Big weeks on the blog give me writer’s block. The bigger the week, the worse the writer’s block.
Last week was a BIG week. Normally, I release one post per week, engage on social media, and get really excited when people share my posts with their Twitter followers.
Last week, a couple of unexpected things happened.
I was riding a high going into the weekend.
Until I sat down to write…
After starting at a blank screen for 20 minutes, I realized I was censoring my ideas. Whenever I’d have a thought, my brain would immediately shut it down, telling me that the idea wasn’t good enough. Rather than coming up with a bunch of ideas and deciding later which ones were good, I felt like every idea on the list needed to be the best idea.
All of a sudden, I had this feeling that the success I experienced was just a fluke, and now I would need to live up to unrealistic expectations of future success.
After a few moments of reflection, I realized that I was experiencing “imposter syndrome.”
While not fun, the good news is I have begun to realize more quickly when this is happening, and I’m learning to interrupt it.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
The vast majority of people in the world have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
We’ve all had thoughts tinged by imposter syndrome, like:
- “Somehow my resume made it to the top of the pile or they probably wouldn’t even have looked at it.”
- “I must have gotten the promotion because no one else wanted it.”
- “My blog was probably included because it was one of the first ones they read, and they just didn’t bother to look further.”
For many of us, we think that when we are successful it must be a result of luck or chance rather than our own expertise, experience, or hard work.
Now, don’t worry. I’m not trying to convince people with tons of privilege that they should believe that they did indeed pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
In fact, imposter syndrome most commonly plagues high achieving women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and people who feel underrepresented. The people who experience imposter syndrome the most are actually the ones who have worked hard to overcome barriers standing in the way of their success.
The Impacts of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome, especially if we don’t realize it, can impact us in a variety of negative ways.
While we are operating under imposter syndrome, it can limit the confidence that we have to go after new opportunities or explore new ideas. When I’m worried about making sure people don’t “find out I’m a fraud,” it keeps me from using my creativity to its fullest. My brain stops ideas in their tracks before I can even know if it’s something that could turn into a good idea.
When I’m operating out of my imposter syndrome, I am less likely to take risks and more likely to stick to a safe path.
Many people who experience imposter syndrome also experience burnout. The reason for this is that we often work extra hard to prove to everyone around us that we do actually deserve our success. Even if we don’t actually believe it ourselves. If we work hard enough and move fast enough, maybe we can outrun our demons.
Mental Health Challenges
It’s no surprise that perpetual feelings of imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression. Consistently taking the safe path makes people feel like I want more out of life. Pushing too hard to prove oneself not only causes burnout but can also cause anxiety.
4 Techniques to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Before I was going to be able to move forward, I knew I needed to grapple with and figure out strategies to overcome my imposter syndrome. I did some research to find out suggestions for overcoming imposter syndrome and had some ideas of my own.
The first and most important thing I believe we can do is to realize what is happening. Over the last year, I’ve practiced mindfulness and meditation in an effort to understand my own thoughts and emotions.
This exercise has taught me to observe my thoughts and emotions but not get involved in them. When I become aware of a thought or feeling, I can look at it objectively and critically. I no longer believe that something is true solely because I’m thinking or feeling it.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by the thought and trying to solve the problem right away, I first step back and check the facts. I can ask myself questions like:
- Does the intensity of this feeling fit the facts of the situation?
- Does this thought (i.e. that this success must be a fluke) actually match the evidence?
Something else that’s helpful for me is to be aware that feelings of imposter syndrome are not abnormal. The majority of people in the world experience this at some point, and it actually has very little to do with your actual competence. This can help to reinforce that maybe the feelings or thoughts might not conform to the actual situation.
2. Voice Your Fears to Trusted Friends or Mentors
People don’t often talk about imposter syndrome because of their fear of being “found out.” When we can voice our fears to people we feel comfortable with, this often reinforces that we are not alone and many people have had these feelings.
People will often share encouraging words that help you believe that you and your work are valuable.
Before I wrote this article, I actually logged onto Twitter to voice my feelings of imposter syndrome. People replied saying that they’ve felt imposter syndrome and also provided words of encouragement. I found this encouragement incredibly helpful, and it actually inspired me to write this post.
I’ve experienced imposter syndrome so many times in my life. What has helped most is asking myself “what’s the absolute worst that can happen” and then working my way back to the more likely outcomes.
— Financial Pilgrimage (@Financialplgrm) June 7, 2019
You’re not an imposter if you follow the advice you give. Also, think of yourself 5 years ago. What did you need to hear/learn? You didn’t know what you know now, right?
There are millions of people who are in that same place TODAY. They need to hear what you’re saying.
— Debt&Cupcakes (@DebtandCupcakes) June 7, 2019
Now, of all times, you shouldn’t feel like an imposter. You belong, your series is incredible, and we love your writing!
— Josh Overmyer (@Jovermyer1) June 7, 2019
3. Remind Yourself of Your Value
We can’t always look for external validation of our value. We need to also be able to remind ourselves as well.
One recommendation is to write down a list of achievements, skills, and accomplishments.
While I think this is generally a good idea, I think what helps me more is to remind myself of the value that I’ve added to others. When I can go back and review blog comments or Twitter conversations about ways I’ve inspired people to quit toxic jobs or take a slower and more fulfilling path in their lives, it makes me realize that all I need to do is share my story.
I just referred to @TheFioneers as “My Corporate Brexit Senpai” to my fiance and he was so confused ?
— zero | quit work not quite barista FI (@zero2fire) June 4, 2019
I have been admiring @TheFioneers “slowed down” FI lifestyle for ages. Could I finally embark on this??
— BaristaFire (@FireBarista) May 11, 2019
NEW POST: I Quit. I’m Taking A Career Break. https://t.co/JrerB4MCAm
— The $76K Project (@The76KProject) April 21, 2019
My story will help some people; it won’t help others. I have nothing to prove.
4. Embrace a Growth Mindset
One issue with imposter syndrome is that it can make us behave as if we have a fixed mindset. According to Carol Dweck, the pioneer in research on the growth mindset, someone has a fixed mindset when they believe their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits.
A common behavior among people with a fixed mindset is that they want to appear intelligent or talented. They fear that people will think they are unintelligent or lack talent. People with a fixed mindset often believe that once they reveal their lack of intelligence or talent, they will not be able to redeem themselves.
While I don’t believe in a fixed mindset, I think imposter syndrome makes me behave that way because I’m worried I’ll be seen as unsuccessful.
Instead, I want to embrace both the growth mindset and the behaviors of a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, people have an underlying belief that their talent, learning, and intelligence will grow with time, effort and experience.
A commonality amongst people with a growth mindset is that they don’t feel like they need to do everything perfectly the first time. They embrace challenges, risks, and even failure as learning opportunities.
Embracing a growth mindset allows me to let go of the judgments I have about myself and let my creativity flow much more freely.
Moving Forward with Imposter Syndrome
I’m sure this is not the last time that I will experience imposter syndrome. Fortunately, I now know that it is a natural thing to experience, and I can more easily recognize it as it’s arising.
Now that I have more strategies to work through it, I’m excited to spend some time brainstorming new post ideas. The sky’s the limit.
I’m excited to keep bringing content to you based on my experience and what I learn along my journey to financial independence.
How have you overcome imposter syndrome?