In today’s rebroadcast we are revisiting a topic that I still get asked about every single week: Fear of Success. So let’s dig deeper: What is it? Once you've identified what you're really afraid of (hint: it's probably not “success”), how do you overcome it? That's what we'll cover today.
In my experience working with creatives, what looks like “fear of success” is usually a fear of something else:
Fear that you need to have the kind of “success” other people want … which doesn't appeal to you at all.
Fear that you'll change into something you don't like
Fear of being seen, noticed, paid attention to
Fear of being overwhelmed
Fear of disappointing others (when you're so overwhelmed you can't fulfill expectations)
What if I’m not good enough? What if they call me a fraud? What if everyone figures out I don’t know what I’m doing?
Hello, this is Imposter Syndrome and girl, we all deal with this all the time. So in this week’s episode we’re going to look at what it is, what it means, and how the heck to move past it.
Guess what? I’m 233 episodes and 4 years into this podcast and I still worry I’m not good enough. I got a bad review earlier in the week I’m recording this, my first ever, and I thought: Yes, they’re right, I’m not good enough.
Thankfully I thought through how I’d talk to a client about this and I realized, “Wait, hold up! This is imposter syndrome.” I hopped on Instagram and sure enough, you all feel this all the time. In fact, I did a little question pop-up on my Stories and got more responses to this than anything else I’ve ever asked. You guys told me you wanted to know: What the heck is it? Does it mean anything? And above all: What can we do to get over it?
I think Wikipedia actually explains this really well:
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.”
What does it mean when you feel it?
It means your human. That you are challenging yourself to do things beyond what you used to do, so you worry you’re not good enough, because you haven’t “proved” it to yourself and others yet. Or you have proved it and you’re just not giving yourself credit for it.
In other means, it doesn’t mean you should stop. It is not a “sign”.
How do you get rid of imposter syndrome? How do you deal with it?
Recognize that you’re feeling it and that you’re not alone
First, you have to recognize it for what it is. This step alone can dramatically change the impact Imposter Syndrome has on you. Because by naming it, you realize it’s a way of thinking (that is very common!) and not FACT.
How can you start recognizing it?
Notice when you are backing away from something or stressing about something. Ask yourself – why am I afraid right now? What am I afraid others will say?
Then, say to yourself: It’s ok to feel this way, it’s ok to be afraid, I can do it anyway.
Just asking the question “why am I afraid” will often show you that you’re afraid of…
Someone calling you a fraud
Someone judging you
Not being good enough
Failing because you’re not good enough.
THAT is Imposter Syndrome.
In other words, it’s not necessarily true that you will be “found out’ or that you aren’t “good enough”, you are just afraid that you’re not good enough. There is a big gap between being actually bad at something and being judged to be bad at something.
Good news: JUST naming it can help reduce the effect of Imposter Syndrome!
An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. So seriously, you are NOT alone.
In a 1978 paper, Pauline Clance and Suzzanne Imes first identified Imposterism, in their paper Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving women (linked up below). They also found that “the realization that they were not the only ones who experienced these feelings” relieved the feelings. They concluded that “simply extracting the self-doubt before an event occurs helps eliminate the feelings of impostorism.”
In other words – recognize the feelings and realizing you’re not alone helps eliminate the feelings!
Grow your self-worth
Do you minimize the value of what you’re great at?
Yeah, most of us do, because it comes easily to us, we think it doesn’t matter.
But it does. And if you devalue what you’re good at, you’re going to think you’re not worth much.
In times of high Imposter Syndrome, do a few things to boost your feeling of self-worth:
Start keeping a list of what you’re good at, what others compliment you for.
Keep a folder full of nice reviews/comments/etc
List all of the times you were new at something and succeeded.
List times you failed, but were fine anyhow.
Reframe your reasons to intrinsic motivation
Researcher Queena Hoang found that moving your reasons for doing something from external motivation to internal motivation, lessened the Imposter Syndrome. She published her results in the paper The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming Internalized Barriers and Recognizing Achievements.
What does that mean? Change your reasons from “I have to do this” (external) to “I want to do this for me” (internal).
Some other examples:
“If I want this business to succeed, I need to keep going.”
“I know I can do it.”
“I am doing this for women everywhere.”
In fact, it’s this last one that helped me overcome my recent flash of Imposterism. I realized that if I let reviewers who don’t like my voice silence me, then I am telling all of you, the world at large that you should be silenced if people don't like you. Which is pretty much the opposite of what I believe. I believe everyone (and women and communities who have traditionally been silenced) should share their voice, their art, their expression, whether others approve of it or not. That we should not be silenced by the critics.
So next time Imposter Syndrome rears its head, look at what listening to it will communicate to your children, your friends, the world at large. Will you send the message that you have to be perfect before you can succeed? Will you communicate to our daughters that unless they have unshakable confidence they can’t go after their dreams?
Uh, no. So move forward, honey.
I hope these strategies help you overcome your Imposter Syndrome, but above all I want you to remember: You can feel like an imposter and do it anyway.
You don’t have to get rid of it completely, but learn to be able to act even when you do feel it.