I read a lot. I am particular to reading books by thought leaders who have got something interesting to say about the world. Biographies and autobiographies are also fascinating reading to me. I veer towards the stories of those people who have become successful at what they do; entrepreneurs, writers, athletes, actors, musicians and other high achievers. I like to learn how they ‘tick’.
From the outside, success looks glamorous. There they are living the life, looking so confident in what they have to say. Rich and successful with enviable lives that seemingly came so easy. But once you read their stories, you’re no longer fooled by the smoke and mirrors. They are just like the rest of us.
We rarely think about their inner voices, tossing daily negative commentary around in their minds, threatening to sabotage them at any moment. A common theme I often find when reading about, as well as talking to, high achieving people is that many of them have moments of feeling like a fraud. Feeling that they shouldn’t be in the position that they are in.
Why would someone choose me for that role? Who am I to be getting that award? Who am I to be getting a book deal? Why should I be managing that team? Why should I be earning that amount of money? Why should people be listening to what I have to say?
An almost undeserving rhetoric for what most likely took a large amount of grit, many years and a tremendous amount of hard work for that person to attain.
The Imposter Syndrome is a term coined by psychologists to describe that exact feeling. The thought of being an imposter or a fraudster. That what we have created in our life, was more out of sheer luck. Or maybe the sun, moon and planets were aligned at the right time. Achievement based on anything bar ourselves and our own qualities.
This type of thinking leads us to go about our lives fearing we will be caught. Feelings of uncomfortableness and anxiety creeping in to whatever we do. Our university might come knocking and rip the degrees off our office walls. Our old coach might visit and throw all of our trophies in the bin. The director will retract our promotion – oops sorry, this went to the wrong person. Then we are going to be sent scurrying away back to the life we once led before success took hold.
It’s the thought process many people go through when they have achieved something and haven’t internalised it properly.
Many of you reading this would have felt it at times where you are on your way to making a difference in the world (and I include myself in this, shh, don’t tell anyone). In fact, who I am to be telling you all of this? And that’s what we need to be careful of. That the imposter syndrome doesn’t take hold and stop of us from writing books, making beautiful music, being an inspirational leader, healing people, inventing new technologies, or making the world a better place with whatever we are doing.
So what do we do about it so we don’t succumb to self-doubt?
Firstly, don’t compare yourself with others. The reason being is that you are comparing your insides with what you are seeing of others outsides. This is not a valid comparison. Everyone has a complicated inner world that you know nothing about. Don’t presume anything.
Secondly, list all of your successes thus far. This doesn’t mean massive successes, it means all of the little things that you have done well. All achievements however tiny have a cumulative effect. Listing them helps us recognise all the steps we had to take along the path to success. Years ago, my mentor made me list 100 successes in my business thus far, yes, one of them was ‘bought a stapler for my office’, but it was still one component of a very bigger picture that led me to get where I had got to.
Thirdly, if you keep walking around feeling as though you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing, it is going to show. Everyone has doubts. Notice you have them, don’t judge them and then move forward regardless. Sometimes fear and doubt mask themselves as something exciting is about to happen (if you do it). Don’t confuse the two.
If you listen to your imposter voice, and follow it, the world may just miss out on what you have to offer.
Maybe next time when you feel the Imposter Syndrome take hold, before it stops you doing your next great thing, remember that it was not a computer error that made you achieve what you have already done, but rather YOU.