4. Befriending my imposter

This is the last part of a four-part series on how a few things have recently shifted for me, and how I’ve internalised these new ideas to move forward professionally and personally in 2019.

In each situation, she’s there in the corner of my mind, calmly stating the facts.

You don’t have the talent or the experience to pull that off.

This is going to be a disaster.

Oh, you’re going to try? Well… they’ll figure you out soon enough.

It’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out you’re an imposter here.

And on and on, until eventually I have no one who loves me and no money, and I die in pain.

Welcome to the internal narrative with my Imposter.

Sound familiar, does it…?

I can’t remember when I first came across the term, but I love the way it’s described here:

We leave the possibility of success to others because we do not seem to ourselves to be anything like the sort of people we see lauded around us. Faced with responsibility or prestige, we quickly become convinced that we are simply impostors…

I get why she’s around. Our Imposter does such an effective job at isolating us because she’s well acquainted with our inadequacies and contradictions. By plainly pointing out what she thinks I can’t do, my Imposter is keeping me safe from embarrassment and cementing my place ‘in the tribe’. When I keep digging though, I can see how she starts peddling in sarcasm and serious, unfounded self-doubt. Then comes the double slap: fear, and then shame for feeling fear.

Shame’s oxygen is silence, so it was both thrilling to have words to articulate this concept, but also made me frustrated. If there were videos and books and academic papers about this idea, and it strikes a chord with people all over the world, why isn’t it something we grew up talking about? Why is there shame in admitting that I feel exactly as described in the video: “uniquely and reliably stupid, anxious, gauche, crude, vulgar and dull”? When really, I’m not that unique in my stupidity, vulgarity or dullness at all?

I remember first encountering a learning environment where other people talked about their Imposter, and what a difference that made. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t just spoken about between the students of the altMBA; when you’re surrounded by Fortune 500 Executive staff, CEOs, and exceptionally accomplished people, it’s almost natural to feel out of your depth and wonder what on earth you’ve got to offer. We were encouraged to be vulnerable enough together to name our fears. It changed the game, I tell you. Then, when I was invited back to coach, every single person, whether they were a first-timer, or part of the inaugural crew, openly spoke about how they felt like they were out of practice, overwhelmed by the calibre of the students and like they didn’t have the skills to be in the room. And again, the silence that breeds the shame of inadequacy was broken.

What a joy it was to learn that I wasn’t the only one thinking this. What a turning point it was to be able to name that voice in my head, and learn that while she is just trying to keep me safe, she’s often not needed (Elizabeth Gilbert has a beautiful riff on this idea here.) Now that I’ve got words to describe what my Imposter feels like, I can see where she pops up in other areas of my life.

Rather than berating her, ignoring her or drowning her out with another mantra, I have decided this year to try and befriend the Imposter that lives inside my head.

I now recognise how ingrained her ways of thinking are in me. I love how she can help me see that everyone else has an Imposter too, and there is no shame in talking about it. I see where I need to start thinking less about what other people are doing, and changing this thought pattern in myself from the inside. I will practice being kinder to myself. I will keep reminding myself that exactly how I am is probably pretty normal, and when my motivations are generosity instead of fear of inadequacy, my work is clearer and calmer.

I am going to use 2019 to try and work alongside that instinctual voice, listening when she has something valuable to say. I want to channel her nervous energy as a positive force to propel me forward into trying new things (HT: Kate Champ, P1). I’ll coach her on the language she uses to talk to me, and I’ll celebrate my wins with her when she has kept me humble.

I desperately want to help her see that while she is so good at keeping me safe, she’s not the voice in my head that I need when I’m learning to be vulnerable or brave.

I’ll leave the final words to Liz.

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