Every time I’m about to publish something, I hear this voice:
“Are you sure you want to say that?”
“Who gives you permission to say that?”
I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ — Maya Angelou
When we talk about “imposter syndrome”, we’re afraid of being found out as a fraud. Let’s put the spotlight on this underlying belief that we have: In order to be afraid of being found out, we have to have something to hide.
What are we trying to hide?
We’re trying to hide our imperfections, all the flaws that don’t fit into our success. We’re afraid that “who we are” and “our failures” are one and the same. We’re afraid that we aren’t as perfect as how other people think we are. We’re afraid that we aren’t as perfect as how we think we are. And we’re afraid that we don’t have what it takes to repeat our successes from the past.
In order to qualify as a fraud, you actually have to make an effort to hide things.
You’ll have to make an effort to hide your weaknesses, your flaws, or what you don’t know. Being the honest person with integrity, you probably don’t fall into the category of a fraud by that definition.
So what are you really trying to hide when imposter syndrome kicks in?
Above all else, we’re trying to hide our fear.
The fear we feel is an indication of how important it is to express what we’re actually afraid to express. In other words, we fear because we care. For example, if our work is not important to us, it wouldn’t matter if anybody loves our work. There would be nothing to be found out. We care about what other people think because it’s important to us. We care about our work being expressed into the world because it represents the most raw and authentic version of us.
We often treat fear as the enemy. But what if the fear is not here to stop us? Instead, our fear is here to tell us what’s important. The more we fear, the more important it is to move forward. The way to use your imposter syndrome is to own it, own the fear, and own every aspect of it.
1. Own your fear
There is an intense fear every time I write, that what I’m writing is complete garbage. There is an intense fear every time I finish writing, that I won’t have something brilliant to say ever again. If I had let that fear stop me, you wouldn’t be reading this, and I wouldn’t exist as myself.
The fear will always be there. It’s part of us; it’s part of the process. Just because I have fear, it doesn’t mean fear gets to make decisions for me.
Owning your fear is acknowledging its existence and letting it be. Fear is the backseat driver that won’t shut up. It’ll be there; it’ll give you warnings and unsolicited advice. At the same time, it’ll also tell you, “This is it. This is what you’ve come to do. Now don’t screw this up.”
You’re in the driver’s seat. You get to decide what you want to do with the noise coming from the backseat. More importantly, don’t be afraid to share your fear, it’s an acknowledgement of its existence and your humanness. You can be afraid and still be brilliantly successful.
2. Own your choices
Does pure luck really exist? You’ve come so far, not because you were lucky. You’re successful because you made choices, and some of them were very good choices.
You may not have control over what opportunities life presents to you, but you have complete control over how you react to those opportunities. Those are the choices you made. You could’ve said no, but you said yes. You could’ve succumbed to fear and held yourself back, but you stepped out and gave it a try. You could’ve played it safe, but you decided to take the risk and play big.
Your past doesn’t always predict the future, but your past gives you the tools to create the future that you want. Owning your choices is owning your past, the good and the bad, the mistakes and the successes — they’re learnings that got you to where you are.
So here’s your choice: You can credit your past success to luck, or you can own your success and own all the good choices you made.
3. Own your struggles
Everyone struggles. Even when you’re successful, even when you’ve written 11 books, it doesn’t mean you don’t struggle along the way to write the 12th book.
Everyone has bad days. Even when your life is great, some days you just can’t seem to get going.
Those days when we struggle is when we feel the most like a fraud – like I really don’t belong here, and I shouldn’t be doing this. Owning your struggles is part of the process. I take those days as a sign to take time off as much as possible. I still attend calls and meetings, but I use the rest of the time to collect myself. I’m not in the mindset to create anything brilliant anyway. I own it in that moment, on that day, that I’m not creating.
I don’t have to identify with those moments and make myself a fraud just because I can’t write on one Wednesday afternoon. It’s like they say in yoga class – honor your body today, and don’t compare yourself to what you did last week. Honor your struggles today, and don’t compare yourself to your success from last week.
It takes courage and vulnerability to own your fear, choices, and struggles. It takes courage and vulnerability to step out into the world to share the work that is most important to you, and share the most authentic version of you. When you do, it is the furthest thing from being a fraud. When you have already owned everything there is to own, there is no more opportunity to be “found out.” Rather than letting imposter syndrome overtake you, take control back by owning and using what is already yours.