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Cure imposter syndrome by ignoring it

Pushing Past Imposter Syndrome – What Makes You Think You Can Do That?

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:

Fade in…

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.

ME

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.

Fade out…

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.

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.

Reconnect, wake up

Waking up isn’t something that happens once

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I’ve been very focused on myself (I’m so selfish!) and have been diligently practicing being present, meditating and making mindful life decisions. Waking up is harder than I thought.

Waking up isn’t a singular event.

In my guided meditation practice (Tara Brach), something that comes up often is the idea that when you brain drifts into thoughts, all you need to do is “come back” and that act is in fact, “waking up.” What’s incredible about that is that it means that the act of waking up isn’t a singular, massive, black and white event.

Waking up isn’t binary.

Waking up is a constant battle. It’s a war that is waged in micro-moments, minute by minute. Day by day.

I journaled recently that “being present is a verb” and that it requires energy and focus. It’s not a natural act. For some it may be easier, but not for me. My natural tendency is to zone out, live in virtual reality, tune the world out and retreat into my own thoughts.

I think I see where I got off track. I had been looking to attain a sort of “god-like” presence, some moment in time when I can proclaim that I am “living in the moment!” And in that fantasy I would leave my present, unhappy existence and enter my dream world. A dream world where I get to sing and dance and skip off into the future a happy, fulfilled human being.

But it’s not like that at all.

Waking up is more like slogging through the Fire Swamp in the Princess Bride. It’s a step by step realization that I am either present or not. Awake or asleep. In control or on auto-pilot.

Waking up and being present is a battle, waged every second of every day – in every big and little moment of our lives.

The Road Ahead - Focus on Doing rather than Being

Don’t try to be better. Just do better for a fulfilling, joyful life

I’ve struggled with the idea of becoming something better my entire life. It’s led to so much pain – bad business investments, bad personal choices, misunderstanding the importance of status, job titles and the value of money. Life is sweet when you  focus on “doing better” instead of trying to “be better”

Focus on the doing rather than the being

As I was reading different posts on this subreddit, something struck me odd and it led to this post. Don’t get me wrong, the notion of “deciding to be better” isn’t wrong, it’s actually quite positive. However, I think the sentiment is a tad misguided. In my recent experiences, I’m realizing that deciding to be better would be better framed as deciding to do better. Because being present, and finding joy is in the doing and not the being.

A bit of background as I try to work my way to making my point.

A few weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook that he was buying a Tesla. And then another one posted the same thing. And another posted about their new job, a very high level appointment at a high flying tech start up. Yet another posted incredible photos of a 3 week vacation they took around the world. And in all cases, instead of being happy for them, I felt a deep resentment and shame that it wasn’t me that was getting those things and having that sort of success.

It took me a few weeks to process those feelings. I hated myself for being angry, and envious. I hated myself even more for feeling shamed. Seriously, why was I feeling shame exactly?

Then a few days ago something changed inside me. I was thinking about my own journey, and how far I’ve come in the past few years. I quit a high paying consulting gig, stopped destructive and bad personal behavior and started meditating and journaling almost every day. I did this because I realized that those things were not leading me anywhere I wanted to go.

My inner voice started to whisper in my head, telling me that the anger and shame were misplaced. The voice was telling me that I was lying to myself about those feelings of anger and shame.
And also, what the hell do I care if a friend does well and buys a nice car, or gets a huge promotion. I mean really, good for them, right? Right!

And yet I was still struggling and having these feelings of shame and envy. I realized that my ego was telling me that I deserve more success. That I deserve more money and more status. That if my friends can get it, so should I!

What’s incredible is that I’ve spent the past 2.5 years redesigning my priorities and my life to escape exactly those traps!

I figured a few years ago that success, money and status is exactly the wrong road for me to travel. It’s a road that leads to loneliness and to my massive ego ruining my life. It’s me giving in to the matrix, taking the wrong pill. Walking the wrong road. And other quotes like that.

Goddamn ego man. It really is the obstacle.

The point is that deciding to be better is the wrong sentiment and can potentially lead to the wrong destination. But doing better, now that’s the right track. That’s having focus. Being in flow. Creating, producing and being productive.  It’s subtle (sort of) and powerful.

And it’s all around if you look closely.

  • Actors talk about doing the work is what leads to great performances.
  • Writers talk about doing the work every day, without fail is the only way to produce anything worthwhile.
  • Nick Saban (Head Football Coach, University of Alabama) created an entire process focused on “doing” that leads the Tide to being the best. It’s not being the best that makes you the best, it’s the doing part that matters!

I have found that focusing on my work and my own process is where I can relax and find joy. It’s where I am truly present. I never realized it before because I’ve been chasing “being” – status, titles, money, power. None of which is what I want.

And now, I really need time to figure what it is I want to DO. I can feel my ego fighting me even as I write this – egging me on, telling me to pick things that lead to money, status and power. And that little voice, gaining in strength every day is just whispering quietly, no. Don’t listen. Just go do stuff, experiment and figure out what it is you do. And then one day, you’ll BE happy.

Update: A thoughtful reader sent me a note about the last line of the post where I say “And then one day, you’ll BE happy.” Firstly how awesome that you read the entire post! Secondly, you are right that that line is problematic in that it is focusing on some future result. I didn’t intend it that way, I meant it in juxtaposition to the concept of being vs. doing, but I get your point loud and clear. Here’s to staying present!

Listen to Yourself - Welcome to Wherever You Are

Listen to Yourself – How a Bon Jovi Song Helped Me Remember Something Important

I’ve always been a big Bon Jovi fan but lost touch with their music the past few years. I was working out a few days ago, listening to their album “Have a Nice Day” and a song called “Welcome To Wherever You Are” came on. I was jogging and the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. I’m not a crier by nature, but at that moment I was almost in tears reflecting on my journey and how far I’ve come. Learning how to listen to yourself turns out to be one of my bigger challenges and it was incredible that the universe gave this to me at the exact moment I needed it.

I was going to point out a specific lyric that touched me, but it’s the entire sentiment, the complete thought reached me so deeply. This is your life, you made it this far…  enjoy.

Listen to Yourself

BON JOVI LYRICS 

“Welcome To Wherever You Are”

Maybe we’re different, but we’re still the same
We all got the blood of Eden, running through our veins
I know sometimes it’s hard for you to see
You come between just who you are and who you wanna be

If you feel alone, and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning, is some beginning’s end

[Chorus]
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you gotta believe
That right here right now, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Welcome, to wherever you are

When everybody’s in, and you’re left out
And you feel your drowning, in a shadow of a doubt
Everyones a miracle in their own way
Just listen to yourself, not what other people say

When it seems you’re lost, alone and feeling down
Remember everybody’s different
Just take a look around

[Chorus]

Be who you want to, be who you are
Everyones a hero, everyones a star

When you wanna give up, and your hearts about to break
Remember that you’re perfect, God makes no mistakes

[Chorus]

Dance and sing and be happy!

Why Your Life Is Not A Journey

I came across this when a friend posted it to Facebook. It grabbed me and SLAMMED me down hard.  This video “Why Your Life Is Not A Journey” includes the editors favorite Alan Watts quotes – my new favorite being the bit about missing the point the whole way along (skip to 3:13). I’ve always felt as if I were doing something wrong or missing some essential truth.

Life is not a journey… and you were supposed to be dancing!

When Watts says “It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or dance” I feel ashamed of my own behavior. I feel ashamed and sorry for myself. For not laughing more. Or Dancing more (or at all). For not  crying, or feeling more things more deeply.

The quote hit me somewhere very deeply. I am sure it’s because it’s true. I’ve taken life entirely too seriously – like an epic slog rather than the joyous, beautiful thing it was meant to be.

Did you watch it? What did you think?