Like a lot of people, I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s that thing where you feel like you are a total fraud and at any moment will be called out on the carpet and be humiliated, destroyed. Wrecked. It’s when you don’t even bother starting something because seriously, what the fuck makes you think you can do that anyway?
Warning: this post contains foul language.
Imposter Syndrome is Real
This is a very real condition. According to Wikipedia (I’m sure it’s fully sourced, I didn’t check but feel free), two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and studies have shown that 70 percent of us feel like impostors at one time or another.
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
It’s not for me to debate or argue one way or another for anyone but myself, but I can tell you that feeling like a fraud is something I struggle with each and every day. I feel it in my professional life, even when doing tasks that I’ve been doing for 10, 15 or 20 years. I feel it when I make a romantic gesture to my beloved. I feel it when I try to coach or mentor my children. I feel it when I try to draw something or write something. I feel it when I cook. I feel it when I breathe. I feel it right now as write this post.
For illustrative purposes, here’s a screenplay version:
Middle age white dude on his couch. Josh Radin music playing on an Alexa device.
MY IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Dude, what the fuck. You are writing a blog post about imposter syndrome. Who are you to tell anyone about.. oh, wait.
Hold up. I just wrote about how I feel like a fraud each and every day. Did you not read what I wrote? If I don’t know about feeling like a fraud, I don’t know anything.
MY IMPOSTER SYNDROME
That’s what I’m saying. You don’t know anything.
I’ve written about this before in a post I called “Lying to Myself (or How this Blog is Total Bullshit)” where I made a compelling argument that I lie to myself regularly and how this blog is crap and you should not read it. I re-read the post just now and wow, it’s a masterful piece of imposter syndrome!
The good news is that once you understand that you are in the grips of the syndrome, you can start to do something about it. I’ve blogged a lot about meditation and being present, both of which are both effective tools to help fight fraudulent feelings.
Fight Imposter Syndrome by Ignoring It
What I’ve learned is that while there are a few things you can do about imposter syndrome, there is no cure. I say there is no cure, because I’ve become obsessed with listening to interviews with very successful people in all walks of life. And surprise, surprise, they often talk about imposter syndrome either directly or indirectly. They talk about how even at the height of their success they sometimes feel like a fake.
It’s hard to believe that someone like Tom Hanks, who is clearly a master at his craft feel like a fraud. I mean, how many fucking accolades does one human being need before he doesn’t feel like a fraud?
And yet, read what he says. Despite having won two Academy Awards and appearing in more than 70 films and TV shows, Hanks says he still finds himself doubting his own abilities.
“It’s a high-wire act that we all walk”
So clearly, this imposter syndrome thing isn’t going away. Antibiotics can’t cure it, and neither will butter,.
One popular solution I’ve used over the years is the old “fake it til you make it” bit. Sometimes it does help get through times of self-doubt. But lately, faking it feels more and more trite and incomplete.
My latest antidote for imposter syndrome is similarly trite and definitely related to faking it. And yet, this new solution feels more robust somehow.
My new solution is that I choose to ignore feeling like a fraud. I literally ignore the feeling. Sometimes I even tell myself to fuck off. I think I’ll call it the Beginner’s Mind Antidote. If you aren’t familiar with Beginner’s Mind, it’s having an open attitude when learning something new – and even as a master or expert, looking at a thing as if you were still a beginner.
How to Apply the Beginner’s Mind Antidote to Imposter Syndrome
So I’m writing a novel. It’s a sci-fi sort of thing. I’ve never written one before. I doubt it’s good (oh, hello you fraud, you silly idiot. I bet your book sucks!). I’ve been working on it for almost 3 years. It’s in draft #3 and I’m about ready to share it with some close friends and family for the first time. I’m terrified. I’m clearly a fraud. Who do I think I am, writing a novel? A fraud, that’s who!
I doubt it’s good (I bet it sucks). I’ve been working on it for almost 3 years. It’s in draft #3 and I’m about ready to share it with close friends and family for the first time. I’m terrified because clearly, I’m a fraud. I mean, who the hell do I think I am, writing a novel? A fraud, that’s who!
My imposter syndrome flairs up every time I start to work on a new chapter. It flares up every time I think about letting anyone read it. It flares up like a hemorrhoid when I see a book on a shelf. When I see a library. When I see words. Because I’m a fraud. A big old fake.
And yet I’ve got 59,298 words that say otherwise. I’ve got characters with names, personalities, and problems to solve. There is a plot, dialogue, and action. I’ve even got a title.
The only way I’ve been able to get this far is by ignoring that fucking horrible, stupid, annoying imposter syndrome. Because if you let it in, if you let it tell you you’re a fraud, you might listen. And then you’ve got problems. So instead, just ignore it.
Here’s how it works (for me).
I’m feeling good and my thoughts turn to something I want to do. It could be writing, working or anything really. Suddenly, I start to feel like a fraud and a total fake. It comes out of nowhere. For example, when thinking about my novel, I’ll probably tell myself I’m not qualified to write a Pennysaver ad let alone a novel.
For example, when thinking about my novel, it will become abundantly clear that I have no business or skill to do such a thing. I’m not qualified to write a Pennysaver ad let alone a novel.
And then if I’m lucky, I remember my meditation practice and I take a breath. And in that breath, I decide. I decide to ignore that fucking motherfucker and start to write. It doesn’t work all the time. But when it does work I get a little get stronger, which makes it that much easier to ignore it the next time.
Your mileage may vary. Good luck, you can do it. You can do anything. We all can.