Yes! Oh my GOSH! That is ME!
That was my reaction as I
giggled cackled my way through BuzzFeed’s recent feature titled 13 Charts That Will Make Total Sense to People With Impostor Syndrome.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
If you haven’t heard of Impostor Syndrome, you’re not alone, but if you happen to be a creative, entrepreneurial type or a high achiever, then chances are you’ve got it.
From Wikipedia: “Impostor Syndrome… is a term used to informally describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Impostor Syndrome may seem funny, but I’m here to tell you that it is a very real thing, and it can wreak havoc on the self confidence of any would be entrepreneur. I still remember the first time I read through the symptoms- Feeling like a fraud, believing that any success was mere luck, the guilt of feeling like I was somehow deceiving people. It sounds cliche but it was such a relief to know I wasn’t alone, and to have a name for what I was going through. It was also nice to know that so many sufferers of Impostor Syndrome were successful, well respected people. If you’re going to suffer from any kind of syndrome, you might as well be in good company.
Replicate to Overcome
To be clear, I do not actually believe myself to be a fraud. I have learned over time that in the world of marketing and social media, I do in fact have something valuable to offer. But it wasn’t always that way, and feeling comfortable with the thought of speaking with any kind of authority on the subject was a long time coming. For example, my first thought when I was invited to participate in my first panel discussion on social media was “who, me? Why?” My first thought after agreeing to participate was “Who the heck do you think you are, Lexi?” I mean here was little old me, the marketing manager for my mother’s bakery for God’s sake, planning to put myself out there as a social media expert next to the community managers for companies like TIAA-CREF and Bank of America. They were the real experts. Seriously. Who the heck did I think I was? Never mind the fact that our bakery had just been recognized as one of the most socially talked about bakeries in the world, or that we would go on to become one of the most Instagrammed bakeries in the country. Never mind the fact that we grew from a five employees to over one hundred in the course of a couple of years without ever spending a penny on traditional advertising. Never mind the fact that we had become one of the most followed/liked/checked-into restaurants in the city, or that thanks to our social media presence, we had caught the eye of the White House – twice. None of that mattered, because no matter how much success I experienced, I always felt like I was on the verge of being outed as a nobody. A fraud.
Sometimes the feeling of being a total fake caused me to lose valuable opportunities. I turned down invitations to speak on panels, and requests to consult for well known companies because they just felt too big for me. Too out of my league. Surely if I start working for a company this big, they’ll know right away what a fraud I really am, right? Instead I stayed safe and warm inside my little bubble, never opening myself up to bigger and better opportunities. That is what impostor syndrome does to you. It is an opportunity killer.
It wasn’t until I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone that I started to feel like I might not be that big of a fraud after all. The key for me was replication. If I could replicate past results, then I could prove to myself that I had valuable tools that could make an actual difference for a small business. I put myself out there as a -gasp- expert, and took on a few clients. Seeing results outside my little bakery bubble was a game changer, and probably the only thing that could have helped me overcome my personal experience with Impostor Syndrome.
After my move to Arizona became permanent, I left the bakery and began working at a marketing firm in Phoenix. Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of speaking with authority on digital marketing. I do it every day now with over 150 clients, after all! How’s that for facing your fears?
Nobody Knows What They’re Doing
Someone on one of my social media feeds recently posted a quote – “Nobody really knows what they’re doing” and I thought to myself, how true is that?! Why is it that we always tend to look at others as having it all together, yet all we can possible be is a hot mess of imperfections. What if we all feel the same way? What if nobody really knows what they’re doing? Maybe we’re all just trying to do our best and make a difference for the people around us. It’s such a liberating thought, especially for sufferers of Impostor Syndrome. It removes the self imposed requirement of perfection, and gets us to a place where we can simply create, and recognize that we all have something of value to share.
So the next time you feel yourself doubting your value, or feeling like a fraud, just remember, most of those smart, successful people you think have their sh*t together are probably feeling the exact same way.
Have you dealt with Impostor Syndrome? How did you overcome it and keep it from holding you back in your professional life?