This post is based on episode 121 of the ProBlogger podcast.
Today I’m going to talk about imposter syndrome.
Do you ever fear you’re about to be found out? That it’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes you’re not as smart as they thought you were, or that you don’t really know what you’re doing?
I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome quite a bit over the years. And I’m going to share a few occasions when it pretty much paralyzed me.
But I’m also going to share seven different strategies you can use to deal with imposter syndrome, and even have it working for you instead of against you. Starting with…
1. Embrace the positives
If you’re worried about imposter syndrome, it probably means you want to give your best and achieve something.
And that’s a good thing.
No, it doesn’t cure you of imposter syndrome. But it does mean you have standards. You don’t want to just get by. You want to achieve.
And that’s something you need to hang on to. If you didn’t feel like an imposter, you’d probably be content to just fly by the seat of your pants.
2. Set realistic expectations
I’ve been paralyzed by imposter syndrome a few times over the years.
One such time was the World Domination Summit a few years ago, when Chris Guillebeau invited me to talk in front of 4,000 people in Portland, Oregon.
Within seconds of saying yes, imposter syndrome began to sink in. It got so bad at one point that I was waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
I wrestled with my presentation for months, and at one point almost pulled out. “I’m really sorry, Chris,” I wrote in a draft email. “I know it’s last minute, but I can’t do this”.
Fortunately, I realized a lot of my thoughts were completely unrealistic, and that I’d set unrealistic expectations of both myself and my presentation.
I was picturing my presentation as the peak of my speaking career. A talk that everything else in my life would hang on afterwards. A talk that would change the life of everyone in the room and make me look great.
I was dreaming of perfectionism that was way beyond what was possible. And that perfectionism began to creep into my thinking.
I never sent that email. Instead I flew to Portland and delivered my presentation. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Perfectionism can be good because it can help you improve. But when you start obsessing about it like I was, you realize you can’t possibly achieve what you’re imagining.
And you start feeling like an imposter.
3. Focus on your audience
One thing that really helped me face my fears and present at that summit was realizing that all of my worries were incredibly selfish. None of them had anything to do with my audience. They were all about me, and how I might be perceived.
And so I started thinking about my audience instead:
- who they were
- how they might be feeling
- what the realities of their life might be
- how my words might affect their lives.
This was a powerful thing for me. It shifted the focus away from my self-centered, greedy, selfish thinking (that wasn’t helping me anyway), and towards the reason I weas presenting in the first place—the people in the audience.
Whether you’re a blogger, YouTuber, Instagrammer, podcaster or speaker, this is great advice. It’s so easy to think in terms of how our content makes us look.
“How will this make me look?”
“Will I come across okay?”
You really need to challenge those thoughts and start asking yourself, “How will this make my readers feel?” and “How can I change their life in some way?”
4. Be transparent
The only way people can truthfully call you a fraud or a fake is if:
- you’re trying to be something you’re not
- you’re hiding some reality of your situation from them.
Cliff Ravenscraft talked a bit about this at Social Media Marketing World. His suggestion was to be as honest as you can when writing your content by revealing things that effectively tell the reader, “This is who I am, this is what I’ve experienced to this point, this is what I’m learning, and these are my hopes, dreams, and goals for the future”.
This particularly relates to people blogging on a topic they don’t feel qualified to write about. People often ask me questions like, “I want to write about accounting, but I’m not qualified as an accountant. Can I legitimately write about it?” And when they do, I almost always tell the story of how I started ProBlogger.
For the first two years of ProBlogger I felt very much like an imposter. I didn’t think I had as much experience as other people, I didn’t think I was technical enough. And while I was on my way to becoming a full-time blogger, I didn’t think I was a great writer.
Instead I thought I’d been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And that it was only a matter of time before people spotted my weaknesses, my insufficiencies, and the gaps in my knowledge.
To combat this, I decided to be very transparent about what I knew.
The first couple of years on ProBlogger was my story more than anything else. I shared what I was trying, what was working for me, and what wasn’t working for me. I pointed out the areas I wasn’t skills at. I shared my own questions, and asked my readers to teach me. I pointed out the failures I’d had and the mistakes I’d made (even the embarrassing ones).
And I admitted when I didn’t know the answer to a question.
If you don’t think you have the qualifications or the answers, just admit it. By doing that, you take away the ammunition people can use against you when they accuse you of being a fake.
5. Own your successes
People who suffer from imposter syndrome often find it hard to internalize and own their successes. Instead they attribute them to external factors such as good timing and good luck.
It’s hard to combat these feelings because often it’s just the way we think. But even being aware of the problem can help, because there are things you can do to shut down that link of thinking.
It’s often about patterns in the way we think and the way we speak. And so we need to break those patterns.
Whenever I’m about to say things like, “I was lucky” or “I was in the right place at the right time”, I change my thinking. Instead of saying, “I was lucky”, I say something like, “I worked hard for that opportunity”, which is much more realistic.
Yes, I was in the right place at the right time when I started blogging. But I’ve worked my butt off every day since. I’ve worked hard for the opportunities I’ve been given.
You need to own your successes, and the work you’ve done to achieve what you’ve achieved.
And when people acknowledge your success or give you positive feedback, you need to own that as well. So instead of explaining away your success, thank them. Don’t deny your success—embrace it.
Of course, there are times when we fail. But let your failures bog you down because they can feed the imposter syndrome. Instead, reframe your failures as learning opportunities. Acknowledge your failures, then use them as springboards to success.
6. Say “Yes” to opportunities that stretch you
This may sound a little counterintuitive. But I’m a big believer in saying “Yes” to things you’re not sure you can do—as long as you’re transparent about it.
The only way to become an expert or the go-to person in your industry or niche is to gather knowledge and put yourself in a position where the rubber hits the road.
If you live in fear of being called a fake but aren’t willing to put yourself in a position where you’ll learn and develop, you’ll never get past it.
You need to leave your comfort zone.
If someone thinks you can do something you’re not sure about, think of the opportunity as a vote of confidence from them. Say “Yes”, and then learn how to do it.
You may need to say, “Yes, I’ll do it. But I’ll need to learn some things along the way” or “Okay. But I may need some support in this area because I don’t have any qualifications”.
But take any opportunity that pulls you out of your comfort zone, because you will grow so much by doing it.
7. Learn to live with it
While I’m no psychologist, I doubt there we will ever eradicate imposter syndrome. Having dealt with it for decades, I’ve come to terms with the fact I just need to deal with it whenever it comes my way.
We need to learn to use imposter syndrome to help us to learn, grow, and achieve great things.
Above all, we need to learn to not let it paralyze us.
If it’s paralyzing you at the moment (which it may well be), I want you to talk about it with someone, and get some accountability around it. It may be a friend, a fellow blogger, or someone who can provide you with professional help.
Don’t let imposter syndrome rob the world of what you know, the stories you can tell, or the ways you can make the world a better place.
Instead I want you to tackle it, live with it, learn from it, and put it in its place.
Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? How have you dealt with it? Share your stories in the comments.