When I started this blog in 2015, I kept in on the down-low. I wasn’t a writer and I didn’t have design skills. On top of that, I had absolutely no idea how to use WordPress. Needless to say, I was terrified that someone would notice and call me out. This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced impostor syndrome; but it was the most profound because this work I was putting out there was completely, 100 percent, my own.
According to Psychology Today, “impostor syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with impostor syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.”
If you’ve ever felt like this way, keep reading to learn how I deal with it and what I’ve learned along the way.
I imagine anyone who has experienced any level of success has struggled with impostor syndrome. While we all have natural gifts and abilities, it takes time and practice before you actually become good at anything. This means that we’re all impostors when we start something new.
If you’ve never felt impostor syndrome, it may be due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the human tendency to overestimate our abilities. Studies show that we judge ourselves as better than others to a degree that violates the laws of mathematics. Not surprisingly, those with the least amount of ability overestimate their skills to the greatest extent. Before you gloat that this couldn’t be you, note that we all fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect because we all have areas of incompetence that we don’t recognize.
While fascinating, we’re not here to break down the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but to learn to work through impostor syndrome. As you saw in the video, people with a moderate amount of experience typically have less confidence in their abilities. “They know enough to know there’s a lot they don’t know.” And while experts usually know just how knowledgeable they are, they assume everyone else has the same level of knowledge. These are just two of the reasons we fall prey to impostor syndrome.
I’ve experienced both of these over the last five years of blogging. I’m well aware that the only formal writing training I’ve had were English courses I took in college. (All of which I aced I might add!) And the things I’m naturally good at, like planning and organizing information in a way it makes sense, are so second nature to me that I assume everyone else can do those things too.
But these aren’t the only two things that stand in the way of being confident in our abilities. I’ve shared in previous posts about my struggles with perfectionism and limiting beliefs. And in my recent post on friendship, I shared even more about my issues with trust, self-worth, and my fear of rejection. Suffice to say, impostor syndrome is complicated and there’s no one-size-fits-all experience or solution.
It would have been easy to let my impostor syndrome tell me to quit. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it on multiple occasions. But somehow I found the courage to keep moving forward. I think the greatest lesson I learned was to be present; to simply focus on what I could do today. Then rinse and repeat, being extra kind and gentle with myself along the way.“Before we can become who we really are, we must become conscious of the fact that the person who we think we are, here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger.” — Thomas Merton Click To Tweet
That’s how I dealt with my impostor syndrome for half a decade until one of my virtual mentors said something that completely changed the way I looked at being an impostor. In a podcast episode titled The Great Pretender, Seth Godin says, “of course you’re an impostor because you are describing a future that hasn’t happened yet. Because you are arguing for something that cannot be proven to be true yet. Of course, you’re an impostor and it’s good that you feel like one because if you didn’t, you’d be some sort of sociopath. As an impostor, you are acting generously.”
He goes on to say, “If we can put our arms around impostor syndrome and realize it is a compass—a way of feeling when we know that we’re using generosity to make things better … by making better things—then we can get over that noise in our head.” “What it means to make a ruckus is to generously act, despite your status as an impostor, despite what some people might think.”
This completely changed how I see my own impostor syndrome. Rather than trying to tame it and shove it down so I can power through and do my work, I now try and embrace it. For example, when I was writing the aforementioned post about friendship, the voice in my head called out, “what are you doing? You’re not an expert on friendship.” I responded, “Not yet!”
It’s hard to put personal things like that out there. It came from my own experience and from my heart and it’s likely that some angry critic is going to call me a fraud. But I know that I’m being generous. I know that I helped at least one person. I know that I’m doing everything I can to make things better. So yeah, maybe I’m an impostor. But I’d rather be an impostor and help one person than a critic who helps no one.