Imposters and Fakes and Frauds, Oh My!

From the time I started my PhD program to the day I left my academic career fourteen years later, I was plagued by the thought “I’m a total fraud and they’re going to figure it out any day now!”. And now that I’m experiencing the daily challenges of building and running my coaching business, that thought has started to creep back into my mind again…

Does this sound familiar? You’d be surprised at just how many of us struggle with this particular problem, a.k.a. Imposter Syndrome. We may know a lot, but we also realize just how much we don’t know, and so we freak out a little and start questioning what we do know and just how well we know it. And then before we know it, we’re in full-blown fear of failure mode, feeling like a fraud, and beating ourselves up.

Imposter syndrome is perfectly normal for any self-aware human being to experience at points in their life. It can be triggered, for example, by a major new challenge (such as going back to school), a promotion, a career change, or starting your own business. Any of these major life changes can take us from our comfort zone into scary new territory. Even if it’s a goal we have worked hard for and are excited to achieve, when we are finally actively engaged in it, deep-rooted fear can strike and lead to imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. 

Tell me lies, tell me mean little lies…

So how do you recognize when imposter syndrome has started whispering confidence destroying sweet nothings in your ear? It usually begins with something along the lines of:
  • You don’t know what you’re doing 
  • You’re in way over your head 
  • How did you even get here? 
  • You slipped in under the radar/were admitted by mistake 
  • You had one good idea in you and that was it, it’s downhill from here
  • You’re going to fail at this
These comments are intended to drain your confidence and get you back on track with your “normal” life. They are meant to keep you within limiting boundaries and comfort zones. They’re all about keeping you safe and sound from the possibility of failing at something.

Thing is, failure is normal and to be expected! We can’t learn if we don’t fail, especially if it’s a new skill. Think about learning to ride a bike. Did you master it the very first time? Of course not. You fell over, got up, and tried again. No one judged you. Your life wasn’t over. You just kept trying until you mastered being able to stay upright on two wheels. So just because we initially fail at one piece of our goal doesn’t mean the whole goal is doomed to failure!

Tame the fear

What can you do when imposter syndrome strikes? First, take a step back and recognize what is happening. Listen to the fear to see what it is telling you. Visualization can be a powerful tool here. For example, if your fear were an animal, place, or thing, what would it be? Why? What does this metaphor say to you? Does it remind you of a past failure? A lost opportunity?

By thinking of the fear in terms of an actual thing, we can access it in a new way that sheds light on what is really bothering us. If we can communicate with our fear from a place of awareness, we get a much clearer idea of where it is coming from and why. Yes, we may find that we’re not on the right track after all, but chances are, we’ll find that the fear is just trying to protect us from failing and serves no useful purpose.

Just remember, Imposter Syndrome is normal. It’s our fear talking to us and trying to get us to stop taking the crazy risk it thinks we’re taking and return to business as usual. But don’t listen to it! No one ever achieved a big goal by listening to the fear. Fear is a sign that we’re truly challenging ourselves and taking a step outside of our comfort zone, so instead of letting it stop us dead in our tracks, we need to acknowledge it, thank it for caring, and send it on its merry way.  

© 2020 Gloria Walker | LifeWalker Coach | All Rights Reserved.
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