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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome: When You Don't Feel Like You Are Enough

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? Even though you might be good at what you do and have confidence in some areas? Is there is a voice in your head that will sometimes tell you that you are a fake, a phony, that you don’t actually deserve your job, your family, your blessings? That you are not enough? If so, you are not alone. 

Sorry to report that you are not all that rare or special when it comes to this issue. Most people, if not all, have thoughts that somehow they are not enough. It is actually a pretty common human experience. So why don’t we talk about it? Well, probably because many of us feel a lot of shame and embarrassment about it. We don’t want to admit to our boss, our kids, or our partners that we feel this way or we could lose our credibility, respect, and even love!

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is the idea that when you succeed it is probably only due to luck. Not because of your hard work, mad skills, or qualifications. People who struggle with Imposter Syndrome do not internalize their own success and claim it. They give their success away by externalizing the reasons they did what they did, got what they got, or have what they have. My grandmother was a good singer, I got my voice from her. I just got lucky in finding this house for sale, it was cheaper than my neighbor’s! My promotion? I guess I just got the luck of the draw, everyone else was better qualified.

My Struggle with Imposter Syndrome

Many years ago I remember trying to justify some of the successes in my own life. When I built my private practice of counseling and coaching I felt so great and proud and excited. Until people started asking me about my success and how I did it. I told them that I felt so lucky and things just seemed to happen for me. I told them that I had to wait a long time and therefore I guess it was my time. 

But the truth is that I had worked in the trenches of mental health starting at the age of 13. Yes, 13. I started learning how to be a good listener, a good friend. Then I took a psychology class in high school. Four years of undergraduate in psychology. Two years in a master’s program for counseling psychology. One year post master’s training in alcohol and drug prevention. Ongoing courses to maintain my license every year. Eighteen years working in the field in various jobs which included schools, in family’s homes, in crime ridden cities, with very challenging cases involving every severe and critical mental health and socio-economical issue there is. 

THEN...I started my own counseling practice. When I did, I had to learn how to do all the things an entrepreneur must learn. Like how to run a business. Get enough clients to pay my office rent. How to do billing and accounting. How to market and advertise. None of which I learned in graduate school, by the way. As my practice grew I then had to figure out a way to balance it with my personal life and grow professionally, too. 

Did it happen overnight? No. Did it just “happen to me?” Heck no. Did I get lucky? Maybe, but I also put a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into the hard work that I DID. I was always on the look-out for opportunities and I grabbed them when I saw them rather than second guess them. I showed up every day and wanted to be the best counselor and coach I could be. I took many additional training along the way. I hired coaches and counselors to help me get “unstuck.” I took massive action and learned new skills when I needed to do so.

This is the way of all successful entrepreneurs or professionals or people who want to go after their dreams. It does not “just happen.”

Why Does This Matter?

So what is the big deal if you have Imposter Syndrome? See if you can relate to any of the following emotion-sucking icky-feeling dream-killing pitfalls:

Perfectionists set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they feel like failures. Any time they mess up or make even the tiniest mistake will make them question their own abilities or worthiness. Do you think you have any perfectionist tendencies? If so, where does it show up in your life? How is it holding you back? 

Experts feel like need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or training to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or at work or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.

People with a natural talent who have to struggle or work hard to accomplish something may think this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in the effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.

People who like feeling like “Supermen or “Superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed perfectly in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

Fiercely independent people feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.

Why do people experience Impostor Syndrome?

Three reasons: 

  • Lousy self-talk

  • A lifetime of limiting beliefs

  • Fear of showing up as your powerful self because you might lose love/friends/respect and be seen as a know-it-all arrogant jerk. 

Which reasons are holding you back from claiming who you are and what you have accomplished so far? Even if you are not where you ultimately want to be, can you be proud of some of your successes? What can you think of right now that you could be proud of if you really wanted to be? 

Why is it so hard to change?

Psychology 101: I’m sure that you are familiar with how self-talk and limiting beliefs affects us. The truth is that the little nasty voice in your head is really there to protect you. It is that voice to remind you that you are okay where you are. You don’t need to get off the couch and stop eating the potato chips to go build a business or learn a new skill. It’s too hard. It will take too much time. You will have to sacrifice stuff and your cat will hate you. What if you fail? What if you succeed? How will it change your life? Ah, it’s so much more comfortable to stay here, even if it is making you miserable at times. Sound familiar? 

It is also a fact that a sense of belonging helps us feel confident and safe. The more we are around people who are like us the better we feel. When we begin to grow beyond our peer group or family, it feels uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. And it can make us feel unsettled, elicit fear and doubt even when we are reaching for goals that will make our lives better and more successful. 

This is why so many young people right now are struggling with “adulting.” Why it can be so hard to ask your boss for a promotion. You will be leaving your familiar setting and the people you care about behind. If you reach for a lifestyle or a way of thinking that is different from the people you care about there is a fear of being judged or not accepted anymore. Do you know anyone who held themselves back because they didn’t want their friends to think that they were a rich snob or a bragger if they became bigger and more successful? Do you ever hold yourself back for these reasons?

So is there hope? Can anyone ever overcome the dreaded Imposter Syndrome? Of course. There is always hope. 

How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

  1. Identify your thoughts and beliefs. One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts you have in the first place. For many of us our thoughts are like the little devil or angel always hanging out on our shoulders. They are talking all day long to one another, right through our ears. Which one is louder? What are they saying. Pay attention. Write it down. I encourage anyone who wants to change to start a journal of their thoughts to see the patterns that emerge. How can you change if you don’t know WHAT to change? 

  1. Reframe your thoughts. Learn to be a critical thinker of your own thoughts. Challenge thoughts that are negative, put you down, offer self-doubt, or hold you back in any way. Next, change the words and make a new statement. Decide what you want to think! Not knowing what you want to think is like going to a restaurant and asking for food without looking at the menu. Figure out what you want to feel, how you want to express yourself in life, and what thoughts will get you there. 

  2. Connect with like-minded people. You are only as good as the company you keep. Have you ever heard that one? When we surround ourselves with people who lift us up, empower us, and believe in us, we will not feel the need to play small or make excuses for the things that we do. They will not only encourage us but kick us in the butt when we don’t follow through on things that we want. 

  3. Recognize that your success and happiness are yours alone. No one has to validate it, verify it, approve it, allow you to have it. It is yours. Claim it. 

As we go through life there will be times when we face challenges, with our business, our family, our health. There will be times when we doubt ourselves. When we aren’t sure if our choices are the right ones. When we have to fake it until we make it. When we show up imperfectly and try our best. 

This is called life. Growth.

Claim YOUR Success and Happiness

But we do not have to give in to the doubt as an imposter when we are in the middle of great uncertainty. We can remind ourselves of the power we have to make a choice and just make the best choice or choose the best thought in the moment. We don’t have to know how to do it all. We don’t have to define ourselves only by our successes and our shining moments. As humans, we are messy and imperfect. 

I will bet you that maybe just ONE if not many of your biggest successes came through a time in your life that was the messiest of all. So if you wait until you feel like your life is perfect, you are perfect, the stars are aligned, and your chores are all done to start claiming your power, then you will never have it. You will never experience it. I challenge you to consider making a decision to overcome Imposter Syndrome once and for all and claim the success, the peace, the connections, and the joy that you deserve.

#impostersyndrom #confidence #courage

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