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You Can’t Slay a Dragon You Can’t See

What is imposter syndrome?

According to Psychology Today, as many as 30% of high achievers, and 70% of ALL adult professionals (regardless of industry) struggle with this at some point.

Meaning that the chances are quite high that you’ve either dealt with it in the past, are currently dealing with it, or will deal with it in the future. And most people view it as uniformly “negative” – a feeling or thought pattern that has little to no utility.

We completely disagree… but more on that in a moment.

First, a question – When is the last time that you sat down and thought about what imposter syndrome is, what it feels like, and where it comes from?

You can’t slay a dragon that you can’t see – so getting a working definition is useful.

Imposter syndrome is an inability to experience success internally, usually despite being high performance in external and objective ways.

In other words, failing to feel successful… even when you ARE successful.

It’s a decent surface level definition, but let’s go one layer deeper. What does it look like when you’re struggling with imposter syndrome?

  • Feeling like, no matter how much you accomplish, it’s never enough to validate you
  • An intense fear of mistakes, failures, or being “outed” as a fraud
  • Downplaying achievements and deflecting praise – attributing your success to external circumstances, or assuming “anyone could have done them”
  • Constant comparison to others, and a feeling of never fitting in amongst peers who you view as successful
  • A droning anxiety at the thought of others discovering your shortcomings
  • Finding it almost impossible to REST (even when you know that you need to) because you feel like you haven’t earned it or don’t deserve it

For any of you who have dealt with imposter syndrome in the past, this list probably resonates at a very high level. Perhaps you’ve been struggling with these feelings for a long time, but never had a name to put to them. Now you do.

At a glance, you probably think all of those things are really bad.

While you’re not wrong, simply taking this list at face value is missing the secret “upside” to imposter syndrome. Getting to that requires going from understanding to empowering.

Going From Understanding to Empowering

Take a second and re-read the list in the previous section outlining what it feels like to struggle with imposter thoughts.

You may have noticed this already, but not all of those bullets are inherently negative. It almost all depends on the “why” undergirding it.

For example, feeling like no matter what you do it is never enough… or pushing yourself beyond your normal limits because you feel like you haven’t earned a rest… with the proper frame in mind those could also be describing what AMBITION feels like.

Downplaying accomplishments and deflecting praise… could also be describing what HUMILITY feels like.

The only reason we think of these negatively is because of the “why” that is lying underneath – the feelings of inadequacy.

This is an incredibly useful concept to grasp – because this means that if we can change the “why” then those feelings and thoughts can be reprogrammed and turned into positive fuel.

How do we do this? By getting very clear about what our purpose and mission for our lives really is.

A lot of people think that they have a mission, but what they actually have is an ego-fueled idea of their purpose. An easy way to spot the difference is to ask yourself this question:

  • Are the things that I want to accomplish MORE important than the means by which they are completed?

This may be a difficult thought to grapple with for most of you – but imposter syndrome is usually a byproduct of your mission being TOO SMALL or too inwardly focused.

When the strength of your purpose begins to outweigh your desire for it to be done a “certain way,” or for you to be VIEWED a certain way… the imposter feelings begin to melt into feelings of drive and momentum.

Think about the power in that for a moment. You have the ability to turn imposter feelings into empowered feelings by investigating your vision and making sure that is not simply about protecting your ego, but about accomplishing something truly exceptional.

Self Doubt is a Rite of Passage – Not a Curse

Now that we’ve established that anchoring yourself in a BIG mission for your life can help reprogram feeling like an imposter, does that mean that all of those feelings go away forever?

Absolutely not.

It’s entirely normal to grapple with self-doubt. The important key here is to begin seeing it as a rite of passage, rather than a curse.

Your brain is more than capable of thinking a thought, but continuing to push forward in spite of it. You don’t need to be sidelined by self-doubt if you can see it for what it is and channel it toward accomplishing your goals.

Greatness is an action… not a feeling. You will not always feel equal to every task, or like you are the right person to do everything that will be required of you in order to accomplish what you want to accomplish. Even when you are perfectly aligned with your mission, some self doubt will always be a part of the game.

When those feelings begin to crop up, pause and think through the following:

  1. First and foremost – this is a tax – a normal feeling. It’s a part of playing the game.
  2. Ask yourself what is driving those feelings. Are you trying to protect your ego? If so, why?
  3. Re-align with your ultimate mission and ask yourself, “How can I convert this feeling of self doubt into fuel that propels me forward?”
  4. Then, push forward and take the action you know you need to take.

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