Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you’re not really as smart or capable as other people believe. That you’re constantly fooling them. And that, any second now, you’re going to be found out. Unmasked. Exposed as…an imposter.
People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome—and lots of very smart and talented people do—think that their success is due to luck, timing, perseverance, their contacts, or people just liking them; anything but their own worth and effort.
As you can imagine, or as you know from experience, this is a pretty bad way to feel. And since nothing kicks up self-doubt like public speaking, public speaking is also a great way to kick up some Imposter Syndrome.
The Imposter Syndrome Quiz
I recently shared Dr. Valerie Young’s classic article on Imposter Syndrome with a new client (download it here).
The article includes a quiz you can take to self-evaluate. When my client took it, his results looked like this:
How many of these questions would you check off? One or more (everyone I know would say yes to at least one of them)?
As Dr. Young so aptly puts it, join the club!
So What Do You Do If You Feel Like an Imposter?
Two related approaches can help you handle Imposter Syndrome and the fear of public speaking that often accompanies it.
They both work well. The goal is to make them work for you.
1. Understand Your Experience
Every culture in recorded history has looked for ways to quiet the negative thoughts and emotions that often plague us.
Whether it’s meditation or therapy, sweat lodges or Burning Man, we’ve always wanted to be more at peace with our own thoughts and feelings; with ourselves.
Charles diCagno founded the Public Speaking Center of NY and is an expert on fear of public speaking. He offers six steps for managing fear that I’ve adapted for Imposter Syndrome:
- Expect, allow and accept that you’ll sometimes feel like an imposter.
- When those feelings come up, label how strong they are on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Observe that you’re having feelings, let them be, and calmly wait for them to pass.
- While you’re waiting, focus on and do manageable tasks.
- Appreciate yourself for getting things done even though you feel like an imposter; and finally,
- Expect, allow, and accept that Imposter Syndrome will rear its ugly head again, and that you’ll manage the feelings, just like you did this time.
2. Understand Yourself
At Otto Kroeger Associates, where I studied both Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ-i 2.0) theory and practice, I learned the phrase “Better Self-Awareness for Better Self-Management.”
But the meaning of that phrase didn’t really hit me until I was tossing and turning in bed one night before leading a workshop I’d just designed.
My husband Jerome was trying to sleep, and since I was making that pretty hard, he finally turned to me and said,
All right, what’s bothering you?
My answer, though I didn’t understand this at the time, was textbook Imposter Syndrome. I said,
I’m scared because I’m leading a new workshop tomorrow and I’m not ready and I’m probably going to totally screw it up.
Jerome basically yawned. I was waiting for some sympathy, but what I got was,
Yeah, you always say that before a new workshop, and then you don’t sleep well. If you’re going to toss and turn all night, would you mind sleeping on the couch?
This was such startling information that I didn’t even react to the “would you mind sleeping on the couch” part. I was like,
Is that true? I do this every time?
To which my ridiculously practical partner said,
Every single time. And your workshops always go great, so can you please try to get some sleep?
How I Manage Imposter Syndrome
I wish I could tell you that, having been gifted with this insight, I now sleep like a baby the night before leading a new workshop, but I don’t.
I still toss and turn and worry. But then I get up, review my workshop notes, bake some biscuits, read a book, take a bath, whatever.
The difference isn’t that I stopped having Imposter Syndrome.
The difference is that I stopped believing it. I stopped caring about the stupid and inaccurate fears and fantasies that sometimes fill my mind.
Now I fill my mind with things that I enjoy thinking about or doing. And then, after a few hours, I go to sleep.