop imposter syndrome driving you crazy?

Give yourself some credit

If you want to bust out of imposter syndrome and feel the same warm glow of confidence you see in others, you must first acknowledge how far you’ve come.

Remember, when you first started your business? Or even before then. Remember when you sat at the desk of the job you hated, dreaming of doing something you loved?

And now look at you.

No matter how small the steps you’ve taken, you’ve made progress. Give yourself some credit!

Recognise and acknowledge your successes and know that nothing is down to LUCK.

If you struggle to remember this in your moment of self-doubt, write down the steps you’ve taken and the successes you’ve had along the way and stick it somewhere visible.

Stop comparing yourself

One of the biggest influences on your imposter syndrome is how long you spend looking at others.

They’re blogging, creating videos, speaking at events, producing a podcast and being interviewed left, right and centre. How can you possibly compete?!?

Those comparisons aren’t helpful. In fact, they’re destructive.

But it’s not just comparing yourself to others. The gap between your worst fears of yourself and your idea of perfection is usually vast and focusing on that (unrealistic) gap will fuel your imposter syndrome.

Don’t focus on what others are doing or where you think you should be. Run your own race and focus on being the best you can be.

Be realistic (without sacrificing your ambition)

Having a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) that pushes you forward is a good thing. Audacious yes. Unattainable, no.

Being realistic about what you want to achieve will help you banish feelings of inadequacy.

And it begins with your daily to-do list. Yes!

Imposter syndrome may drive you to think that you always have to respond faster, work longer hours and get more done than anyone else. You load up your to-do list every morning and work frantically all day.

If you don’t, people will figure out the truth, right? That you’re a faker.

You finish each day exhausted, with a to-do list that’s still overflowing.

If you want to avoid feeling like a failure, don’t set yourself up for failure. Be ambitious but realistic about what you can achieve today, this week and in the next year.

Be kind to yourself

Now, this one might have some of you rolling your eyes but anyone who has talked to me for any length of time will have heard me say, “No negative self-talk!”

The conversations you have with yourself have a HUGE impact on how you see you yourself. And they usually have nothing to do with how you really are, let alone how others perceive you.

If you notice you’re talking down a moment of success, stop the conversation right there.

Remind yourself of the successes you wrote down earlier. Celebrate the little wins and progress milestones along the way. Tell yourself that you have made your success happen.

You can even stand in a superhero pose to boost your feelings of confidence.

Little by little, smash it! 

Beating imposter syndrome can be tough but if you don’t want to be your own worse enemy (and self-sabotage is common), then you must work at beating it, one internal conversation at a time.

Have you been the imposter? Have you overcome it? Do you ever? I’d like to know because I know I haven’t!

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