Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Today I’m going to talk about an issue I see a lot of bloggers struggling with. In fact, I see a lot of blogger’s really crippled by this. I am talking about imposter syndrome.


Note: this episode can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes or Stitcher

This is something I have suffered with quite a bit over the years. I’m going to get a little personal today and tell you about those times when I was pretty much paralyzed by it.

I’m going to get a bit honest today, and tell you that these weren’t the best times of my life. If you want to hear about it, then listen on.

I think if you’ve suffered with this imposter syndrome. Hopefully, you’ll get something out of my story that will help you get through it yourself.

Today I am going to present to you 7 different strategies to overcome imposter syndrome. We are going to touch on fear, self-doubt and feeling like others think you are a fraud. We are going to get really raw today.

Do you ever fear that you’re about to be found out and that everyone is about to discover you’re not as smart as they think you are or that you don’t really know what you’re doing in some area of your life?

Do you feel this way about your blogging?

If so – you’re not alone at all, but you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

In Today’s Episode 7 Different Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

    • Understand that you’re actually suffering from this because you’re a high achiever
      • At least be comforted out of the fact that you are not willing to settle for poor performance
      • This may not fix it, but it’s good to know
    • You need to work on self acceptance and realistic expectations
      • There have been a number of times that I have been paralysed by imposter syndrome (World Domination Summit)
      • I wrestled with it and became stuck
      • I had unrealistic expectations about the results of this talk
      • Perfectionism taken to the extreme can paralyse you
      • Perfectionism also starts to creep into other extreme realities like being booed on stage or destroying my business
      • I talked myself down to a more realistic reality and realized I didn’t need to be perfect
      • I needed to be honest and true to myself
      • Don’t be too hard on yourself, treat yourself kind
  • Focus on your audience – I realized worrying was incredibly selfish, it was all about me and not my audience
      • I decided that every time I was worried about how I would be perceived, I had to stop thinking about myself and focus on my audience
      • This is great advice for anyone creating something for an audience
      • This is also why I’m trying to interact with my readers as much as possible
      • One of the best things you can do to show that you are not a fake or fraud is to deliver value
  • Be Transparent – The most powerful thing you can do to smash through imposter syndrome is to blog with transparency
      • People can only call you a fraud or fake if you are trying to be something that you are not
      • Show people who you really are
      • I was at SMMW a couple of months ago, and Cliff Ravenscraft talked about imposter syndrome. You are only an imposter if you are lying about who you are or what you have achieved. His suggestion was to always be honest when writing content by revealing:
        • This is who I am
        • This is what I have experienced to this point and what I’m learning
        • These are my hopes, dreams and goals for the future
      • This particularly relates to bloggers who are blogging about topics that they are not qualified to formally write about yet. I get asked about this a fair bit by readers who ask ‘“should I start a blog on a topic that I’m still a beginner in?”
        • My answer is to always tell the story of when I started ProBlogger back in 2004
        • I struggled with imposter syndrome at the beginning of ProBlogger. Even though, I was on my way to being a full time blogger.
        • I worried that people would spot my weaknesses and gaps in knowledge
        • I decided to be completely transparent and share what I was trying and what I was learning
        • When you blog in this way, it is pretty hard for someone to call you a fake or fraud
  • Own Your Successes – When suffering from imposter syndrome it is hard to own your successes. They write them off to be the product of luck, timing or some other factor. This is hard to combat, but for me it’s about becoming aware of the internal and external dialogue.
      • We fall into patterns of thinking (and speaking) that we need to break, so try to identify the automatic thoughts that come and use them as triggers for more positive thinking.
      • Next time you find yourself saying or thinking “I was lucky” replace that with “I work hard to take the opportunities that came”.
      • Accept positive feedback, don’t try to deny or explain it away
      • Record the positive feedback and testimonials of others – not to show off – but for you to help you internalise your success.
      • Give those around you permission to help with this
      • While we’re talking about success… on the flip side there are times when we fail too. Don’t see these – the key here is to not get bogged down in them but to reframe them as learning opportunities!
  • Say Yes to Opportunities – That stretch you. I’m a big believer in saying yes to things that you are not sure you can do as long as you are transparent about it.
      • The only way you are going to become an expert is if you know a lot about it. To gain knowledge, you need to learn and let the rubber hit the road.
      • If someone else thinks you can do something, take that vote of confidence and learn how to do it
      • Explain that you are going to learn how to do it, or that you might need some support, but take that opportunity to get out of your comfort zone
      • By taking these opportunities, you are one step closer to being the person you want to be
  • Live with it – I’m not sure imposter syndrome ever really goes away. We need to learn to live with it. We need to put it in it’s place and deal with it. We need to learn how to use it to grow, learn and serve.
    • Above all – Don’t let it paralyse you. If it is – get some help. Talk about it and get some accountability.
    • Don’t let it rob the world of what you do know, your story, and the potential you have to make the world all the better for your contributions!

Here’s the video that was recorded of the talk that I eventually did give at World Domination Summit. While it’s not on the topic of Imposter Syndrome I hope it shows you what fun you can have by pushing through it!

Darren Rowse from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

Further Resources on Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

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  • Great topic Darren! I’m sure everyone has felt this at times (usually when you least want to feel it).

  • Brooke Ciccozzi

    Another great podcast Darren

  • Excellent timing, Darren. I’ve been struggling with imposter syndrome when it comes to doing Facebook Live video. I worry way too much about how people might perceive my stumbling efforts. Your advice was spot on. Here’s how I paraphrased what you said: Instead of worrying about how this going to make me look, focus on how is this going to make my audience feel, and how it is going to change their lives.

    • Glad this related and was on the mark for you.

      Love that summary! Thanks

  • Hi Darren, yesterday evening I listened to your podcast PB121 about the imposter syndrome while going walking back from my music studio. It rang a bell and I began to think about it to realize I felt that syndrome when: 1. two many students were absent during the same week (I love teaching and it is doing as good to me as it is doing good to them), 2. a student saying he was going to quit (I felt let down even if the reason was he had to move to another town), 3. some other teachers were full of diplomas (I felt it even though I do have a very strong experience and knowledge about singing), 4. I was tired or had problems in my personal life. Then, I tried to find a solution or a positive thought for all of the 4 reasons and told myself to remember them. Thank you 🙂

    • Glad it was helpful for you Vahn!!! Thanks for your comment and for listening!

  • Holy cow, it’s great to hear you (so honestly) talk about this phenomenon!
    Gosh, even though I’ve gotten it on-and-off throughout my life, I’d only learned a just few years ago that there was such a thing as “impostor syndrome.”

    I’ve heard a published authors talk about having it while listening to a few different podcasts in recent months: Writing Excuses, and I Should Be Writing. And now you. This must be a “writer’s thing?” Hehe

    Thanks for talking about this so honestly. It’s something we need to both hear and talk about.

    • Daniel – thanks for the feedback. I think a lot of us as ‘creators’ get this but defnitely it’s a writer thing!

      • Doesn’t help that writing is such a solitary activity. That makes it easy for self-doubt to creep in. And envy of others’ success.
        …Which is why I also appreciated your “how are you?” podcast a while back 🙂

  • Sofia Talley

    Hi Darren, thank you for another great session, and in such great timing too… You are truly an inspiring person, in a calming, fulfilling, soothing way (like comfort food 🙂 ).

    • Thanks so much Sofia – I’m glad it came at a good time for you!

  • Denedriane Dean

    Hi Darren…I just had to take a moment to let you know how much podcast 121 blessed my life! I was so encouraged by the transparency piece, and I feel empowered (as a blogger and otherwise) to say that I don’t know it all, this is what I have learned so far, and that I am still learning and growing. How liberating..thanks for this one!

    • I’m so glad to hear this Denedriane! Thanks for letting me know.

  • How to be FailProof

    [Dear Darren, I was going to respond to points in your helpful ‘Impostor Syndrome’ podcast, but having recently written a post on the related topic of reducing fear of failure, I decided to copy my post here instead. Hope that’s OK. I love that you are bringing personal transparency to your work. It’s incredibly anxiety-reducing and courage-inducing to know that, not only are we not alone in our struggles, but our struggles are shared with successful people]
    This Sunday morning I received the second best email of my life.

    The message read:
    “Dear Rebecca, many thanks for your note. We would love to feature your voice on HuffPost. I am cc’ing our blog editor to follow up. All the best, Arianna”

    You probably know Ariana is Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post, New York.

    This story illustrates the importance of taking ownership of your own success and failure. It’s about the process I used to get that acceptance email from Ariana Huffington. It’s about failing to fail.
    The first time it happened I was devastated.

    The second time it happened – a year later – I was okay. Disappointed, yes. But okay. To the point of being quite pleased with myself.
    The event was failing to get in to the Clinical Health Psychology Internship programme.

    This was work I was born to do.

    Clinical Health Psychologists typically support people living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, HIV, and cancer. They provide support around shocking diagnoses, challenging treatment regimens and medical conditions. They also assist with any associated mental distress.
    I’d been eyeing the goal of being a Clinical Health Psychologist for years. There was no other job I could imagine being as satisfying. There was no other job I wanted. I was already an experienced counsellor. I had excellent references.

    The first time I applied for the internship, the goal was to be accepted.

    I didn’t get in.

    It’s hard to adequately describe how completely unravelled I was by this rejection. The best I can do is that it felt like free-falling into an abyss.

    I tried used constructive self-talk. I told myself that I would find a way around this. That I would find another way to do the work that I loved.

    It didn’t help much.

    I failed to get into the Clinical Health Psychology Internship programme again the following year. My reaction to this second rejection was a world away from my reaction to the first rejection.

    This difference in my reactions was due to me taking control of my own success. And failure.

    The second time I didn’t get into the internship programme, I hadn’t failed.

    I didn’t get in, but I hadn’t failed.

    This was because, second time round, I changed my goal. I changed my benchmark for success.

    The second time around my benchmark for success was not getting into the programme. It was to be as authentic as possible in the application process, especially the interview. No trying to impress. No trying to get the interview panel to like me. Just trying to be as open and honest as possible. Just being myself.

    And I felt I succeeded at that.

    Admittedly I’d had some warning, with the first rejection, that I might not get in the second time. But I’m convinced that had my benchmark for success the second time been the same as the first time – being accepted into the programme – then I would have been just as devastated by the second rejection as I was by the first rejection. If not more so.

    But the second time I surrounded myself with an almost fail-proof scaffolding.

    So, despite my disappointment, I was quite pleased with myself. And pleasantly surprised at how effective the technique was.

    Even the academic in charge of the selection process – who knew how important the internship was to me – was surprised I wasn’t more upset when he delivered the bad news.

    I tried to explain that that I was satisfied that I’d met my own benchmark for success – of being as authentic as possible in the application process. He didn’t get it – he said that I’d been authentic the previous year.

    At the time I couldn’t clearly verbalize that the difference was that last year, being authentic was not the goal. This year it was.

    He continued to probe my lack of upset, saying “Surely it’s hard when you toss your hat in the ring and no one picks it up?”

    Of course the perfect response didn’t occur to me until after I’d left his office. “I didn’t give you permission to pick up my hat. I picked up my own damn hat”.

    And then I went and got myself a Ph.D. instead.

    And I am creating new ways to do the work that I love, but this failure-proofing technique is powerful and I now use it for a range of situations.

    I now set my benchmarks for success – and failure – as things that are within my control, not someone else’s.

    Because if I let someone else set my benchmarks for success and failure, I’m taking all control of my own outcomes – of my success – out of my hands and placing it in theirs.

    Giving someone else control of your success and failure sets you up for two bad things. The first bad thing is anxiety at the prospect of failure. This is because you cannot control what other people will do. You know your success or failure is beyond your control. Trying to control the uncontrollable is a recipe for fear, stress, anxiety, and procrastination. The second bad thing is devastation in the event of failure.

    In contrast, I now go into scary situations with more confidence. I don’t need to ‘do well’ – I just need to show up and do my best.

    Typically my success benchmarks are something like being audacious, courageous, authentic (and now transparent :), or vulnerable – like telling you how I was twice rejected from the internship programme.

    This is the strategy I used for getting my work into the Huffington Post .

    This is the first time I’ll have my work in a popular publication (as opposed to an unpopular academic one).

    It took four submissions to get three rejections and one acceptance.

    Objectively that’s not a bad strike rate. But before I adopted this strategy of determining my own success, I would have taken the first rejection as proof that what my family kept telling me – that nothing I do is ever good enough – was right. I wouldn’t have bothered re-submitting. What would be the point?

    Now I define my success as keeping on keeping on. I pick myself up and try again. Maybe I re-calibrate my approach. Maybe I resubmit elsewhere.
    Either way, I leave myself wide open to further rejection. And in doing so, I leave myself wide open to further success.

    So, the question to leave you with is… in whose hands have you placed control of your success?

    • P.S. Just watched your World Domination summit presentation – very cool! I have been documenting my dreams, but I will revisit them again tonight. Possibly armed with my watercolours.

  • Ryan Michelle Jacobson

    Very powerful info Darren. I’ve had a million ideas and know that I’m perfectly capable of success and have fallen into that trap of perfectionism. Though I know it’s there, it’s become such a habit that I must be continually reminded of it. Thank you!
    p.s., new to your community.

  • Thank you so much for this episode. I’ve already listened to it more than once (!), but the day it aired was so timely. Your new podcast episodes are usually available when I drive to work but that morning it was delayed. During that day at work, the voices of doubt and fear were screaming especially loudly (I’m a new blogger). When I got into my car to go home I was welcomed by an episode about impostor syndrome. So, so timely, and helpful to know that just about everyone struggles with it on some level. Thank you!

  • gclub

    Thanks Admin For post……