Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
I was sat in the coffeeshop adjacent to my condo, staring at my computer screen, the cursor blinking, my mind racing, pen tap-tap-tapping the tabletop. My gaze wandered to the guy sitting next to me, who shot me a sideways glance, one that distinctly read: “I’m-about-two-seconds-away-from-shoving-that-pen-down-your-throat-sweetheart.” I mouthed ‘sorry’ and sat on my hands, the only way I could get the fidgeting to subside.
In my inbox sat two emails, both requesting me to be a guest speaker at pretty big conferences later in the year. They’d been opened a few days prior, gathering moss and awaiting my response, which I’m sure was expected to be an enthusiastic, “Yes!”. But my initial reaction wasn’t of excitement or pride in myself. Despite the fact that both of these people had reached out to me, my initial feeling was a lump in my throat and the fear-mongering voice inside saying, “You’re not good enough.”
The same feeling had been plaguing me earlier that week, as I started planning my next chapter of This Renegade Love, a workshop + education studio on branding + blogging that I’m calling That Renegade Girl. As I began envisioning what it would look like and writing the copy for the site, I typed and deleted, typed and deleted, then sat frozen at my computer thinking, “What if no one signs up?”
In both instances, I didn’t even given myself a chance to fail before I told myself I couldn’t do it. And although I’m normally quite a confident person who doesn’t give an ounce of a f*ck what people think of me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be caught out for being a fraud, for pretending to be more knowledgable than I actually was. Why would anyone want to listen to what I have to say? And why would they actually pay for it? This unwavering self-doubt I was experiencing, this self-inflicted perception of how others view me, has a name – it’s called ‘impostor syndrome’.
And I was hella deep in it.
Okay, so I know ‘impostor syndrome’ sounds like some sort of sci-fi thriller on cable TV, but it’s a legitimate term that was coined in the late ’70s to describe high-achieving individuals who are marked by a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ – some research even suggests that around 70% of us experience the feeling at least once in our lifetime.
The first time I heard of impostor syndrome was when Sheryl Sandberg wrote about it in her book Lean In, describing how – even as the COO of Facebook – it still plagues her.
From the outside, we think, “Um, pardon me? WTF has Sheryl Sandberg got to worry about?” But that’s the thing with impostor syndrome – it affects the most ambitious of us, the classic over-achievers, causing us to focus not on what we’ve achieved thus far, but what we haven’t yet achieved. And it’s been recognized that women experience these feelings of impostor syndrome more frequently than men do, partly because of pre-existing stereotypes that question their competence in the workplace. Even Maya Angelou (a Nobel laureate!) said at one point, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
And that’s exactly what I was dealing with. Regardless of the fact that I had 10 years of professional experience behind me and had amassed a group of loyal readers after starting my own brand, I couldn’t help but focus on the ‘what-ifs’ and my perceived lack-of-ability – what I assumed other people would sense the moment I stood at the front of the room.
So how do we get over it?
Well, it definitely helps to talk to others about how you’re feeling, because impostor syndrome thrives on isolation. The more you internalize it, the less likely you’ll be able to move past it. And even though it’s something I think I’ll encounter again in my life as I push my brand forward and take risks, there are a few ways I’ve learned to manage impostor syndrome and shift my direction of thought:
- Write a daily reflection journal – I’ve spoken about this one a lot, and it’s something that has helped me put shed a positive light on my goals and reinforce my achievements regularly. Starting your day with intentions and ending it by reflecting on the good has a huge impact on the way you see yourself and your achievements.
- Keep a ‘love notes’ folder – It helps put things in perspective. To stop focusing on the negatives and focus on the positive ways you’ve had an impact on people, whether it’s another colleague or a reader of your blog. I have an e-mail folder where I keep every reader/partner e-mail that expresses gratitude or praise for the work I do – reading through them helps me to readjust my thinking and say a big “F.U.” to impostor syndrome.
- Read You Are A Badass – I’ve been reading this book for the past couple of weeks, and although it’s not ground-breaking by any means, it’s an excellent reminder that you are amazing and that most of the things you assume people think of you are really just in your own head. I even have pages flagged to skim through each time impostor syndrome rears its ugly head. (you can find the book here)
- Find a mentor in your field – It’s great to have your mum tell you how amazing of a computer engineer you are, but when she knows nothing about it, the pep-talk loses its worth (sorry mums). Look for a mentor within your field who you can turn to and who understands your profession and the demands within it. Talking through your ideas with someone you respect professionally and having their vote of confidence will help melt away any feelings of impostor syndrome.
- Just do it – Gotta say, Nike nailed it with their motto. The more we just try things and go for it, the more capable we believe ourselves to be. Even if you do fail on the first shot, you’ll recognize what you need to do differently the next time around to make it a success.
Do any of you deal with impostor syndrome?
How do you squash those feelings of self-doubt?
Let us know in the comments below!