Tackling imposter syndrome: again

A little over a year ago, I blogged about my struggle with imposter syndrome as I began to transition to coaching, consulting & writing full-time.

And yet, here I am, tackling imposter syndrome.

Again.

The situation is different now – I no longer feel like an imposter as a coach. I can actually say I’m a pretty damned good one, confident in myself and connecting to my clients. I internalised the ten plus years of study and preparation that got me to this place, as well as the thousands of dollars I had spent learning to coach and mentor others.

Nonetheless, imposter syndrome has now reappeared in my life with respect to writing. I am perfectly happy to write all about law topics. I write about coaching modalities and techniques. I can even call myself a blogger, because, well, this is a blog.

But I’ve started writing a book (on spiritual topics) as well as started writing short stories, and suddenly I find that I cannot bring myself to venture saying “I am am writer“. And I certainly don’t fit into the shoes of the word author!

Nonetheless, since 2017 I have had “I am a writer” on my vision board – needling me. Pushing me. Challenging me to up my game.

What is imposter syndrome?

“… many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.” 

― Sheryl Sandberg

An imposter is a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.

For me, I feel I fail to measure up as an author or writer, because I certainly haven’t done anything extraordinary to deserve success. If I have had any success so far, it was pure luck and the depth of my knowledge of the subjects about which I have been writing.

My failures, of course, are on me!

Because of this, I must discount and cannot possibly accept any praise for my writing (as opposed to my depth of knowledge and ability to share and express such knowledge), because that goes against the belief that I might be good enough, worthy and making a valuable contribution.

  • So – I’m not an imposter when I write about legal topics, because, well, I am an expert in those matters.
  • Nor am I an imposter when I write posts on my coaching page – because, well, I have years of study & experience.
  • I have a depth of spiritual knowledge and experience, having spent the past ten years delving deep into study, and so sharing with others my personal experience and ahas does not make me an imposter either.

But what on earth makes me think, just because I am writing a book on spiritual matters and have started writing short stories, with ideas for fiction that I am playing with, that I am in any way a writer or author?

Five types of imposter syndrome

As I have looked at the 5 groups that Dr. Valerie Young identifies as falling into imposter syndrome, particularly prevalent among high-achievers (check), each description resonates with me!

(see: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It)

  1. The perfectionist – those brief, fleeting moments when (daily, every couple of hours, repeatedly) I only see my flaws and everything that I fail to execute perfectly
  2. Superwoman – overworking on the hustle & grind, addicted to the external validation that I earn through others’ opinion of me
  3. The natural genius – because, of course, I have to get it right the very first time, there couldn’t possibly be something that was hard or difficult and required practice
  4. Soloist – resisting feedback from others, certainly not needing help, and even esckewing mentoring
  5. The expert – constantly learning and studying, where my competence is based entirely on what and how much I know. This means I must meet Every. Single. Educational. Requirement.

I most certainly have never studied, much less perfected, the art of writing!

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How do I experience imposter syndrome?

Quite easily, apparently.

My perfectionism sets the goal too high, so that it becomes unobtainable. Therefore, I might as well do something else instead. And so, for fear of failure, I procrastinate and never actually start!

The superwoman imposter is constantly looking for external validation, so the moment I post a blog post or anything on social media, I get busy checking the stats. Every two minutes. They might have changed! How many people have read it? Did they like it? Has anyone criticised it?

Because I am a natural genius, obviously this should be easily and everything should flow the very first time that I attempt it! I don’t know about you – but writing does not come effortlessly for me.

I don’t get it right the very first time. Ideas may swirl around in my head, but they are incomplete. I have to do research and make notes. I write and then I edit.

As a soloist, “I have to do this on my own.” Asking for help would show me up for what I am – an imposter wearing a mask, pretending to be a writer!

I most certainly struggle to ask for mentorship or help! What might they think of me if they realised that I don’t have it all perfectly together? And so, the moment I hit my first setback, my confidence crumbles.

I don’t like uncomfortable!

Finally, when it comes to being an expert, I am constantly learning and studying. I always have a feeling of never knowing enough.
Must.
Take.
Next.
Course.

What do I know about writing?

And while I may have reached a level in expertise in law, even in coaching and mentoring, when it comes to writing – I have to admit, I passed 5th form English with a 56. Compared to a 92 in mathematics! I dropped English in 6th and 7th form, because it wasn’t mandatory!

In the first year of University, English was my worst grade. Not statistics or calculus. Not Chemistry or Biology. I got better grades in German than I did in English!

So, while I love to read, and I excelled in sentence deconstruction, mapping and grammar – I failed literature and understanding prose!

What could I possibly know about writing?

I have never studied writing – it is simply a tool that I use in order to communicate information in which I am an expert. So, who am I to think that I might be a writer, much less an author?

“They” say (whoever they are) that people in the creative fields (like writing) and medicine and technology – are more prone to feel imposter syndrome. Well – they are right.

I feel like an imposter!

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How to beat imposter syndrome:

They say that the first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to look for evidence to the contrary.

I got cornered by my coach with “Is that true? Have you ever written before? Have you ever been published before?”.

“You mean, other than a dissertation of 25,000 words, a thesis of 30,000 words and another thesis of 75,000 words for University (which, by the way, I never published)… and the chapter that I published in the Comparative Law Yearbook of International Business Vol 26 2004 and which sits gathering dust in law libraries around the world?”

She continued to look at me unconvinced. So I quickly parried with –

As long as you ignore all of the five business websites I’ve set up in the past 20 years with all their content and blog posts, and the three personal blogs that I have. Yes.

She still looked at me. I obviously had forgotten something.

Well, contracts, settlement agreements, and twenty plus years of writing legal documents don’t count. That doesn’t make you a writer – it makes you a lawyer!

Apparently I am not a very good lawyer, as I failed to convince her!

So, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary, I’m not a writer or an author because I’ve never written fiction before and had it published!

Unfortunately, the evidence to the contrary does demonstrate that I might have been writing for the past twenty-some years.

Of course, I am pretty sure that I am not the only blogger, writer or author that feels like a fraud!

Making imposter syndrome work for me

Nonetheless, feeling like a fraud in writing has actually worked very well in my favour. The way that I beat the feeling of imposter syndrome in coaching was to get hundreds of hours of coaching under my belt, until I felt that I was unconsciously competent.

So, at the beginning of this year, I started off with the goal to write more, so that I could become a writer. If I had more experience writing – a lot more posts and articles under my belt – I would no longer feel a fraud.

This, believe it or not – actually works!

The more that you do and put into action that which you say you cannot do, the easier it becomes! Like any art or craft – mastery is something that you have to work at.

Nothing gives you more confidence than looking back at the effort and the results that you have – the evidence that stands in stark contrast to your perception of your abilities and experience.

Getting over myself

I am still working on getting over myself – asking for help and mentoring in writing.

I know that I will reach a point with my book where I don’t actually know the next step. There will be not only conscious incompetence – but not even knowing what it is that I don’t know!

At that stage, I need to have lined up a coach or mentor to guide me through the next steps forward.

In the meantime, I am busy getting comfortable with simply being uncomfortable!

Imposter syndrome lets me know – I’m growing again!

13 comments

  1. Thank you for this. I am trying to let people know of the various therapies and modalities I can do of which I am trained in and insured in. I feel I always need to justify myself to others and I charge low prices because of this. But deep down I know I have something to offer, but just need to convince myself that other people see and believe that too… hence the imposter syndrome…thinking they dont believe that I have anything worth knowing. Then I doubt myself then then I dont believe I have anything to offer. A vicious circle. Us women should stop beating ourselves up about who we are.
    I do think men sometimes have this too but for different reasons, maybe to do with their diy skills or ability to have a big house or right car. I might be wrong.
    thanks for your blog.
    Sylvia

  2. Brilliant! I don’t know why I’m crying right now. I don’t have tissues!!! Grrr

    My colleagues are looking at me weirdly!

    I feel this post deep to my core. I have a job where I do not have the qualifications and am self-taught on the use of the platform. When I am praised for doing well I just don’t believe it. It’s not possible for someone like me to possibly be that good. They are just saying so for the sake of saying so. Really, what is wrong with me!?

    I know I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I know the limitations of not having a qualification. And yet I’ve gotten myself to this place on my own steam. Why can’t I just believe it? Accept who I am? Be confident in my skillset?

    I try to remember who I am daily. But I get lost in the middle of everyday life. And it annoys me to no end.

  3. I love this post!!
    I suffered with massive imposter syndrome when I started University. I’m not 100% rid of it but its slowly getting better. I just tried to remind myself that I’m here for a reason(that if I want meant to be here, I wouldn’t be) and just reminding myself of the effort and all the hurdles i had to jump over to get where I am

  4. Thanks for this article! I struggle with all 5 as well. I find it particularly frustrating when I don’t automatically know how to do something. Stretching myself to utilize tech has taken me right to the brink this year but I’m pushing through & growing. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone!

  5. Nice one Beth. Your raw authenticity in this post must really be confusing that imposter.😉

    It seems that you keep getting what you’ve asked for… You said the vision board has “I am a writer”. Well you asked for that and received just that, hence all the evidence of writing. E.g blogs, websites, thesis, contacts.

    I wonder what would happen if you updated your vision board with “I am a world class published author of fiction.”

    #becarefulwhatyouaskfor

  6. I obviously don’t know nearly enough about imposter syndrome, I may have to read more about it.

    I would have wrote most this off as crippling self doubt, poor self-image, and very low self-esteem. Now I’m wondering if my partner and I both might have issues with imposter syndrome

  7. Every time I research or read about impostor syndrome I can’t help but see my name in flashing lights. I suffer so badly from this but I’m slowly coming out of myself and able to recognise when I’m putting myself in that mindset. But it’s so hard to overcome the feeling of being a fraud and being unworthy. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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