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Impostor Syndrome is Your Friend

Letting your fears and insecurities guide you can be scary, but they can also lead you to tremendous growth.

Have you experienced Impostor Syndrome?

If you don’t know what that is: it’s that little voice (or maybe a really loud voice!) that tells you, “You can’t do that.”

It seductively tells you that you’re terrible and affirms that you’re incompetent: “You can’t figure that out.” “You can never succeed at THAT job.”

It lies to you. Unabashedly. Incessantly.

Instead of running away from it and pushing it aside, I recommend a different strategy: let it guide your decision making.

My impostor syndrome tells me, “You’ll never make a difference, Ken,” and “Do you really think you’re helping anyone? What a joke you are!”

What I recently noticed about it was very interesting. It got louder the closer I got to actually doing the things it was telling me I’d never do.

I’ve heard from a lot of you that my work has 1) helped you see some things in a new light, 2) helped you with your communication with others (even spouses!), and 3) encouraged you to try new, big, and bold things. That is very humbling—thank you for sharing—but as I hear more and more of this, the voice of the impostor syndrome is louder than ever.

Why do you think that is?

Steven Pressfield, the prolific author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and many other top selling books, says this in his classic, The War of Art:

“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.”

In this context, it seems that the louder and more incessant your impostor syndrome voice is against something you’re doing, the more you should be doing that very thing!

In my case, when I hear, “You’ll never make a difference, Ken,” my reaction is now, “Just watch me!”

It’s not perfect—it’s kind of unnerving—but knowing that the louder my inner voice insults me, the more I know I’m on the right track.

Marsha Shandur, one of my favorite speakers, calls her impostor syndrome, “the beast.” I got to chat with her about it at Tribe Conference earlier this year. She said there are four ways to manage your “beast.”

  1. Notice
  2. Understand
  3. Acknowledge
  4. Push Through

You really should watch her video here.

If you’re this far into the article and thought, “Do I have a beast? I don’t think I have one,” then might you be too comfortable? Are you stretching yourself in your work or personal development? If you’re not pushing into territory that is at least a bit uncomfortable, you might be at risk of becoming stagnant. Take on something new. Have you ever told yourself, “I’m not good at…” Maybe it’s time to start doing that thing. For example, if you said, “I’m not good at art,” maybe it is time to take a drawing class. If you said, “I’m not good at speaking,” maybe it is time for you to join your local Toastmasters group. Whatever makes you uncomfortable—take a step into that arena.

But whatever you’re doing, know that if your beast is getting louder and more insistent, you’re probably on the right track. Use Marsha’s methods for limiting its impact.

You are capable of big and bold things—go out and take them on!