Stop Feeling Like an Imposter |

I have written 11 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

If you know my story, you’ll know that I’ve had seven very different, yet very successful careers in my life. I’ve walked the carpeted hallways of investment banking and the tiled floors of the classroom. I’ve been involved in real estate development and community fundraising. I’ve worked in public relations and marketing. I’ve even had my own television show on HGTV. Yet, throughout each of these careers, with each success I achieved, I was always looking over my shoulder. Every time a deal was concluded, the show was a wrap or the client was satisfied, I was filled with fear and doubt. While the successes were bonafide, so was my self-doubt.

Everything’s Perfect…

So, despite a bevy of accomplishments, I could never rest. I could never relax. I felt that if I took my foot off the gas pedal, even for an instant, the jig would be up. Everyone would see that I was the fraud that, deep down, I felt myself to be. As a result, I threw myself into every project like my life depended upon the outcome. My agenda was paramount. My focus was, frankly, a little frightening. My mantra was the mountain will move. Period. I felt that if I worked hard enough and long enough, I could wrestle success to the floor and in doing so defeat my lack of confidence.

This fear and doubt also pervaded my personal life. Entertaining, gardening, and child rearing were challenges to be defeated, not sources of relaxation and joy. No rest for the weary. If everything wasn’t perfect, wasn’t just so, I had failed. Every weekend was met with a meticulously long to-do list of items that needed to be accomplished to bring us one step closer to perfection. I had confirmed to myself and the world that I was irrevocably flawed, faulty, and a failure. One small mistake or misstep was all it took to confirm the whispered suspicions that I was confident that everyone else had about me.

Needless to say, I wasn’t to pleasant to be around and, if truth be told, I wasn’t very happy being me. Despite the outward success and the trappings that success brought, I was miserable. Everything that I accomplished brought only fleeting validation and happiness. Everything felt phony and unauthentic. There was no enduring joy, no long-term meaning and no permanent peace. No matter what I did, the fear and doubt always came home to roost.

This phenomenon of otherwise capable people feeling as if they are completely incapable has a name. It’s called imposter syndrome. While it affects both men and women, women tend to be more prone to it. They also tend to be more profoundly impacted by its debilitating effects. Yet, despite its prevalence, imposter syndrome can be beaten.

It begins with a change of heart or, rather, a change to the heart.

For me, the start of my trouble with imposter syndrome began with an overwhelming desire for approval and a powerful need to fit in with any group of people I was around. I wasn’t looking to be authentic. I wasn’t trying to be myself. Instead, I was like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings and adopting behaviors in an effort to gain the approval I so desperately craved. Instead of living from the heart, a place of genuine authenticity, I was letting my head take the lead. The result was decades of stress, depression and illness.

Stop Feeling LIke an Imposter-min…Until It’s Not

Then two things occurred that made all the difference. First, I was blessed with the complete collapse of my faux perfect personal life. After years of what was a closeted dysfunctional relationship, my husband left me. I was devastated. I was beyond devastated. This was something that I could not control. I commanded the mountain to move and it stared back at me, monolithic and immobile. This crisis also served to shatter the protective blanket of perfectionism that I used to shield myself from my utter lack of confidence. Worse yet, the whole world could now see my inherent unworthiness, my worthlessness and my lack of any redeeming values. Publicly rejected, I was flat on my back at rock bottom.

“I commanded the mountain to move and it stared back at me, monolithic and immobile.
Reality hit home. I control nothing.”

Full of shame and guilt, I went into complete meltdown. I stopped caring. I didn’t wash. I barely ate. I spent my days maniacally chasing perfection by manicuring my garden into near non-existence. I spent my nights railing against the inherent unfairness of the universe. Something had to give, and it did.

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In the middle of my breakdown, the second miracle occurred. In a moment of exquisite clarity, I saw things as they really were. My perfect marriage wasn’t perfect. No marriage is. My perfectly managed life wasn’t perfect either. No life is. My perfect children weren’t anywhere close to perfect and I could finally begin accepting them for who they authentically are.

Perfect was a story I told myself to cover the feelings of inadequacy from my childhood. I saw that my need for acceptance, as well as my fear of rejection, was a result of needing validation from my parents. I wanted their approval so desperately, I would do anything. Ironically, in order to avoid their rejection, I was also willing to do anything. The need to fill this vacant place inside of me was the source of my imposter syndrome.

Once you awaken to the truth, you can never go back to sleep. And from that moment forward, I never did. Yes, it took years of work – hard work – on my part to be completely comfortable in my own skin. Yet, that moment of clarity was the beginning of a process that continues to this day.

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? If you do, in Part 2 of this article I’m going to share three ways that I used to beat back the feelings of self-doubt, replacing them with a healthy confidence in my ability to achieve a more authentic way of life.

Do you deal with doubts about your own abilities? Do you struggle with success? If you do, I’d love to hear your stories, as well as the tools that you’ve used to cope.

Live Authentically-

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Comments (1)

  1. Dear Jan,

    I relate with your article. I have found myself, as you describe, at rock bottom during the last couple years. Despite all the hard work and perfectionism it took to run a international business and a large blended family I discovered my husband was living a double life with another woman who also has my same name. Nothing can really prepare a person for what this situation entails (certainly nothing I could cross of my list) but alas I have been working on myself diligently and with an open mind via counseling, journaling, shamans, yoga, pilates, friends and family, podcasts, books even online trauma counseling because in retrospect I can see now that my husband’s rage (another issue) had nothing to do with me yet was aimed at me while he was cheating and otherwise.

    I don’t want to live in blame which keeps me feeling like a victim but at times it’s difficult to bring the solution back to myself and see this situation as a gift like you mentioned, though deep down I know it must be.

    2 years have gone by and I’m almost divorced but not without trying everything I could to repair myself and the marriage. It’s finally time to let go which is where I find a new challenge relating to your article. Despite being a very capable person, I find myself lacking the confidence it takes to move forward in my own personal/career life. Now what?!

    I’ll now read your Part 2 of this article…

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

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