“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”
Imposter syndrome, the feeling that you’re not worthy of success, is a prevalent problem among women. For a large part of my life, I struggled with self-doubt when it came to professional and personal successes. Every time I closed a deal, landed a client, finished a tv episode, or threw a successful fundraising dinner party, I was unable to fully enjoy what I had accomplished. That’s because I was constantly on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop, afraid of being exposed as the fraud and failure I felt myself to be.
I was able to gain valuable insight into why I felt this way. This insight helped me to realize that my feelings of self-doubt weren’t real. They were artifacts. Relics of unmet childhood needs. It was this realization that allowed me to gradually reject my imposter syndrome and move fully into an acceptance of my abilities and capabilities. This, in turn, was a powerful tool that allowed me to craft a unique life that is authentically mine.
I am living proof that imposter syndrome can be beaten. And on the rare days that it rears it’s insidious head, I can meet it with spaciousness as I am reminded of the distance I have traveled to know my most courageous, authentic self.
Allow me to share the three powerful ways that I still use today to continue to feel comfortable in my own skin, fully enjoying the positive results of what I have been able to achieve.
1. Dump Perfectionism
I need you to listen to what I’m about to say – perfectionism is a lie. Nothing in life is perfect. Perfection is an ideal, a theoretical concept, and a dream. It’s not real and it cannot be achieved. If you’re shooting for perfection, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Sometimes, this is precisely the point.
Women who suffer from imposter syndrome can sometimes self-sabotage. In an ironic twist, the pressure of waiting to fail can be relieved by engineering failure. After all, once you drop the ball and miss the mark, you can let out a long sigh of relief. Sure, you’ve proven to the world that you don’t have what it takes, but at least you can relax and stop pretending.
Human beings make mistakes. That’s how we learn. That’s how we improve. When you make an error, you’re actually getting better at what you do. Success must be built on oversights, gaffes, slip-ups, and blunders. There is no other way, because no one comes out of the box hitting all the marks perfectly.
You need to accept both your failure and your moments of success and take them in stride. Success and failure are flip sides of the same coin. No goal was ever reached without both occurring along the way.
2. Ditch the Control
Control is a close relative of perfectionism. Ask me how I know. I still struggle with control issues. In fact, this past summer I actually tried to control the chaos that surrounds a hurricane making landfall. True story. You can get all the details about that particular episode in Surefire Advice for Life in the Eye of the Storm. It’s worth the read, because there couldn’t be a better object lesson on the necessity of ditching control from your life.
The control freak is convinced that the best way to deal with the fear and doubt of imposter syndrome is to micromanage them out of existence. Delegate is not a word that comes easy to someone who believes in the power of control. Every detail, no matter how mundane, no matter how trivial, is raised to critical levels. Lists are made. Items are checked and double checked. Every aspect of a project from conception to completion needs to be supervised and shepherded, nudged and dominated. Only through absolute and complete control can catastrophe be avoided and victory be won.
The reality is that attempting to exercise total control, especially over things that are realistically beyond our control, is not only futile, it is also fatal to real success. Just as the perfectionist courts failure by raising the bar too high, the control freak does the same thing by spreading herself too thin.
The antidote to control is acceptance, not of a situation, but of a result. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a given result simply can’t happen. The timing may be off, you may not be prepared at this juncture in your life or as I have come to know personally, there is something even more incredible waiting for you down the road. That isn’t failure, it’s circumstance. It’s learning to live in the flow. The dream is still there, waiting to be reclaimed. All you have to do is regroup, use the lessons that you’ve learned during the last attempt, and have faith that everything is unfolding in its own divine timing. Wisdom and insight are indeed power and the persistence in following your dreams steadily increases the chances that they will become reality.
3. Reinforce Your Self-Confidence
As you lose confidence in your natural abilities, imposter syndrome becomes more potent. Because of this, you need to take proactive steps to reinforce your self-confidence. There are a couple different ways to do this.
First, make sure that you’re being social. That doubting voice in your head thrives when your being solitary. Make time in your schedule to socialize. When you do, you quickly realize that people like you because you’re you. They do not see you as flawed or as a failure. Take advantage of getting out of your own head and start to see yourself through other people’s eyes.
In addition, your friends and colleagues have an objective view of you and your talents. Are you being treated as a pariah or are you accepted in your social and professional circles? People’s reactions to you are a fairly good gauge of how truthful that doubting voice is being.
Also, stop hiding your self-doubt. Go to a good friend and let them know what’s been going on. Let them know that you doubt your abilities and have trouble finding confidence in yourself. Bring your fears out into the light. Listen to your friend’s reaction. If he or she doesn’t believe that you’re a failure, if they have confidence in your abilities, so must you.
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Finally, take stock of your successes. Think about everything that you’ve achieved. Someone who is inherently and secretly flawed could not have been able to make multiple intelligent people over a period of years believe otherwise. Your accomplishments speak for themselves. Your own abilities, your talents, and your drive are what allowed you to thrive. Period.
Your lack of self-confidence is a delusion. Your continued self-doubt depends on you believing a lie that you continue to tell yourself, a lie that you now know is not true. It’s time for you to begin living fully in the success that you’ve created. It’s time to come clean and begin living an existence that is authentically and rightfully yours.
When you look in the mirror, that’s not an imposter staring back. It’s the face of someone who deserves everything that she’s worked to achieve.
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.