“It’s not about perfection, it’s about purpose.”
If you’ve been around the creative block before, I’m sure you’re no stranger to imposter syndrome. It’s that terrible thing that happens whenever we step outside of our comfort zone: we get hit with some version of the thought, “I’m not good enough.” Sadly, no matter who we are or how hard we work, the consensus seems to be that imposter syndrome sticks around forever. Til death do us part, we will be living with the fear of secretly not being completely worthy of our successes.
And even though we’ve heard that even Beyoncé struggles with self-doubt, it’s pretty hard to believe. It’s also cold comfort! What are we supposed to do with that information? How is it supposed to help us put ourselves out there? Knowing that everyone else struggles with imposter syndrome doesn’t necessarily help us move past it.
In my work with clients, I see this fear come up again and again. I see imposter syndrome block people from sharing their gifts, or at the very least slow them all the way down. I see them self-sabotage and run away, both literally and metaphorically.
And it 👏🏼 pisses 👏🏼 me 👏🏼 off.
It makes me mad to see all this talent, vision, passion and purpose laid to the side because of an irrational belief. I don’t judge anyone for feeling this way (Lord knows I’m just as susceptible to imposter syndrome on the daily!) but I DO feel motivated to find solutions. It’s important that we don’t get stuck. It’s important that we don’t let our fears prevent us from making a difference.
So without further ado, here are five different approaches, ideas or reframes to help you fight imposter syndrome and show up to create another day.
1. Purpose Fuels Persistence
This simple sentence was one of my very favourite take-aways from Marie Forleo’s book, Everything Is Figureoutable. Purpose fuels persistence. What does that mean to you? To me, it means: stop being so selfish.
When I’m caught up in imposter syndrome, I’m making it all about me. How I feel, what I want, how I’m being perceived. Whether I’m good enough. Me, me, me.
The idea that purpose fuels persistence asks us to zoom the lens out. To remember WHY we started and WHO we are seeking to serve. It requires us to get humble. When we reconnect to our purpose, helping even just one person turns out to be enough. And can we help just one person, even if we’re flawed and inexperienced and not smart enough to be up on that stage/offering that service/posting that YouTube video? Yes. We sure can.
Recently, one of my clients was nervous to ask some important people from her past for a written recommendation that she could use on her website. To the Self, this kind of thing can feel completely terrifying! But once she remembered that these testimonials would help her reach new clients, which in turn would allow her to share the work she feels so passionately about, it became a little easier.
When we remember our why, suddenly it’s easier to show up. We no longer have to be perfect, we only have to align with our purpose.
2. Notice Your Noticing
Wanna know a word that I have a problem with? “Expert”. It seems to prevent people from doing things, because they think they’re “not an expert”. They don’t want to be a sleazy marketing person and sell themselves as “better than they are.” On the one hand: bravo to these conscientious, well-meaning people. Thank you for not being one of the “10X Your Results in 10 Easy Payments of $999” people. I see you. I appreciate you. We need more of you. Amen.
On the other hand, who says you need to be a capital-E expert to do something important in this world? For our purposes, let’s change the word “expert” to the somewhat more unwieldy phrase, “person who has the knowledge or skills to make a difference.” The next time you feel like an imposter because you’re “not an expert”, please consider that you are a person with the skills to make a difference in this area.
Because here’s what I believe: you wouldn’t even be noticing this problem or dreaming about solutions if you weren’t already an “expert” in this field on some level.
Think about it! The only reason you want to do this work is because you know there’s a better way to solve this problem. Other people might notice the problem, but not care enough or know enough for find a solution. Or they might never notice the problem at all! The only reason you even care is because you have the skills, knowledge or, yes, expertise to match.
3. You’re Right. So What?
Seth Godin has an interesting perspective on imposter syndrome: “Of course you are an imposter. You are describing a future that hasn’t happened yet. You are arguing for something that cannot be proven to be true yet. It’s good that you feel like an imposter, because if you didn’t you’d be some sort of sociopath.”
What I hear him saying is: yep, you’re right. You’re an imposter. But so what? Is that relevant? Does it matter? Does that mean you don’t get to make art and put it into the world? Is it a reason to give up on your dreams? Does it mean you should stay small your whole life?
We most often feel like imposters when we’re trying something new, when we’re doing something that stretches us. If it’s the first time you’re trying something and you feel like an imposter, it’s because you literally are. You’re embodying a new identity that you haven’t tried on before. You’re taking on a new role. Yes, you are pretending.
That said, there’s one important way that you’re definitely not an imposter: your intentions. The definition of an imposter is “a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others.” But you’re not trying to deceive others, at least not maliciously – you’re simply new to this. You’re acting as if, and faking it til you make it. You’re pretending, until one day you won’t be anymore.
4. Turn Pro
We can’t go any further without discussing the Granddaddy of Imposter Syndrome himself, Mr. Steven Pressfield. He is an extremely prolific writer who has shared extensively about the topic of Resistance and how it blocks us from our most important work. Imposter syndrome is just one (albeit extremely powerful) manifestation of the many forms that Resistance can take.
His book Turning Pro is only 148 pages long, which means you could go read it right now, and I hope that you do! Here’s the gist of his thesis statement: Professionals don’t have time for excuses like imposter syndrome. There’s too much important work to do.
Turning pro is the perfect mindset with which to combat imposter syndrome, self-doubt and all their other evil cronies. And it really is just a mindset. It’s free, and available to anyone at any time. When we turn pro, we say goodbye to excuses. We recognize that the creative process will be a battle we have to commit and recommit to, every single day. “We stop running from our fears, turn around and face them.” Thanks to our friend Purpose, we are committed for the long haul.
He writes: “When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling — meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.” When we turn pro, we turn towards our best selves. We just start showing up. Period.
5. Keep Going
The last thing to remember about imposter syndrome is that it will fade. Really! While I don’t think that our self-doubt will ever go away completely, I do think that with more experience and increased self-confidence, it will hold less power over us.
Ira Glass speaks so succinctly about the gap between our work and our ambitions:
“For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. The most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
He touches on so many important things here: the fact that you only feel like an imposter because you have amazing taste. The fact that absolutely everyone goes through this. And, most importantly, that the way through it is not to run away but to put in a lot of work.
I believe that confidence comes from the doing of the thing. Confidence is not something we need to have before we can act, it’s what happens once we have acted.
So keep going. That’s it! That’s the big secret. Keep going, even when the imposter syndrome is strong and loud. Do it again. And again.
Here’s the truth: as long as we’re growing and evolving as humans and business owners, we will experience self-doubt. We may always feel like imposters! That is absolutely okay. What is not okay is letting our imposter syndrome block us from sharing our gifts with the world. If not because keeping them inside will hurt us (and it will), then because other people need what we’re offering. Holding it back from them because we’re afraid is a form of stealing. And theft is a crime, y’all! So fight that imposter syndrome and fight it daily. We need you to.
I’d love to know: What helps you fight through the imposter syndrome? What do you remind yourself of in order to keep showing up every day? Who inspires you to keep going when you feel so much doubt in yourself? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @stephpellett!
PS. Another great way to reduce the imposter syndrome is to surround yourself with people who respect you & encourage your ideas. If you’re looking for a community like that, consider my group program The Foundery! It’s a great place to find support and accountability as you build your biggest business dreams.