How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome


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imposter syndrome cure

Some of the most comforting words I’ve heard in recent memory came from a video of Seth Godin onstage.

“I’m a fraud,” he said sagely, perfectly at ease with his hands in his pockets and his mismatched socks.

(Well, initially I misheard and thought he said “I’m a frog”, and I was like “OK Seth where are you going with this…?

ANYWAY.)

It’s Like We’re Twins

“We’re all frauds,” he went on to say…

… And I promptly forgot the rest of the talk, lost in thought that SETH EFFING GODEN, one of the godfathers of modern marketing, is just like the rest of us —

Trying his best to do good work and help other people using what he knows… while in a tiny – or sometimes very, very large – pocket of his brain, a troublesome voice reminds him he’s perpetually minutes, even seconds, away from being found out.

Do you feel that way sometimes?

I know I do – along with 99.9999% of the creative world.

(The other .0000001% is Beyoncé and like mayyyybe Phoebe Waller-Bridge after the Emmys.)

What Us Mere Mortals Hear…

Every time we step up to the plate with an offer, or an article, or an email or video like this one, that voice grows louder and taps us on the shoulder to remind us:

Because we don’t know every tiny thing…

And we don’t do everything perfectly…

And we’re missing this system, or that tool, or haven’t taken that course, or aren’t hitting certain revenue goals, or we’re not running paid traffic to our sites…

… That we’re somehow not quite real.

And that it’s only a matter of time before someone figures it out, tells everyone in a really well-written think piece on Medium that goes viral, steals all our clients, is mean to our mom, and steps on our cat’s tail out of spite — and just like that, we’ll be finished.

Our every accomplishment and ability will be washed away like colorful sidewalk chalk turning gray as it runs down the driveway and into the storm drain.

Let’s Just Take a Breath, Shall We?

Of course, that potential outcome isn’t exactly anchored in reality — especially not when you’re a hard working human like you who gives a damn about being in integrity, and genuinely helping the people they meet.

>> everyone breathe a deep sigh of relief with me now <<

And this fear is so common it even has its own name: imposter syndrome.

So… why does it feel so damn dire all the time!?

Can you ever outgrow it? Does it ever go away?

And what the heck are we mere non-Beyoncé-mortals supposed to do about it!?!?!??!

As you might expect – the fabulous Margo Aaron and I dive into all that and more on this week’s episode of #HAMYAW: The Cure for Imposter Syndrome.

The One Where We Talk About the Positive Side

Click on over to the video to watch your two favorite about-to-be-found-out frauds discuss:

  • 1:58 Did you know impostor syndrome is SCIENCE and unique to talented high achieving people??
  • 5:06 The weird positive thing about impostor syndrome
  • 7:06 When are you allowed to call yourself an “expert” and when do you become an authority (officially)
  • 11:30 The cure for impostor syndrome
  • 14:30 Why #HAMYAW will not allow you to turn impostor syndrome into a sexy form of procrastination
  • 17:54 What it means to ACTUALLY be a fraud

And, while you’re over there, let us know in the comments (or hit “reply” to this email and let me know if you’d rather keep it private):

How does imposter syndrome wreak havoc in YOUR life?

What are your tricks for staring it down, and pushing through?

Have there been some moments that imposter voice has been allowed to run the show? What happened after that?

A Little Amuse-bouche of Cure:

And, just in case you don’t have time to watch today’s video, I’ll give you the sparknotes cure right here, right now:

The only way out is through.

That voice is always gonna be there.

So go do the thing anyway.

Go take the risk anyway.

Go shine your brightest anyway.

Go dare to be a fabulous fraud trying their absolute best anyway.

And you can tell that mean voice in your head to frog off.

Write on,
H

Episode Transcript

Fuck, hold on give me a sec.  

Okay. (whispering) (muffled drumming) (bag crinkling) (upbeat music)  

Welcome back, marketing nerds of the world. It’s time for another episode of HAMYAW, and today we are talking about everyone’s least favorite topic, imposter syndrome. Do you have it? Probably. I have it. Margo has it. Your next-door neighbor has it. The only person who doesn’t have it may be President Trump. Sorry, should I say that?  

No, it’s true.  

I can say that on this show. Anyway, if you don’t have imposter syndrome you can brag your way into presidency. So there’s a fun fact. Imposter syndrome is something everybody struggles with. Everybody especially who does creative work or really any kind of work in general.

Because I find 100% of people are creative in some way, that it tends to hold people back and imposter syndrome, for, if for any reason you are uninitiated in the term, is the fear that someday, someone, somewhere is going to figure out that you’re a fraud. That you don’t know everything, that, you know, maybe one time you took a shortcut where you shouldn’t have, that maybe you don’t know as much as you think you do, even though you’ve done all this work.

There’s always someone who knows more than you, and why aren’t you as good as them? And all of that stuff that those mean

You’re a hack.  

All of those things that the mean, nasty, Regina George voices in your head tell you. And I wanna open, before I turn over the mic to Margo, with a fact that I share with 100% of my students who struggle with this, which is 100% of my students, and this is the reality that imposter syndrome itself was a term and a phenomenon coined by two women researchers, I think at Stanford, in the 1970s.

And it was found to impact most highly, very intelligent, very accomplished women and minorities. Of course, men struggle with imposter syndrome too. We’re not trying to discount that, but I just wanna remind you that if you have imposter syndrome you are in good company. You are in the upper echelon of intelligence levels, hard work levels, commitment levels, and probably talent levels.

So let’s just take a moment to breathe that in and Margo, talk to me about your relationship to imposter syndrome.  

Oh my god! I’m just waiting for y’all to call me out.  

(laughs)  

I think every single day it’s a pause to be like, “You’re an idiot!” The irony is when you actually do get called out, because if you put your work out there enough somebody’s going to be like, “You’re dumb,” you kinda are like, “Wait, no I wasn’t. What’s the foundation?”  

Not for that thing, for the other thing. (laughing)  

The other thing I was dumb about, you missed it. No, I mean, listen, it’s taken a really long time. I also, 100% of the people I have worked with have imposter syndrome.  

Yep  

And part of it is a result of the systems we’ve set up in this country, like our education system for example, really teaches you compliance, and it teaches you obedience. You have to be a certain way to perform at the top, and so you are constantly coming from a place of not good enough. Where every single day it’s like I could have done better I could have studied more. I should have tried harder. So and so is so much smarter than me.  

Yeah  

It takes a lot of very real-life experience to see like the success metrics you saw in school are not the same as real life, first of all. So those are different but also it’s tough when you look at your perception of what you think you are supposed to have to be worthy of the stage you want to be at in life.  

Yeah  

I think we all sort of believe that miraculously from the gods, you are suddenly gonna be confident, and have clear skin, and be articulate and know all the things and it just doesn’t work like that in real life. We are all just humans thrashing around and trying to figure it out. As soon as you throw your hat in the ring saying like I think I figured out a little. Like –  

Yeah  

…and maybe it could be helpful to you but I’m not gonna say it in that tone. I’m gonna be authoritarian and professional. And you are just sort of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to figure it out. I have actually found similar to the researchers that the most ethical people have –

Yeah 

…imposter syndrome, and part of why I started dedicating my work towards working with people who have imposter syndrome and not the people who don’t, is because I think that you have an internal, ethical, integrity check that other people don’t have.

And I think the people who have imposter syndrome actually should be a lot louder. Because you guys, we’re in a world where there are so many hacks. So many hacks. I mean we are in an online business. It’s like every five minutes it’s someone who’s claiming to cure cancer if you just take this pill.  

Heart germ.  

Which (laughs)  

It’s a real thing. But people claiming it to be anyway, go on.  

And I mean yeah, If those people pause and were like, do I believe what I am saying? Do I do enough research? And one of the good things about imposter syndrome is that you will never be a hack. Because you are constantly gonna triple check yourself and you’re going to surround yourself with people who triple check you.  

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s so important. And I love that you raise this point because I actually have a colleague point this out to me where they were like and one time when I was like “Oh imposter syndrome, it’s eating me!” Which is kind of what it feels like.  

Yeah  

But she pointed out she’s like, “Look here’s the thing, all those people who are frauds who you do not want to be like, they’re going to continue showing up regardless. So are you going to show up and be a voice for this truth and this knowledge that you have and this cautious everything I say is you know, has roots in something and I’m not just throwing stuff at you to try to sell you and all of that.

Don’t you owe it to those people who are distracted by this noise of people who are frauds, and who are falsifying claims to stand up and be in integrity and show up –   

Yes  

…for your audience and your industry and your skillset and creativity, in that way? Because if you don’t, nobody’s going to and the frauds take over and then we all die.”  

Yes! And can we also remind you that, like, this is business and thought leadership we’re talking about. It’s okay if you don’t know all of the things.  

Yeah  

Just don’t claim to know all of the things.  

Yeah  

I remember someone when I first started out and I felt like I had no claim to saying that I knew anything about marketing. And a colleague turned to me, and he was like, “Do you know more than your clients?”. And I was like, “Yeah”. “Can you help your clients?” And I was like, “Oh! Yeah!”. And he was like, “Okay!”  

(laughs) Right! 

That’s the big one for me.

I think that’s what imposter syndrome does to people in so many ways. It’s like, the imposter syndrome, you know, brings itself up because you worry you’re not at the top. Like this is a perfectionism thing too, a hundred percent.

We were talking in another episode about if you’re not running a marathon, what is the point of going out for a jog? And it’s like, If I don’t know everything about everything I’m not like a perfect, immaculate, well-researched, well-sorted out, well-organized, got my files straight, got my ads going, two–60 cent cost per lead kind of chick.  

Yeah  

Are you worthy to claim to be an expert on anything? And the answer is absolutely yes. Because there is a huge spectrum between zero and ultimate, top-of-the-line, hero. Everybody’s along the spectrum.

You have knowledge to offer, just by showing up, and being active in your space, and being active in your industry. And participating in conversations and the process of improving your skill-set, of course, you have something to share.  

I mean the expertise, I think, is also a really slippery slope of who is allowed to have authority.

Yeah  

And I think a really fair question in terms of the profession. Like, if you’re claiming to have the expertise in biology and don’t have a degree, then you’re probably being a schmuck.  

No, it’s true!  

The hard science when we’re talking about things you need accreditation for and licensing.  

Yes!  

Like, that’s a really big difference from –  

Huge  

…copywriting and the arts. Can we talk? These are not equivalent.  

Yes!  

Not equivalent. So maybe the problem is the separation of this expertise. Because, like, I also get really uncomfortable when people are like, “You’re an expert.” I’m like, “I’m not an expert, but I know more than you.”  

You’re an expert though.  

And then (laughs)  

I’m not standing for that here off the jump. I’m not running a show with no non-experts, man.  

I think (laughs) hopefully. But it’s in a very specific niche, right. Like, I can be an expert in turning pro and I can be an expert in self-doubt and I–you know, like those kinds of things.  

Yeah 

But, when I think of expertise I think of did I write my dissertation on it? So no, and I’m not gonna claim that. The way we designate it now is like, have you been invited to many talks that you’ve given on the topic?

Yeah  

And that is like suddenly designates us expertise. Were you on CNN being a pundit about it? So like, as it relates to your feeling not good enough.  

Yeah  

I think context matters here.  

If you’re talking to a room full of people who don’t know what you know, and you have knowledge that could be useful, because you’ve read the books, and you’ve done the work, and you’ve been out there in the field watching this pattern happen.

And you have information that could help them, then yes! You know the things! I’m thinking in particular, actually going to the professions, I have a friend who is a medical doctor. And she was asked to teach a class, and she felt so unqualified, and I was like, “But you know the material!” and she’s like, “Yeah, but I don’t know how to teach”.  

Yeah  

And I was like, “You will figure it out!”  

Yeah, you should take your best swing, and that’s the thing. I think I love that question –  

You learn  

…do you know more than the audience? Do you know more than your clients? Like, congratulations, you are no longer an imposter. Now go teach your shit.  

Oh for sure  

Like that is so, it’s so, so important to recognize. Margo’s right. A hundred percent of my clients, students, and colleagues really do struggle with this. Just across the board. I was even having a conversation yesterday, with a gentleman who has 15 years of marketing experience – 

Wow  

…but somehow still feels like he’s not an expert enough to be a consultant. And so that is a really interesting thing, and I think imposter syndrome can act as a little bit of an excuse. Which is something that we will talk about in a moment. But, I think in my universe, where I had a lot of imposter syndrome was around, like, showing up and teaching.

That is the big one for me, because going behind the scenes and doing copy, I can Google stuff while I’m doing it, it’s like taking an open-notes test. But when I’m out there on stage, speaking, teaching, I gotta be (snaps four times) –  

Yeah  

And this was something that I really struggled with and I would be on stage shaking.  

Yeah  

I’m sweating, and just freaking out trying to read everybody’s faces.  

Yeah!  

Am I getting a reaction? Am I being funny? Am I being smart enough? Like, am I teaching them something they don’t already know? Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

And I remember, this was like one of the first one or two speaking things I did. This was probably back in like 2015-2016. And I just remember standing up there with my notes and I fucking froze.

It was horrendous, and I was just like (makes uncomfortable noise). And then as soon as the engine started going, it was a mile a minute. And I could, like, not stop talking. I was speaking so rapidly. 

And that was an outcome that wasn’t even the thing that I was afraid of. The thing that I was afraid of was nobody believing me, and nobody (laughs) thinking I was intelligent.

But really what happened was I psyched myself out so hard I seized up in the whole process, and I barely gave myself a chance. Like, fortunately, everything went okay. People loved the talk, it ended up being great. But, imposter syndrome can be such a powerful fear factor. But it often makes you prepare for the wrong, worst outcome. 

The worst outcome is ultimately not people necessarily believing you, but you not being able to share.

You blocking yourself from being able to share your knowledge.

Which brings us to the reality which is that there is no cure for imposter syndrome. There is treatment.

I think the reality is from imposter syndrome, everyone’s worried about it. We tend to wrap ourselves around it. We talk about it non-stop, but the reality is the only way to overcome imposter syndrome is to show up.

The only way out is through guys, and I think that’s such an important reality that we forget as we’re twisting ourselves up in knots, and giving ourselves a million reasons not to start, is unless we start we’re never gonna get out of the hole.

Yeah, let’s be clear here. You’re not gonna be good at speaking the first time you speak. 

You’re not  

You’re not gonna be good at writing the first time you write. You’re also not gonna be good on the 10th time and the 12th time and maybe even the 60th time. It’s usually – 

You’ll be pretty good by the 60th time  

(laughs) I think it takes about a hundred!  

Yeah that’s, 

You know!  

…Okay, that’s true. To be really, to be like expert, to be like a top-of-the-line speaker.  

And really proud of your stuff. Like, I look at my work and I leave up, oh my god, I hate saying this publicly, but like I leave up my old stuff because it’s a good humbling reminder.  

Yeah  

Of like what I thought was good then is so not what I think is good now. Because you evolve you learn, it’s like – 

Mhm  

…in speaking you learn to take away the “uhms” and in writing you learn to take away the adverbs and the unnecessary sentences, and the like, get to your damn point. And keep the reader going, and there’s things you learn to look out for that come with those repetitions and showing up, and we don’t allow ourselves to get there because, and I think this is where imposter syndrome also gets worse, and I want you to talk about Andre 3000. Because – 

Yeah  

…the better you actually get, sometimes it gets harder because you’re harder on yourself –  

Yeah  

…about what the outcome should be. So I know one of the hardest things for me was being called an expert on stage in marketing, but I was behind the scenes in other people’s businesses, so the second I started to show up for myself like I put up, that seems important –  

Mhm  

I was terrified because I knew that none of the CTA’s were right, I knew none of the headlines would be right because I was just experimenting. But it felt like all eyes were on me.  

Yeah  

And like, in the beginning, you sort of just have to play, like, you have –

Yeah 

…to give yourself room to have those good times, and I think we use that imposter syndrome as an excuse to not do something.  

Yep!  

Like, I’m not qualified. I’m not allowed.  

So it becomes, and it becomes glamorous because you get people posting, talking about this being like, “I still have my imposter syndrome. I’m so afraid, I can’t do anything, and I’m just gonna sit here and watch Netflix.” Like, convenient. If you want to worry yourself into never starting it’s very easy to do.

Yeah  

And I think that’s the reality. And I think there’s almost, like, an um, I don’t want you to judge yourself for having imposter syndrome because it is a universal experience. But, where I take issue, is when people are so wrapped up in the fact that they even have imposter syndrome, when it is literally the most common fear of creatives on the planet, that they’re using it as an excuse not to show up for themselves.

Not to grow, not to create, because if they take the risk of putting themselves out there, they are so afraid of that ultimate imposter outcome, that they do nothing. They do nothing for themselves, and they blame the imposter syndrome for being the obstacle in their way when, in fact, imposter syndrome is just a sign that you are doing bigger things.

You have a message that you need to share, and what your fear is around is whether or not it is going to be accepted. But the only way that you could ever know that, is if you show up and do the thing.  

We do not stand for imposter syndrome. We will not allow you!  

I will not let you turn imposter syndrome into a very sexy form of procrastination.

Yes!  

So, put that in your pipe and smoke it, America, and everywhere else that watches. And this is the thing that I want to remind you of too, is that imposter syndrome, you have to learn to deal with it now, because it never goes away.

Margo mentioned a Twitter thread I created about Andre 3000 and there was this quote in an article that he talks about where he’s basically, he’s been talking about putting out an album for a number of years. He’s been putting out features and snippets.

He was basically talking about how he’s not ready to put something out there right now. Like, he’s going into the studio, and he’s tinkering. But, he can’t commit to any project right now because everything he puts out gets hyper-analyzed and hyper-criticized, and he’s having trouble just figuring out what he’s supposed to be in the face of all this. 

And what I enjoyed about the–that honesty was first of all, wow.

No matter what level you’re at, or how many Grammys you have, or what kind of expert you are in your field, oh my god this is still a problem. Like, oh my god you still need your systems and equipment and weapons for dealing with it.

And it was so important for me to hear personally, and basically, his conversation was I’m just sitting down and trying to figure out who I am right now. Like, trying to figure it out.

One of the best lyricists and musicians and rappers like on the planet is struggling with this.

So, while I’m sure Andre will find his way out of the woods, I just want to remind you that you will too.

You are not alone and there is always going to be another step that is going to scare you, going to bring up these feelings. So, it is for the best that you figure out how to deal with this now, come up with your own systems and your own approach, and start moving through it so you can come out of the other side.  

Absolutely. One thing I want to leave you with, actually I’m gonna steal like an artist, from Seth Godin’s speeches that he’s been giving lately. If you guys want to Google anything he’s done on stage in the last year, he opens with “we’re all frauds”. And he’s like, “I’m a fraud”.

So, I think, for me, it’s a really helpful place to start. Especially as it pertains to writing. Because, one of the rules of writing is like, start with one true thing.  

Yeah  

There’s one true thing that you can say, and for me the times that I feel like an imposter, to me it’s an indication that I’m trying to be something I’m not. And the moments that I can pause and say, “Well what I can tell you is what I see”. So I write down –  

Mhm  

…what I see. And that is something that only I can be an authority on. And we can fight about it. Lord knows Hillary and I do, but it’s great and that’s what makes it rich, and that’s what makes it wonderful.

I think that as long as you’re not sitting there purporting to be an expert on something that you’re not, where it’s really off base. I mean, you know if you’re doing that. If you know when it’s imposter syndrome…  

Yep.  

…deep down, you know when it’s fear. Because fear feels scary,  

Mhm  

Versus the feeling of I am acting out of integrity.  

Mhm  

If you are like ugh, this is an ethical violation. Then maybe it is!  

Yep. (laughs)  

Let’s talk about that. 

I’m frantically Googling to fill in the blanks here.  

So I think we need to pay attention to those feelings.  

Yes.  

All right, so. As we look at imposter syndrome, the reminder here is that it’s that feeling that you are not worthy, that you are not qualified, that you don’t belong, that you’re not allowed to be doing the thing that you are doing. So there’s two ways we can go from this. One, are you allowed? What are you trying to do?  

Yep.  

Maybe you’re not. If you’re not a physician, and you’re trying to perform surgery, you are an imposter. But if you have been in marketing for fifteen years, and you are asked to give a talk on marketing, you’re gonna be just fine.  

If you know more than your clients or your audience  

That’s right.

You’re gonna be just fine. You’re gonna be just fine.  

Hang in there.  

So, we wanna hear all about your imposter syndrome. Tell us what you’re struggling with. Tell us where it comes up the most. Hit us up in the comments below, I am Margo Aaron.  

And I’m Hillary Weiss. 

You are watching HAMYAW. If you like this video, please like it below. Subscribe to our channel, and hit us up in the comments. We will see you in two weeks!  

You guys got this! The only way out is through!  

The only way out is through. 

Photo by Juliet Clare Warren

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