IMPOSTOR!

It usually hits me at one of three times:
 
The middle of the night when I’m too busy and can’t sleep. You know those nights… Your body is flat exhausted but your mind won’t quit, and despite how desperately you need to sleep your brain ain’t having none of it.
 
In mid problem-solving. Strangely, it seems to be worse when the problems are actually getting solved. Go figure. I’m an odd duck.
 
When things are going great, and everything is clicking beautifully. Yup. Here’s me, just waiting for the bubble to burst.
 
So what IS this thing that strikes at these disparate times?
 
The absolutely and certain knowledge that everyone will figure out I’m a total fraud. That I have nothing whatsoever of value to offer anyone anywhere. That I can’t design my way out of a sock, that I can barely string two sentences together with the agility of an eight year old, and that I have nothing of value in my brain save perhaps a good cookie recipe.
 
There. My deepest and darkest, what keeps me up at night. And why I buy TUMS in the extra large size.
 
This despite the fact that I’ve been pretty damn successful in several sectors over 40 years. I’ve won awards and sold millions of dollars worth of jewelry. I’ve coached other designers who said some quite nice words about me. But then they’re probably just being nice, right?
 
I was talking with one of those designers last week, an extraordinary woman who voiced this same fear. 
 
There’s a name for this head twitch we have. Impostor Syndrome. Yes, really.
 
Coined in 1978 by smart people. PhD’s actually. Impostor syndrome is a REAL THING. So while you might be making up your incompetence you’re not alone in feeling it. There’s even a grading scale for how bad you have it, for heavens sake.
 
In short, it’s your brain screwing you by preferring to dwell on how much you don’t know instead of how much you DO know. That saying “you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it”? It’s a curse to grasp the infinite bounds of wisdom and our small place in it. It’s a burden to realize that there’s always yet more to learn. The negative instead of the positive. The empty instead of the full.
 
In The Icarus Syndrome, Seth Godin writes, “It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low. We settle for low expectations and small dreams and guarantee ourselves less than we are capable of. By flying too low, we shortchange not only ourselves but also those who depend on us or might benefit from our work. We’re so obsessed about the risk of shining brightly that we’ve traded in everything that matters to avoid it.”
 
Think about that. Most of us have heard throughout our lives, “Don’t brag”, “Don’t be full of yourself” frequently at the same time as we’re exhorted to do our best. No wonder we short circuit.
 
So when we find ourselves at a place of success, of happiness and competence, what do we do? Well we question it of course. We must not deserve it, we must not have any business being on the stage. Surely someone has been fooled into letting us into the room. 
 
Even Maya Angelou wrestled with these demons. Maya Angelou.
 
Surely a mind as luminous as that knew the contribution she was making? Or perhaps deep inside some childhood admonishment of, “don’t be so full of yourself” half burrowed down deep, too deep to let go. And even Maya Angelou was afraid she was a fraud. Meryl Streep apparently thinks she’s a lousy actress too.  Who knew. 
 
Well then. At least we’re in good company.
 
But – as business owners we don’t have the luxury of a famous actress or a best-selling author. We have work to do. So how do we cope with what can often be debilitating feelings?
 
1) Don’t wait till you’re “Ready”
     You’re never ready. You can always go over the plan one more time, or tweak the design again, or practice the pitch or have another “out of town tryout”… You can always take another course or another class, or lose more weight, or wait another season. There’s always a great reason NOT to start now. But if you don’t start now, you may never start, and that can leave you feeling even worse. Less planning. More doing.
 
2) Don’t be afraid to fail
     You’re going to fail. We all do. No one in business (or in life) ever hits a home run all the time. Sure, you do everything in your power to try and NOT fail – but fear of failure if it’s paralyzing you… that can make your feel like a fake pretty fast. Genuine doesn’t make it all the time. You gotta get out there and swing at the ball. 
 
3) Enjoy the success
     When the bat connects with the ball, enjoy it. Live the moment, savor it. You earned it. No one did it for you – this is yours. Shout that voice down in the back of your head if you have to. You worked for it. Enjoy.
 
4) Ignore your press
     For good or for bad, Say “thank you!” and move on. Don’t get your validation – or your punishment – from external sources. If you encounter a valid criticism, listen to it, and incorporate it into your thinking if – IF – it will make your process or product better. Otherwise say thank you and move along. The big head and the battered ego are equally damaging.
 
5) Don’t take yourself so seriously
     No one ever knows a dancer has made a mistake in choreography unless it shows on their face. Think about that… are you sure that long, languid pose on the floor with the beautifully outstretched hand to the partner was on purpose? Or did the dancer fall flat on her ass and need a hand to hoist herself back up and get on with the music? Unless you see a grimace, or the couple walk off the floor in a huff, you may never know…. the dance goes on… Don’t take yourself, or your plans, so seriously. Learn to pivot, learn to laugh off mistakes and “oops!”. Point you toe and keep dancing.
 
6) Keep moving forward
     Not everything succeeds. Cut your losses and move to the next project. Worse yet, the project DOES succeed! Then what? Now you have to top yourself. Either way, you just have to keep moving forward. One step at a time in a (mostly) unbroken march. Small bricks that add up. Forward.
 
7) Hire your weaknesses
     No one is good at everything. You know what your weaknesses are. Offload them. Find people smarter than you at those areas and treat them well. You’ll feel much more competent doing what you’re good at than trying to fake your way through tasks you suck at (and most likely loathe)
 
8) Make a plan
     Yeah, I know. Everyone hates planning. But it’s easier to follow a plan than it is to wing it. And it only hurts at first. Coming up with your plan, well… it takes some planning. A little time on the front end to save a lot of time on the back end.  And no plan makes it to the end without changing along the way. A plan makes you accountable, keeps you on track, and keeps you from getting overwhelmed with the forest, instead of focusing on one tree at a time.
 
9) Realize everyone is in the same boat
     You can essentially drop most folks into two categories: Those who think they’re not worth much, and those who think everyone else isn’t worth much. In the final analysis, most of us would rather be in that first group. Because, well, assholes. Odds are if you’re in that second group you stopped reading a long time ago anyway. So be thankful you’re not an, ahem.. “group two-er”. But let’s do try to keep a balance. Everyone is simply trying to find their way, to do their best. We’re all relatively certain we suck – and we’re all mostly also wrong. If you were truly that awful no one would be buying your stuff. 
 
Do what you do. Create. Run your business. Plan. Stay out of your own way. 
 
 
 

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