If the weakness in your argument is the place you linger when others have moved on…
If the shortcomings you perceive in your experience cast a shadow over your confidence to do the role you have wanted for a while…
If the negative feedback you received years ago still kicks your shins; and if your development needs today are the wailing illegitimate children such feedback drags behind its half-baked truths…
Then welcome, my friend, to the discomfort zone.
For all the mentoring hours, now over 20 years, it has been my privilege to share with people of all backgrounds and experience it is an incontrovertible truth that they are rarely undone by their lack of expertise, or the weight of responsibility, or for lacking a desire to achieve. They will, however, often describe their contribution in ways that supress their quiet and unassuming potential, and instead amplify their unruly, discordant self-critic. When we need to believe in ourselves, we can sometimes be a poor friend to our vulnerabilities.
On the spectrum of self-love, we can all find a gentler, kinder place to rest. There is plenty of room without having to be near the over-reaching preening knob end; or to be at the standing-alone-in-the-rain-when-the-last-bus-has-gone end.
The phrase “imposter syndrome” is used widely and I think we all have a sense of our own relationship with it. However, I am not writing this to be a rousing piece about how to overcome our imposter syndrome. Indeed I am not even sure it is something to overcome. Nor do I think we should pretend it is doesn’t matter by holding hands swaying to Kumbaya. This will not sustain us when we are alone again, facing our fears again.
I would like to offer a different view; a view that says the reason we might be uncomfortable is because things are uncomfortable. The reason we might feel at the edge of our experience is because we have not done this before. The reason we are feeling stressed is because what we are doing is stressful.
Perhaps our imposter syndrome is with us not to undermine us, but to protect us. It is painful sometimes, but like pain, it tells us that we are at risk, to be careful, to look after ourselves and to seek help.
Perhaps imposter syndrome does not signal our weakness or inadequacy; perhaps instead it reveals our courageousness for stepping into our future, not sinking into our past. When we are stretched, sometimes it will hurt.
People, like you, who have so much talent and so much potential, are not immune from doubt just because you are talented and have the potential to be wonderful, any more than an athlete is immune from pain at the limits of their exertion.
Our imposter syndrome is not something to hide from or fix, but to invite closer. When we feel it is close by, it is not there to undermine us, but as a witness to the moments that honour the gift of our potential. When it is with us, we are feeling what it is like to grow and to learn. Wisdom does not come from what we can do easily.
Perhaps the feelings we describe as fear or inadequacy are what it feels like to accumulate our wonderful, extraordinary and unique life story in real time.
Realising our potential is not a gentle slide into an easy listening paddling pool. It is to tumble in the waves of anxiety that accompany the absolute certainty we might fail. There are no imposters here, just brilliant people like you, doing amazing things as they realise that their hopes are ultimately bigger than their fears.
To deny the size of our challenges or the uncertainty our fears place upon us, is to deny our need for support and the size of our achievement when we succeed. We are all precious, powerful and beautifully vulnerable. When we ask for help, we empower others too. Then, when we succeed, it is real and shared.
Our fears are indeed powerful, however they are not there to shame us, but to show us that we are in the right place for our potential to shine.
Take care. Paul xx