For much of my earlier professional career as an academic researcher I felt like an imposter, quietly competent yet secretly certain that I wasn’t good enough to have that role or position, afraid that people would find out I was a fraud.
I now know that this feeling of being a fraud is surprisingly common although, like most secret fears its most successful weapon is to make each person affected feel like they are the only one out there… one imposter in a world full of wonderfully gifted and talented people.
Over the years I’ve also learned how to recognise and manage my imposter in a variety of ways. Partly I suspect it does get a little easier with age and experience. However there are some things that I really wish I had known and understood as a twenty-something year old, things that would have helped me move beyond my imposter feelings sooner and with less struggle.
A tough truth that I really should have confronted earlier was expressed well by Brené Brown:
“If you want to be brave and show up in your life, you’re going to fail. You’re going to stumble. You’re going to fall. It’s part of showing up.”.
This might not be what I wanted to hear but it is what I needed to know. Falling, or failing is a necessary part of engaging with life. I guess I’d grown up fearing failure, particularly if that failure was in public, that was to be avoided at all costs. For me, the best way to avoid failure was to become an over-achiever with a passion for perfection. (A perfect training for an Academic career?!). So I perfected, as far as was possible, the art of getting things right and completely neglected to develop the oh so important skill of learning how to get up after a fall.
So, what would my older, wiser, self like to share with that younger me, what tools would help me move more quickly beyond my imposter syndrome?
Again the work of Brené Brown comes to my aid as she shares these three essential tools in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”:
- Courage – the willingness to let myself be seen, to tell my own story with my whole heart. This isn’t the courage that puts on the armour of perfectionism before going into battle. The imposter tries to hide the true self behind this armour. The road to freedom lies in letting yourself be seen – an act that requires true courage.
- Compassion – the ability to suffer with… principally myself, to accept my fears and insecurity, and to walk with it and through it rather than bury it and hide it. To accept that my fear and even my pain was normal, a part of my journey and that there was a way to wholeness through this. Also to know that my pain as an imposter was far from unique which brings me to…
- Connection – we are all connected and made for connection. Extrovert or introvert, as human beings we have a deep need for connection in order to be whole, for our brains and our bodies to grow and develop as nature intended. As adults we may value solitude to a greater or lesser extent but we still need meaningful connection, at the very least with ourselves, our purpose, our core values.We also need to connect deeply with someone who knows us and maybe loves us, not in spite of our imperfections but because of them. Don’t mistake this connection with inappropriate or over-sharing. You need to find the right person but hiding your insecurity simply feeds that fear. Sharing your doubts, sharing my doubts, sheds light, brings warmth and comfort, allows for the power of empathy to work it’s healing magic.
There are many different ways and many different tools to keep imposter feelings at bay but I so wish I’d understood the value and importance of courage, compassion and connection all those years ago!
If you’d like to know more, do have a look at the resources available on the Freebies page and grab yourself a free ebook or two!