Imposter Syndrome: How to Break Free

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By Michael Lee Howard-Mayhew

The excitement set in as I sat down with my friend Heidi at the Rose City Comic Con. I had waited months to get the chance to see actor Wil Wheaton speak. We both got to the event early and found seats. I was surprised we were in the middle and only four rows back. Little did I know that he would be talking about imposter syndrome.

imposter syndrome

This being my first year at a Comic Con, I wanted to make sure that I did all the “right” things as I learned from watching everyone around me. Within a short time Wil Wheaton started to talk about the Imposter Syndrome in creative people. It seriously hit me like a ton of bricks. 70% percent of people experience this psychological block, but it spoke to me directly.

Imposter Syndrome Explained

What is Imposter Syndrome? There are many detailed versions of this, but in a nutshell Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you are faking your way through life. In most cases this manifests itself in a variety of ways in the workforce or for some of us it affects our creative endeavors.

The biggest manifestation of this syndrome is that somehow you will be “found out” and deemed to be not as worthy of the gifts and talent you share with the world. For me this has been the downfall of my creative outlets. The idea that I will start writing and think “this has been done before; others will think I am copying what others are doing.” The truth is that this is all in my head.

Since hearing this idea, it’s been fascinating to learn all there is to know about this programming and how I can move forward and past it. Here are a few tips I have learned along my path to improve my self-esteem and let go of the imposter syndrome:

Strategies to Break Free from Imposter Syndrome:

*Call it out and change your thoughts:

When you have those thoughts that you are not worthy of your success, call out the thoughts and remind yourself that they are not true. Then, shift your mind to the fact that you are talented or worked hard for the accomplishment. Finding a way to listen to your inner voice that celebrates your achievements versus your inner critic can be a defining way to rid yourself of feeling like an imposter.

*You are the best you:

This may seem practical and make sense, but how often do we compare ourselves to others and what they are achieving? The truth is that you are the only one who has your unique point of view and your successes are yours to celebrate.

*You have a role in your success:

Remember you did not get where you are at by being bad at your accomplishments. You are the one person who is following your specific path. That is a powerful thing to remember. The second you start to internalize the positive voices, the critic will quiet and then allow the rewards in by believing they are okay, if not great!

*Realize you are not alone in your feelings:

Did you know that celebrities Tina Fey, Chris Martin (of the band Coldplay), Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Rene Zellweger, Meryl Streep (who I think is one of the best actresses ever), Michelle Pfeiffer, even Maya Angelou all have at some time or another confessed to feel like they were “faking their way” to their successes. When we sit back and hear that these people have felt that way, it can help us feel a bit better in knowing that we are all just trying to be the best we can be.

*Make a list and own it:

A couple of years ago, I was feeling that I was unsuccessful because I didn’t have a college degree. In the workforce the world sees having a degree as something very important. Even if the degree is in something that has nothing to do with the field of work that the person is working in. My résumé looked sad and as if I had only one or two skills. Then I sat down and started writing down all the skills I acquired as a volunteer. Holy crap! I felt a lot better. I had two pages of real skills that were really marketable skills.

When you start to feel that you lack marketable skills or you are not worth the time you spend doing what you do, think about what you can own. Get a jar or a box where you can put achievements in them and when the time comes when you feel “less than,” look through the notes you have made and internalize by giving yourself positive affirmations that you are very capable.

Acknowledge or Accept your Imposter Syndrome:

In Tara Brach’s book “Radical Acceptance,” she shared a really cool story about Buddha and the demon Mara.

One day, Buddha was teaching a large group, and Mara was moving around the edges, looking for a way into the group. I envision Mara rushing frantically back and forth in the bushes and trees, making plans to wreak havoc. One of Buddha’s attendants saw Mara, ran to Buddha and warned him of Mara’s presence. Hearing his attendant’s frantic warning, the Buddha simply replied, “Oh good, invite her in for tea.”

This is how you should approach your feeling of imposter syndrome. Invite the “demon” in and have some tea and offer some acceptance that this can be a certain type of copacetic relationship. But, don’t let it control you.

Needless to say, after hearing Wil Wheaton speak and sharing his words, I was less anxious to move forward in my given endeavors. I am writer, photographer, singer, creative soul who is not faking it, but sharing my gifts with the world. You can too!

Express yourself freely. I love this quote by Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind.”

So, what are your thoughts on this? I’d love to start a dialogue below. Please leave a comment.

imposter syndrome

Works Cited:

Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. New York: Bantam, 2003. Print.
Edwards, Vanessa Van. “Impostor Syndrome: Stop Feeling Like a Fraud.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 July 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
Eschenroeder, Kyle. “21 Proven Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome – StartupBros.” StartupBros.com. Start Up Bros, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.
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