Imposter Syndrome

By Laura Wallace |  April 9, 2019

How many times have you done something that seems pretty incredible to you? You have accomplished something new, you’ve overcome an obstacle, you’ve just really excelled in your business or an area of your life, and then within kind of the same breath, you think: Well, who am I even to do these things? I don’t deserve them.

Today’s episode on The Gutsy Podcast is talking about The Imposter Syndrome: Something that more people than not suffer from, and how we can kind of start to overcome it.

Imposter Syndrome is really at the baseline all about feeling like you don’t belong or don’t deserve something.

Like you’re not cut out for the job that you have been given or any of your accomplishments aren’t really real because you’re a fake. Sometimes when people are experiencing this, they feel like everything that has happened to them is based out of luck and at any given moment it’s all going to fall through and everyone’s going to figure them out.

You’ll notice this shows up a lot when someone achieves something and you hear people praise or really compliment this person and they immediately start to shut it down: Oh, well it’s only because this person was there with me or it’s only because I had this contact and they’re the ones that really did it.

You know, there’s a difference in wanting to share the limelight (which I think is really notable and just a really important thing to do), but you also don’t want to discount the hard work and the knowledge you’ve actually put into something as well. When imposter syndrome is present, which it’s in a lot more of us than we realize, that quick push-off is a quick way to turn all the heads and attention onto someone else. Because if people are not focusing on you and your accomplishments, then they can’t quote-unquote figure you out.

In a lot of people’s minds, if too much spotlight is put on them or too much acknowledgment is put on them – or even too much success comes into their life – they think all of a sudden they’re going to be put on trial in front of a jury of people that are going to vote and say, You know what? The jury’s out. You’re fake. You faked it all along. We knew that you weren’t true. All of your accomplishments are based on other people and you didn’t actually achieve anything.

Guys, I don’t know about you, but that comment alone is scary and it sounds awful – but it’s really the truth. Now, the actuality behind it is not true, but the feelings are very, very true. And when a feeling is present and not able to be worked through, it’s our reality.

The other crazy thing about imposter syndrome is it literally happens to people in all different walks of lives.

It happens to students that are applying to colleges that feel like they don’t belong there. It happens to new moms and new dads. You know you bring home this beautiful little baby and you think, oh my gosh, who am I to take care of this other human? Some days I can’t even keep myself alive. How on Earth am I supposed to do this? I must be faking it. Therefore, I am an imposter.

Business owners, can I get an amen? Because there are at least three or four days out of the week where I question like, who the heck I am and how am I doing this? And just waiting for like the imposter police to come bust down the door. I mean, sometimes with every acknowledgment that we get or every great set of numbers that we get, or a new client, I think, oh my gosh, this is amazing!

And then sometimes I kind of dwindle down and I’m like, ooh, but who am I to be worthy of this?

What it really boils down to is a lack of self-confidence. It’s a lot of anxiety and it’s a lot of doubts. It’s a lot of being up in your head, telling yourself that you’re not worthy of the things that you’re actually achieving. I mean negative self-talk is probably one of the easiest things to do and get away with because guess what? Most of the time it doesn’t affect anyone other than YOU.

And there’s nothing quite like imposter syndrome to bring up all old feelings of inadequacy or thinking about past mistakes:

Well, I have messed up in this area of my life, therefore I am no longer worthy or able to achieve things. So that automatically means that I’m faking it.

You know, there’s that age-old saying “fake it till you make it”. And unfortunately, that kind of reinforces this whole, “I’m a fake stance”. Right? So even just saying this out loud, I’m thinking it’s more like learn it til you make it because no, a lot of us don’t know what we’re doing IN the moment. Right? Everything new that you do requires a timeframe and a period of learning and trying and making mistakes and figuring out what works. None of us know exactly what we’re doing at every given moment in every single given day.

If you know how to do everything, then to me, that tells me that you have stopped growing because there’s always an opportunity to learn how to do something new or in a different or better way.

One of the other sneaky parts of imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re fake because you’re not further along than where you think that you should be.

I know that I personally struggle from this one a lot and a lot of my entrepreneurial colleagues do as well because we feel like, in our minds, there’s an idea and you can see the plan, you can see the outcome, but you’re not there yet. Which means that either you’re not doing something right or you’re not worthy of achieving it, or maybe it’s not actually for you. And then we start going into this mental downward spiral where pretty soon we talk ourselves into, or should I say, out of doing this amazing thing anyway.

We don’t want to give ourselves the time and the space that it takes to actually create these things. I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are your businesses or your ideas, but it’s almost this hurry up to the finish line because – especially with imposter syndrome – the quicker we get to the finish line, the fewer chances there are for people to figure out that we have no idea what we’re doing.

I think it’s important that we talk about this because guess what? We’re all doing this and feeling this on some sort of level. So if we’re just open about it and we’re a little bit more lax with ourselves, then we can create a little bit more of a comfortable scenario of you know what, everyone else is kind of feeling something similar to this. I’m not the only one.

Quick little story, I had a pretty intense case of an imposter syndrome shortly after we launched the podcast about five weeks ago when we hit a thousand listeners – which just completely blew my mind and at first it was such a huge celebration. But then as I went home and kind of settled into my thoughts and my feelings, I literally shut down mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, because my first thought was: Oh my gosh, these people are going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. Like now I have this level that I need to deliver and can I keep up with the demand and who am I even to think that I’m the one to deliver this message to them? Who am I to talk to them about these entrepreneurial problems?

When people start recognizing you for something, it’s very easy to slip into, well you say that I’m an expert but I still don’t know everything. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. And then it can put you in this panic where now you have this level you feel like you have to deliver at. If you don’t, then it’s all going to come crashing down around you.

I found this whole subject kind of fascinating, so of course, I went to the good old fashioned internet and I looked up some people that you’re probably familiar with.

Which is kind of mind-blowing to think that even celebrities and stars and people that are very financially well off feel the very same way that we do as we’re working on our businesses day in and day out.

Ryan Reynolds, for instance, he said that he was going to a lot of really cool events for Deadpool and he told Men’s Health that he felt like he, you know, he was all dressed up and he was all going out and mingling with all these people, but he still felt like a freckled face little kid faking it until he made it.

Jodie Foster, who did an interview with 60 Minutes, talked about how when she won an Oscar (which we all know was kind of a big deal), that she felt like it was a fluke, almost like her first day on campus when she went to Yale. She thought that in both that first day in college and that time of on stage accepting an Oscar, that everyone would figure it out, that she was a fake and that someone was gonna come knocking on her door and take away her Oscar.

Meryl Streep, who is one of my favorite actresses, feels like, who is going to want to watch me in a movie? Why would they want to come here and watch this with me in it?

Even Tom Hanks feels like, How did I get to this point? Who did this for me? How did all these things come together? I’m just waiting for the day that someone shows up and takes it all away.

It’s just proof that this feeling, and what some call a phenomenon, doesn’t discriminate against age or race or size or social status or achievements. It really affects humans as a whole. Whether you have a dollar in the bank account or a million, whether you have accomplished a ton of things or you’re just starting your journey.

I also found this neat little 10 Question Quiz on a website called Science Of Us, and I definitely recommend that you check it out because it’s just a quick quiz and with some questions that lend into imposter syndrome.

    • One of the questions says, I often compare my ability to those around me and think that they may be more intelligent than I am.
    • Another one is if I receive a great deal of praise and recognition for something I’ve accomplished, I tend to discount the importance of what I’ve done.
    • Another interesting one is I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable as they think that I am.

This quiz literally took me about two minutes to take and it instantly gives you results. You don’t have to put in your email or any of that kind of stuff. And I’ll share that my result was you have a moderate level of imposter syndrome. Sometimes you worry that whatever success you have enjoyed was simply the result of being in the right place at the right time or that people will discover that you are a fraud and then it links into some more information about that.

While it’s important to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms while you’re in it, i’s also really important to understand the root cause of these things as well. While I’m not a psychologist or therapist and cannot claim or diagnose anything, I do believe there is a strong root and connection into either a childhood event or a traumatic situation that leads us into some of these behaviors.

I know for me, personally, a lot of my feelings as far as being a fake revolves around the constant need, growing up, to be accepted, seen, and heard. And guess what? This shows up in my daily life. Sometimes more intense than others, but I know that it’s really showing up when I feel like I can’t step into the light because I don’t belong in the light.

Eek. I just kind of gave myself the willies even thinking about that and saying it out loud.

It’s so true though. Everyone’s situation, scenario, backstory, current story. Everyone has a different path in life. So I want you to really take some time to think about what is causing these feelings to come out in you because they don’t typically come out unless there’s a rooted problem associated with it. Okay?

Now, we’ve acknowledged and recognized that this was a problem, right? So what do we do to overcome it? How do we get over this?

Well, just like any other negative feeling or challenging situation, be willing to give yourself some time and flexibility to work through it. It’s not always going to be perfect and it may continue to show up here and there throughout your career. But knowing your particular signs and symptoms is one of the first ways of helping yourself to overcome it.

#1. I want you to make a list of all the things that you say to yourself or to other people when you feel like I’m not worthy of this success. I don’t feel like this is really me. What are some of the things that you tell yourself?

    • I’m not good enough.
    • I’m not smart enough.
    • They don’t know that I’m not intelligent enough.
    • Other people have way more experience than me. Therefore I’m a fake.

It’s gonna be really unique to each and every one of you. So I just want you to kind of just sit down with your thoughts and think, what do I typically say to myself? What typically comes to mind first when people want to give me praise? When people are putting me in the spotlight, when I’m actually doing something that is of value and purpose in this world and people are recognizing it, what are some of those feelings that I have when they do?

#2. The next thing I want you to do is to start recognizing these symptoms IN the moment. Let’s say tomorrow you ended up on the front page because of a recent success that you or your organization has achieved, or let’s say that you get invited to speak on a national stage in front of thousands of people about your area of expertise. Notice your symptoms in those moments, especially after the immediate high and excitement kind of settles down. It’s those thoughts and feelings that you’re telling yourself and feeling when no one else is around.

By acknowledging it in the moment and having something to associate it with, it can just start to slowly become a little less scary because now you know what it is. Before this exercise, in this timeframe, you don’t know what these things are and your emotions and your feelings are just going a hundred miles an hour in a bunch of different directions. When you can identify it and funnel it, you can start to overcome it.

#3. And then this one may seem like the most simple one, but it actually may be the most challenging: Start accepting the accomplishments that you have made. You are where you are because of your knowledge and expertise. You have achieved great things because of the hours of work you have put in. You know what you know because of the knowledge and the strength that you have built. The key is to start seeing yourself in the way that other people see you.

Which other people? The ones that are backing you. The ones that believe in you, the ones that are asking you to speak on that stage or to be on that Webinar or to work on their project. Starts seeing yourself in their eyes because they’re seeing you for exactly who you are as the expert, the professional, the creative, the mother, the CEO. Whichever role they’re interacting with you at – that’s how they’re seeing you.

So I want you to start looking through their lens because here’s the kicker, if someone else is seeing you in a limelight that you really belong in and you start to downplay it, you start to tell them why you’re not worthy. You start to tell everyone around you how you shouldn’t be doing this. You’re actually disrespecting the opinions of other people. It’s very subtly telling them that they are wrong. Again, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re wrong, but when you voice that out loud to someone else, it doesn’t feel so great.

We often compare ourselves to other people in our field or our industry as well, and that can very quickly send us on a tailspin of emotions.

By not comparing yourself with other people, you can really help to avoid that imposter syndrome in the arena as well because we think, oh, Sally has it all together, or Joe has it all together and you know they’ve got way more figured out than I do. So clearly I’m faking my entire way through this.

Guess what? Joe and Sally don’t really know what they’re doing, either. They’re just willing to learn and grow through it, and who knows what they’re telling themselves as well. Remember, we’re not faking it until we make it. We are learning it until we make it.

Sometimes we also associate success and being in the spotlight with being arrogant.

This is probably the level of an imposter syndrome that I struggle with the most. If I achieve quote-unquote too many things, then I’m going to be perceived as an arrogant asshole. So then it’s easier to downplay your task. It’s easier to downplay your personality. It’s easier to hold back on the things that you feel like you know you can accomplish, but you don’t want to just in case someone figures you out.

Like all of a sudden, one day everyone’s going to figure out that you know what, Laura is actually an asshole.

And when I say that out loud, it’s kind of ridiculous. So say your stuff out loud because you can instantly diffuse a lot of thoughts and emotions just by simply voicing them. I know that I’m not an asshole. Right? And if anybody knows me, you also know that I’m not an asshole. But I’ve convinced myself that if I do too many things that I will be perceived as one.

No, I’m not 100% yet, but I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at that and I’m taking small steps every day. Some of the things that I’m talking to you about, I want you to also look at the other people you admire – these are people that you really look up to, they’re positive role models – do you think to yourself, man, you know what, Steve is such a motherfucker. No, you look at them and you think, oh my gosh, Steve, is accomplishing really incredible things. I want to be more like him. What are some of the secrets to your success?

Guess what? There are dozens, if not hundreds of people that look at you in that same exact light. They’re not walking around waiting for you to drop the ball. No, they’re walking around wondering what you are doing next and how they can be a part of your journey.

Keep in mind that by being wrong or not knowing something in the moment, doesn’t make you a fake. It makes you a human that is learning and growing. When you don’t give us that beautiful magic – that thing that makes you you – you’re not giving the world what it needs. The world is full enough of actual fake people. We don’t need more of that. We need more humans like you that may not have all the answers but are sure as shit willing to try.

And then you know what? Let’s just own it.

Own your successes. Own the things that you’ve learned. Own The impact that you’re making on the world because it matters. You’re not a fake, love. You’re just doing what you do and the world is a better place because of it.

On this week’s #powerback, we’re going to talk about playing in this space of What If?

We tend to how things to death. Let’s talk about just playing.

Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!

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Ep. 22: Bouncing Back from Setbacks

Setbacks can be something as little as you have to reroute your day and they can be something so monumental that you want to just crawl in your bed and stay there for the next week—or month.

Ep. 21: Mindset it EVERYTHING

“What you think is what you are.” Nothing in the world feels truer than the things we tell ourselves within our mind. So how do we manage those self-inflicting thoughts that quite nearly drain our confidence and motivation to do or be more?

Ep. 20: Identifying and Removing Toxic People

Let’s face it, approaching toxic people and saying, “You know what? I’m good. We’re not going to do this anymore,” is probably one of the more harder things to do as a human. Especially if you’re not sure how to identify these people from the start.

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