How to Stop Feeling Like an Impostor
“You’re not good enough.”
“No one will pay you for this.”
“Who are you to give people advice on being confident?”
These are just a few of the thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis.
As soon as I became a full-time entrepreneur, I started to question every move, every decision, every program or service I designed.
As a healthcare executive, I rarely questioned myself. I believed in my ability to be successful in my job, and I often heard great feedback on my programs and training from colleagues and supervisors.
But even though I still hear great feedback from my clients and friends, I don’t believe them.
Have you ever felt like that?
That feeling like we’ll be exposed for who we really are – a fraud.
That feeling like we’ll never live up to the expectations of others – or ourselves.
That’s a form of self-doubt called Impostor Syndrome. And while there’s no easy or quick fix for this, there are helpful strategies you can take to help silence your inner critic.
Why do we doubt ourselves?
Self-doubt is that critical inner voice that tells us we’re not enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough… Incapable of doing what we really want to do. But why do we have these thoughts in the first place?
Research suggests that these feelings of weakness or incompetence stem from childhood and become ingrained in our brains. Over time, self-doubt can lead to problems with anxiety and depression, which can lead to serious physical ailments like weight gain, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and heart disease.
If you’re like me, then you’re likely a product of the baby boomer generation. Our parents were well-meaning yet critical of our life choices. When I was young, I LOVED cats – I mean I still love cats. Don’t even get me started talking about cats… but I digress.
I loved cats so much that I wanted to be a veterinarian and take care of ALL OF THE CATS. But my mom said I couldn’t be a veterinarian because I was allergic to cats and I would cry if I had to put one to sleep (sorry mom – I had to do it!).
Then there was the time I got into the gifted program at school. I was so proud of myself (and mostly happy because all of my friends were in the program), and my dad told me I was on the lower end of the gifted spectrum… thanks dad. No wonder I’m so effed up today.
But they were only teaching us things they knew, things that they learned from their parents, of The Greatest Generation, when corporal punishment was still a thing. They didn’t realize that these well-meaning nudges that we should “play it safe” were really hurting us in the long run. These kind suggestions are now stopping us from pursuing things we love because we reinforced the idea that we’re not good enough.
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
The thoughts and beliefs that were meant to keep us safe are now coddling us in our comfort zones. We don’t even attempt to move forward or try something new for fear of not being good enough or not worthy enough of success. We think, who am I to be a coach? Or businesswoman or writer or healer? Who am I to achieve success? Who am I to deserve love?
This fear squashes our confidence, leading us to believe that we’re incapable of achieving success, even if we achieved it before.
Confidence vs. Competence
Confidence does not mean that doubt does not exist; it means that we can cultivate confidence to be stronger than our doubts and fears. We do not live our lives as being only confident or only self-doubting – we live our lives as both. The key, then, is in learning how to consciously choose one over the other. To grow, we must challenge the boundaries set by our doubts.
Sometimes, we confuse confidence and competence. Remember: confidence is a firm trust in our abilities. We are confident when we believe we can be successful at something.
Conversely, competence is something we already have. It’s skill, accomplishment, knowledge, proficiency that we built and honed over time. We can prove that we have been successful in a certain area. Being competent at something can help us build confidence because we are comfortable with the subject matter or task. For me, I feel more confident when I’m giving a presentation I’ve given many times rather than one I’ve never done before.
Why is this? It’s easier to believe that we can do something if we’ve already done it! The hard part is to believe in our ability to accomplish something we’ve never done before. That’s where we grow – by stepping outside our comfort zones.
But what if we have the skills and competence, but we don’t believe in our ability, or we doubt that we’re actually good enough?
Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which someone doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Despite external evidence of our competence, those of us experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that we are frauds, and do not deserve everything we have achieved. We attribute our success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking that we’re more intelligent or talented than we think we are.
In today’s society there's a huge pressure to achieve. There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. We place our self-worth on whether or not we achieve our goals or some level of success.
Impostor Syndrome seems to be more common among people who are embarking on a new endeavor. So, entrepreneurs, college students, new employees are highly susceptible to these feelings, especially when it’s already an isolating journey. We’re often functioning in a new role that we don’t feel ready to handle, so we start to create personal standards by which we measure our own performance.
Because of this, Impostor Syndrome and perfectionism often go hand in hand. As “impostors,” we think every task we tackle has to be done perfectly, and we rarely ask for help. Perfectionism can lead to two typical responses: we may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that we won't be able to complete it to the necessary high standards. Or, we may overprepare, spending much more time on a task than is necessary.
Ultimately, Impostor Syndrome becomes a cycle, just like fear and overwhelm. When we’re afraid that we’ll be exposed as a fraud – that we’re really not as good as we led people to believe – we push ourselves to complete a task or project perfectly. When we see the success of that project, we start to believe that all of the pain, anxiety and relentless effort paid off. So, next time we have a challenging project, we go through the same motions, eventually training our brain to experience anxiety as a tool to help us achieve. And we already know that high levels of stress can take a huge toll on our physical health!
The Cure for Self-Doubt
So what can we do to cure our feelings of self-doubt or impostor syndrome?
Act with certainty
Remember, like fear and overwhelm, doubt is a choice! If you read this article and completed this free workbook, then you’re on your way to building a healthy self-awareness. When you understand and own your strengths and talents, it’s easier to believe that you have what it takes to achieve your goals.
But sometimes, we need to fake it ‘til we make it! Practice visualizing how you will feel completing your task or project. Act as if you are the best in the world at what you do. How does someone who’s the best in the world present themselves? How do they show up to their lives? Consider that, then act on it.
Ask for feedback
When you’re unsure of yourself, it helps to ask a mentor or supervisor for their opinion. Ask them if they believe you can handle a certain task or project. They’ll be able to see your talents, skills and experience from an objective point of view and remind you that how we feel about ourselves is just our own perception.
You can also ask for encouragement and support from a trusted friend. When you realize that your impostor feelings are both normal and irrational, you can start to recognize your own potential and growth without comparing yourself to others.
Recognize your expertise
Do I sound like a broken record yet? It all goes back to self-awareness! Recognize your accomplishments and areas of expertise by making a list of your top achievements, special skills and knowledge areas. One way to remind ourselves of our expertise is to tutor students or young professionals in an area we excel at. Maybe you are a math whiz or great at coding or painting or know Spanish as if it were your native language. Teaching others helps us hone our own knowledge further, and it gives us a confidence boost because we know we’re helping someone else.
Change your thought process
I get more into a few methods in my Free Confidence Mini Course, but for now, consider the difference between having a fixed vs. a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that our skills are what they are and we can’t improve them. While those with a growth mindset love learning and believe that skills can be strengthened and improved.
Use your growth mindset thinking to train your brain to think about tasks and projects as learning opportunities. When we believe in continuous improvement, we know that even if we’re not the best right now, we can get better every day if we keep moving forward. A growth mindset reminds us that we are smart, capable and talented.
Impostor Syndrome can be really hard to overcome, but it is possible to build healthy confidence and make progress on your goals and dreams.
I, for one, am tired of watching smart, capable and talented women like you let their dreams be tarnished by self-doubt. Are you with me?
I’m going to share this quote by Marianne Williamson (she is just as fabulous in person as I imagined her to be!).
Perhaps you’ve heard this before, but it warrants repeating. This quote is so powerful, and we can never hear it enough. It’s also in the mini course workbook, if you want to print it out and hang it somewhere you’ll read it every day.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Don't forget to enroll for free in BE Powerful: A Mini Course for Confidence!