The Art of Recognizing Yourself (or how to finally kick Imposter Syndrome’s ass, for good)

You’ve been waiting for it all to collapse like a house of cards. Playing a con for as long as you can remember. You’re tired. Stressed. And scared out of your mind. You work hard – harder than everyone else for sure – and yet… it never seems to be enough.

Sound familiar?

Self-doubt is natural. We’re not egomaniacs all the time — and thank god for that, can you imagine trying to get through a meeting? Success, no matter how valid or earned, can feel temporal, artificial… aka, faux.

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s a phenomenon that almost every leader (aka, person) has dealt with — backed up by case study after case study, in a wide range of fields — even those prominent people who seem to have their sh*t together: Sheryl Sandberg, Seth Godin, Sonia Sotomayor. It’s called the “Imposter Syndrome.”

But feeling like a scam artist doesn’t make you a weirdo or an outlier. These feelings are so common, in fact, that everyone may have them — in some degree or another. So, now that we know that chronic feelings of illegitimacy are a shared, ordinary, and natural response to accomplishment, how can we overcome them?

You’re not special. Look around – you’re surrounded by us. Knowing that many other people experience the Imposter Syndrome is a proven aid in overcoming it. When you start having feelings of inadequacy, it’s as easy as looking across the board room table. That guy sitting across from you? He’s had them. That supremely confident woman on your team who delivers presentations like she’s delivering mail? She’s having them this very moment. Emma Watson? Yep, even her — and she still pushes through them to be a voice for gender equality and feminism. So take note: you’re not alone in this self-created boxing ring.

Make it work for you, not against you by using it to cultivate connections. We know that most successful people experience self-doubt (me too – and yes, I’m looking at you) — so you have a built-in baseline for understanding. Humility can be quite attractive; I mean who wouldn’t want to be seen as a real human being vs. a perfect, obedient robot? Practice baring your anxiety and struggles to your team, colleagues, and friends. Because going it alone is just that – lonely – and that road ain’t goin’ nowhere fun and fresh. And 99% of the time, our colleagues are going through the exact same thing.  Consider what’s possible for you – and your team – if you ‘out’ the Imposter Syndrome.

Give your shoulders a break, and blame *some* of it on the System. Now, I’m not one to be victim to external forces, but feelings of inadequacy can be deeply ingrained, based on societal structures and past experience. What is manifesting in your life as Imposter Syndrome could be a coping mechanism — a way of understanding feedback and making sense of where you are in your life and your career. “We call it ‘impostor syndrome’, but we’re not sick. The real sickness is an industry that calls itself a meritocracy but over and over and over fails to actually reward merit.” So don’t underestimate systemic bias when you’re feeling like a swindler.

The next time that you feel like you’re running a scam — when you feel as if you don’t belong (even though you know the work, effort, and drive that you’ve put in to get where you are is too legit to quit) — step back and observe those feelings. Re-calibrate. Acknowledge your fear. Laugh. Move on. You know who you are and where you’ve come from.

Then get back to the business of being.

Your life is not a collection of accomplishments, meetings, coffee breaks, and scattered sleep… despite how it can feel day to day. We all have the same hours in a day, a week, a year (even Beyonce doesn’t get extra). Life doesn’t have to be about coasting through those hours. There’s a whole lot of room to go deeper — even if it means venturing into that scary cave of fear and anxiety where the Imposter Syndrome lives.

Don’t miss out on the juiciest part of life and leadership because you’re afraid. Take a deep breath…set your intention… just be.

It’s good enough. You’re good enough.