In my previous job, I worked with New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, beloved by many, Cy Wakeman. We were working on our first joint client project, to which I would deliver some of the leadership training. My first event was a webinar training. I prepared like crazy and after delivering the presentation, I thought it went well. Then, I reached out to the organizers for feedback. I heard something I wasn’t prepared for.
They said, “She is not at all like Cy Wakeman.”
My confidence was rocked. It was the first time I’d ever experienced this phenomenon that I’d only read about called imposter syndrome, which is defined by Psychology Today as a “pattern in which an individual doubts his or her accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
That feedback did exact that. It exposed every single fear because it delighted my inner critic which whispers every worry and fear that I wasn’t qualified, wasn’t ready, wasn’t capable. Yep, I was the fraud because of many truths the feedback reminded me of: I’m not as funny, I’m not as knowledgeable, I’m not as qualified as my best-selling, conference headlining, hilarious boss.
After this, I started feeling like an imposter every time I trained clients or spoke at conferences. That feeling caused me to hesitate on new opportunities. My speaking nervousness shot up and my presence suffered as I was playing much smaller than I was capable of. Frustrated, but knowing I had to figure this out to continue a career I loved, I had to find ways to cope with the fact that I will always be compared to my boss (or someone else!).
Imposter syndrome is more common than we think. In fact, the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, has talked about how she’s felt like a fraud. Not immune from imposter syndrome, she shares the same fear of feeling ill-equipped, fearful that she’s going to get “found out” that she isn’t qualified. Lady Gaga, and many other celebrities, often fear they aren’t capable of what they’ve been called to do.
Find the truth. There’s a behavioral psychology framework that says when a situation or circumstance occurs, we start thinking about it. The way we think determines how we feel. (I was feeling like an imposter). My feelings lead me to behave a certain way, such as hesitant or anxious. I’ve also started overworking because I thought if I just tried hard enough then nobody will “find out” I don’t have what it takes. Hello burnout!
In order to change our behavior, we have to change our feelings, which means we have to correct the thinking that’s creating the feelings. I do this by adapting a process for finding the truth in our thoughts by Byron Katie.
Journal up and out of the pit of despair. Write all of those immature, critical thoughts down on a piece of paper until there is nothing left to write. Dig deep. (I’m a fraud. I’m not qualified. I’ll never be good enough. I’ll be not found out). Then, reflect on it. Once you have this written and out of your system ask:
Because we are all human, imposter syndrome will likely come back to visit us. This can be a good thing because it means you’re taking risks and new opportunities. When it revisits me, I bring back my two tips plus I remind myself that everything works together for our greater good. I can choose to believe that I am here to deliver this very message for this very purpose, at this very time, and we are all meant to be here together to connect, to give it, to receive it. I will choose to honor this moment and show the ultimate form of respect to my audience and myself by behaving as my true self and offering the unique gifts to which I’ve been entrusted.