Ever felt like an imposter or fraud in business? Like you were just about to be busted and ejected from the building? Rest assured: you’re not alone.
“I have written eleven books,” says Maya Angelou. “But each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Lots of people feel like an imposter. This can be hugely defeating when you’re a good person doing your best to serve your tribe. Often, especially in the midst of a big creative project, we can oscillate wildly between extreme egomania and crippling self-doubt. It’s a rollercoaster than many artists know intimately.
So if you’re not selling a Ponzi scheme or doing insider trading, how do you get over the imposter syndrome so you can do your best work?
Overcoming your imposter
1. Lower your expectations
We often feel like a fraud because we’ve set our expectations sky high, with some idea of perfection that is a myth and far from reality. Lower your expectations. Keep going. Lower still. There! Doesn’t that feel good? Remember you conquer a large goal by chewing off one chunk at a time.
2. Know that nobody knows what they’re doing.
We’re living in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel and nobody knows the ending. Failure is a byproduct of action, and the opposite of action is doing nothing. Plenty of people claim to have the answers – so why don’t they stop talking and go do what you’re trying to do, then?
3. Turn your focus outwards
Typically we feel like a fraud when we’re overly self-focused. Get out of your head and into the heads of others – not through your brain but through your gut. Engage people with questions, listen intently, practice empathy. Remember, by giving your all to a project, you’re doing so to reach out and touch other people. Focus on serving others by becoming immersed in your work.
4. Keep a ‘sweet things’ file
I give my business coaching clients a ‘sweet things’ assignment to collect and compile nice things that people say to that, whether face-to-face, over the phone, over email or social media. I do this myself. I take screenshots from social media and, when I’m feeling vulnerable or wobbly, I look through the file of nice things from people I’ve impacted through my work.
5. Practice joy
Oftentimes, we may feel like a fraud because we cannot internalise our successes. We may feel like we’re luckier than most, or were given a break, and so we don’t feel like we’ve sufficiently earned our success. But ‘deserving’ or ‘earning’ isn’t relevant to success. There are countless people given every opportunity who make a hash of their lives, and others who start with nothing and enjoy a rich and flourishing life through their own willpower and hard work.
The remedy for this is joy: not intellectualising it, but embodied, full-bellied, overwhelming joy. Practice joy wherever you find it, and practice often. It’s good for your soul and great for your work.
6. Know your limitations
Being wrong every so often doesn’t make you a fraud. Failing is a byproduct of doing – this is how we learn. Realise that you can’t also know everything about a topic and try not to get spooked by failure. If someone asks you something you don’t know much about, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know and refer them on to someone who does.
7. Stop comparing
Unless you know somebody’s (indiscrete) accountant, lover and therapist, you have no way of knowing what their real life is like. Nobody can live your life except you. And the easiest way to waste it is to indulge yourself comparing your life with others.
8. Know that business is built on experimentation
Never before in history have so many people had a voice, and reach, online. This is a double-edged sword: we can quickly and easily find out what our potential clients’ worries and frustrations are and what they’re looking for, but we can also be easily distracted by louder opinions and the noise of our competitors jostling to tell all how great they are. Approach your business like a great experiment and get insanely curious about what drives your ideal clients. Stop thinking you have all the answers – or anybody else does – and start experimenting.
9. Get over the idea of authenticity
It’s been hip to bang on about the importance of authenticity for some years now (hell, I even wrote an e-book about it). But authenticity is not as simple as we assume. Faking confidence by standing up straighter, smiling, speaking more slowly, moving decisively – these have all been shown to have a real physiological response in increasing our confidence.
Authenticity is not about expressing each and every opinion and emotion – that can be very damaging for all concerned. We are multi-faceted creatures and communication is a multi-faceted thing. You can represent yourself differently to make yourself relevant in differing situations while still being honest.
10. Rely on real friends
Friends who support you when you doubt yourself are the best and only kind.
11. Realise that when you hold back, you’re robbing the world.
If you feel paralysed to move forward in your life or walk around feeling bad about yourself, those vibes are being felt by others. Believe that everyone has self-doubts. But when we’re bravely moving in the direction of our dreams, we inspire others around us to do the same.
Feeling like an imposter or fraud is a good thing because it causes you to pause and take stock. It causes you to try harder. It stops you settling for good enough. It causes you to edit, reiterate and improve. But only if you don’t let it stop you from starting.