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“Have the desire to help yourself.” With Dr. Jessica Borushok

Impostor Syndrome is this belief deep inside you that whispers you are a fraud no matter the proof that you aren’t: awards, promotions, job title, compliments from others. They all mean nothing compared to this sense that you aren’t good at anything except fooling others into thinking you know what you’re doing. When someone who […]

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Impostor Syndrome is this belief deep inside you that whispers you are a fraud no matter the proof that you aren’t: awards, promotions, job title, compliments from others. They all mean nothing compared to this sense that you aren’t good at anything except fooling others into thinking you know what you’re doing. When someone who struggles with Impostor Syndrome has an accomplishment or success they diminish their own role in their achievement and instead give credit to luck or other factors that don’t consider their skills, expertise, or character.

As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jessica Borushok of The Busy Mind Psychologist.

Dr. Jessica Borushok, The Busy Mind Psychologist, helps busy minds get unstuck, out of their own way, and back to their best selves.

Through one-on-one work in private practice and her popular course, Busy Mind Reboot: 30 Days to Your Best Self, Dr. Jessica has helped hundreds of productive procrastinators, overwhelmed high-achievers, recovering perfectionists, and self-proclaimed “control freaks” transform their relationship with their thoughts and optimize their world.

As an award-winning author and recognized expert in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dr. Jessica has co-authored numerous books and self-growth tools, including The ACT Deck.

She has been featured in The List, Art of Charm Podcast, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, and Not Another Anxiety Show Podcast.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

You’ll often hear a lot of mental health professionals talk about wanting to study psychology to help others, but honestly, I was simply fascinated with people. Growing up I was a voracious reader. Like, read every book in the teen section of my local library reader. I loved the stories, but more than that I loved the different characters. What motivated them, what held them back, what shaped who they were.

As I got older and stepped out of the protective bubble I grew up in I began to realize that fiction wasn’t all that fake. Sure, we don’t have wizards or vampires or magical lands, but we do have all different sorts of people. And I wanted to understand all of them.

Overlaying all of that was a desire to help myself. Ever since I could remember I struggled with OCD-like tendencies. When other kids grew out of the ‘monster under my bed’ phase I continued to worry that maybe someone was hiding in my room. This got even worse my last year in high school when I was mugged getting into my car outside of my favorite bookstore. By the time I entered college my evening “checks” had gotten out of control. Or more accurately they were controlling me. Through brief therapy and some personal work I was able to take back the reins over my mind. And it spurred my desire to help others do the same.

Throughout my graduate training I took my love of story-telling and my own personal experiences into the therapy room with me. With just my words and my experience I could take often complex, overly scientific jargon and break it down into stories and metaphors that clients connected with. And I guess you could say the rest is history.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Ooh, I don’t think I could ever have just one. So many stories come to mind. But I’ll share one that always makes me laugh and helps reset my perspective. At the end of my second year of graduate training my advisor left to work at a different university. Considering trainees apply to schools in order to work with a specific advisor this was a huge disruption to my perfectly crafted plan. I decided to take this change to explore other training, research, and general learning opportunities that I wouldn’t have had time for had my advisor stayed. This led me to become the student representative for the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) which was essentially my intellectual home.

Those volunteer opportunities as a student were huge for me. I had the chance to connect in meaningful ways with professionals I looked up to and run a popular free training series for students. But at the same time there was a part of me that saw myself as simply a lowly student with little to add to the conversation. I was just me.

One day I was talking with a good friend of mine in my program. She was the person who got her work done far in advance of the deadline, and always seemed to have it all together. If she hadn’t been my friend I would have been intimidated by her. We were chatting about her research lab and she mentioned that a younger student in the program had wanted to ask me about my experience volunteering for ACBS and if I would be willing to chat with them. “Of course!” I responded, “but why didn’t she just ask me?”

My friend stopped and looked at me, “you do realize you’re very intimidating to approach, right? The students below us in the program see you doing all of this work and connecting with the big names in ACBS and they’re nervous to ask you about it.”

I started laughing. The idea that I was intimidating to others seemed absurd to me. And yet it was true. I am so grateful for that conversation and the frankness of my friend because it highlighted to me that our perspective of ourselves is not always accurate. That I had to take into consideration how someone who didn’t know me would respond to how I looked on paper. My growth and development as a professional and later expert in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) appeared gradual to me creating the illusion that nothing had really changed. Yet when looking on the outside, it can paint a very different picture.

I recall this story every time I want to reach out to someone I’ve deemed “important” or “influential” to remember that they are regular people too.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think what makes Busy Mind Psychologist stand out is me. At first glance that may sound incredibly arrogant. But what I mean is that I show up to my work as my authentic self. The work I do wouldn’t connect with people if I held myself up as some expert who knows it all and is simply passing along knowledge as some kind of savior for those who are stuck. I allow myself to be seen. When I talk about imposter syndrome or anxiety or procrastination, I use my own examples. I don’t pretend to have it all together and while it is a little scary to be vulnerable, I show up anyway. I think that makes a difference in the work I do. I think it makes the difference. People have become so skilled at seeing past the fakeness that plagues social media and if I want to help others with my work I need to be willing to share my story.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people! I think everyone you meet has the opportunity to teach you something. I’m so grateful for the mentors and advisors I had throughout my graduate training and well into my professional career. My very first semester in graduate school I learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) from one of my professors, Bill O’Brien and it completely changed the way I viewed the world and myself. It was one of those shifts in perspective that forces you to sit back and then makes you eager to learn more. And that’s exactly what I did! I went out and learned everything I could about ACT. It’s what helped me become the recognized expert I am today. But it never would have happened without Dr. O’Brien taking some time out of a Research Methods course to teach students about a type of therapy he was passionate about.

Sometimes thinking about these small moments can make us feel anxious. Like if we hadn’t met someone what would have happened to our life. But I choose to reflect on those moments and feel excitement for what has come from them. And then approach each moment moving forward as an opportunity to learn.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?

Impostor Syndrome is this belief deep inside you that whispers you are a fraud no matter the proof that you aren’t: awards, promotions, job title, compliments from others. They all mean nothing compared to this sense that you aren’t good at anything except fooling others into thinking you know what you’re doing. When someone who struggles with Impostor Syndrome has an accomplishment or success they diminish their own role in their achievement and instead give credit to luck or other factors that don’t consider their skills, expertise, or character.

What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?

Buying into the thoughts in your mind telling you that you aren’t good enough, are a fraud, and aren’t ready, only serves to hold you back. Impostor Syndrome, if we let it control our actions, will keep us playing small, turning down opportunities, and de-valuing ourselves. There are so many people and systems that attempt to hold us back or hinder our growth in this world and yet it’s a shame that often we don’t even get an opportunity to face those obstacles because we’ve held ourselves back.

How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?

If we begin to question ourselves, our knowledge, and our contributions it can put us in a scenario where we always defer to others, even when we know more. We tend to make ourselves small, say no to opportunities, and not stand up for ourselves when others are taking advantage of us or are saying hurtful things. When we listen to Impostor Syndrome, we give away our power.

We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?

To me Impostor Syndrome was this puppy that used to follow me around everywhere I went. Sometimes it would curl up and take a nap and I could get a little space from it but most times it would demand all my concentration and attention.

The moment it really struck me how much Impostor Syndrome was impacting my life was in 2015 when I was applying to internship programs. Internship is the last hurdle psychologists go through before getting their doctorate. Matching for internship, similar to medical school, is an exhausting and stressful time. I can distinctly remember being in my apartment working on my application and answering questions about my experience and thinking, “oh man, what if I don’t get into a program? I may look okay on paper but as soon as they interview me they’re going to know I have zero clue what I’m doing.”

The thought was so strong that it startled me out of my worry spiral. I sat back on the couch and just thought, “huh, I thought I was over that, guess not.” And then proceeded to outline the concept for a book on Imposter Syndrome, You Are A Fraud, that I wouldn’t start writing for five years (and won’t publish until 2021). It was in that moment that I realized how sneaky and debilitating Impostor Syndrome can be if we aren’t prepared to acknowledge it’s existence.

Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?

No, I haven’t. I know that’s maybe not the answer anyone wants to hear. But attempting to permanently erase or delete Impostor Syndrome is a fool’s errand. That’s not how the mind works, and more importantly, Impostor Syndrome shows up because you care. People who struggle with Impostor Syndrome value the quality and impact of their work and words. They want to do a good job and make a difference. So of course they have fears that they are somehow not good enough, or inauthentic, or a fake. To completely eliminate Impostor Syndrome, we’d also have to eliminate all those wonderful qualities about ourselves. Something I have no desire to do even if it were possible.

Instead, I’ve learned to notice when Impostor Syndrome shows up and acknowledge it for what it is: my mind’s unhelpful attempt to protect me. I acknowledge the feelings that come with it, the self-doubting thoughts, the shakiness in my legs, and then I ask myself what is important to me in this moment and put effort into that; instead of getting distracted by the yammering on of my mind. I don’t always get to control when Impostor Syndrome shows up, but I do get to control how I respond to it. I get to control what happens next.

In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Notice and label Impostor Syndrome for what it is. This may look like saying, “oh there goes Impostor Syndrome yammering on again.” This helps to acknowledge that this is simply a random thought in your head saying you aren’t worthy rather than it being the Truth.
  2. Recognize that Impostor Syndrome always shows up around what you care about. If you didn’t care about doing a good job at work, Impostor Syndrome wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head to remind you why you’re a failure. When Impostor Syndrome shows up, ask yourself, “what is important to me in this moment?”
  3. Once you’ve figured out what matters to you in the moment, turn your efforts towards that activity. If you have to lead a project or presentation and you’re beginning to doubt yourself, identify what is important to you (ex. speaking clearly, respect, professionalism, etc.) and then take steps to put yourself in the best opportunity to showcase that (ex. write out bullet points for your talk or create an outline for how you’d like the meeting to go).
  4. Remind yourself that frauds don’t spend time upset that they are fakes who are tricking everyone into thinking they are competent. Frauds spend their time trying to fool everyone around them. This is an important distinction because it provides “proof” that Impostor Syndrome is coming from a place of fear and not reality.
  5. Treat opportunities as an experiment for growth. Instead of viewing each opportunity as a chance for failure or to be ‘found out’ use each new opportunity to identify one skill you’d love to learn and take a growth mindset approach to the task. No one takes on a new position or role feeling completely confident in their abilities or with 100 percent of the skills needed. Impostor Syndrome not only attempts to protect you from failure, it also keeps you from growing or stretching outside of your comfort zone. Viewing opportunities as an experiment to explore and learn helps to remove some of the pressure to be perfect all the time (which is impossible anyway).

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It may seem like a small thing, but if I could help others learn to focus on what’s within their control and to use their time and energy to take steps towards what matters most to them I think we could make a huge difference in the world. So often we get distracted or overwhelmed with stressors; experiences that if we were to look back on our life don’t matter. Or we put all of our time and energy into attempting to alter the past or change other people, which we have a limited influence over. If we took all that time and energy and focused it on ourselves: our values, our health, our boundaries . . . we could shift our present moment in such a fundamental way that I think could dramatically impact our future.

No one person can address every important topic or issue in the world. But if we can all work to do our part and put energy into what matters to us, we end up exploring all of those issues. Not to mention giving up the struggle of trying to control what isn’t within our control gives us back so much time and energy to devote to making a discernable difference in the world.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

In 2016 when I was living in San Diego on internship someone recommended The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss to me. I used to listen to chapters as I walked to the farmers market on Saturdays and on my way home from a long commute during the work week. I’ve re-listened to that book every year since. It was the first time I really considered an alternative to the standard 9–5 career. And it was such a profound relief to know that it was okay to take a difference path. Some view the book as prescriptive. The specific steps you can take to free up time and energy and money. But for me it was an approach. And honestly, that’s what Tim Ferriss represents to me. He approaches his life with curiosity and passion and vulnerability, and then shares it with the world. I like to think of him as a mentor and a model for how someone can share valuable information with the world while retaining their humanity. We’ve never met but his work and his openness has impacted me greatly. I’ve shared his article on suicide with countless clients, recommended his books to friends, and reflected on conversations he’s had on his podcast. One day I’d love the opportunity to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say, “thank you.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place to connect with me is on Instagram at @busymindpsychologist

I post regularly and share videos, tips, and examples of how to deal with your busy mind and live your best life. Not to mention a link to my quiz to find out what type of busy mind you are (plus a personalized, free workbook) is in the link in my bio.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you so much for taking the time to connect! I had a blast.

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