I hear a lot of people struggling with imposter syndrome lately.

Everyone I know seems to be grappling with it, even if they (in my opinion) have no reason to feel like this. But in many ways it’s unavoidable. Our online profiles are meticulously curated, our Instagram feeds are shimmering perfection, and our LinkedIn profiles are all bombast and grins.

As a result, we presume everyone else has their shit together except us. This is statistically impossible (and, as we all know deep down, a total lie), yet we fall for it continuously.

Guy in a suit

Not me, but probably the kind of guy I’m supposed to want to be.

I’m no stranger to this syndrome. It held me back for years, and sometimes I still struggle with it.

Last year, I wrote about it on Facebook. I said I felt like I was so far from the success I always imagined I would become that I didn’t even feel like I deserved other people’s attention or affection. That admission wound up being one of the most-discussed things I’ve ever posted. Dozens of friends and acquaintances messaged me to let me know that A) I was being too hard on myself, and B) they also felt the same way most of the time but were too afraid to admit it.

Comparing ourselves to everyone else’s expertly–edited highlight reel is bound to make us feel like trash. Luckily, admitting that we’re looking at ourselves all wrong is the first step to fixing it.

The problem is, most advice on how to fix it kind of sucks.

When you look for tips on how to get over imposter syndrome, most gurus all seem to offer the same answer: “Fake it til you make it.”

This sounds easy enough, but there’s a catch.

The problem?

Faking it isn’t the same thing as you actually addressing the reasons why you feel like an imposter and finding a way to improve upon them. Instead, you’re just pretending that your issue doesn’t exist.

A Better Way to Stop Feeling Like an Imposter

How imposter syndrome feelsIf you suffer from imposter syndrome, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either you suspect that everybody else must know something you don’t, or else you don’t actually believe you’re any good at what you’re trying to do. In both cases, you’re hyperfocused on your mistakes and shortcomings rather than appreciating what you do well.

We feel this way in large part because society lionizes success, not improvement. That’s tragic, because success is always temporary. And yet many of us spend our lives chasing a never-permanent image of success, which is a recipe for a lifetime of neurosis.

So, here’s how to solve both causes of your imposter syndrome at once:

Focus not on reaching Any Particular Goal, but on your own incremental success along the way.

By focusing on learning instead of “arriving at success” or “avoiding failure,” you’ll shift your idea of what being “good” at something means.

How? Because your idea of success will always be relative.

Whether you have a good or a bad outcome from any given experience, you’ll still be learning from it, which makes every experience valuable.

Most importantly, the more experience you have, the less flustered you’ll feel when you’re in a new situation. Instead of not knowing if you can do Y, you’ll have already done Y in a variety of past situations. That means you’ll be more confident that you can do Y in a new context.

Plus, the more you do, the more people you’ll meet along the way.

Your network is a crucial part of curing your imposter syndrome, for two reasons.

First, if a lot of people DO know something you don’t, you’ll learn from them as you go and close that knowledge gap. Second, if it turns out you know something that a lot of them don’t, then they’ll see you as an expert on that topic. That proves you really do know what you’re doing — at least compared to those who have less experience than you.

When you focus on adaptability and resilience, you won’t have a reason to feel like an imposter anymore. Instead, you’ll be building competence, which is the whole basis of confidence.

And you won’t have to fake it til you make it, because you’ll actually be making it, step by step.

But Wait… Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Sounds Like Work

Yeah, it is.

Banksy in Boston, by Chris Devers

Well, more like “deferred until we get there.”

We live in a world where you can always reinvent yourself tomorrow, which is cool. But it also means that we tend to expect an instant fix to any problem we encounter.

But that’s not how experience, growth, and satisfaction works.

The truth is this: confidence is attractive because it’s a sign that you have the experience to solve the problems that arrive, and the resilience to adapt if things go wrong (or if you temporarily fail).

Confidence is what causes you to walk and talk like someone who knows what they’re doing.

When you’re confident, your body language isn’t subconsciously expressing worry and unease because you’re less likely to be surprised or embarrassed. And when you’re less worried about what could go wrong, you can’t help but exude confidence.

But when your confidence is based on experience, it won’t be an act; it’ll be earned.

You move differently when you’ve been there before.

Faking it til you make it sucks, and it shows.

Do the work.

Get better.

The only real imposters are those who are so afraid of failure that they’d rather pretend they’ve already made it then ever even try.

If You Like This Post

… then you may also enjoy this post about why we all have the same tragic flaw, or this post about how to live your life in a no-bullshit zone.

How to Live Your Life in a No-Bullshit Zone


Justin · October 5, 2017 at 11:51 am

Thanks, Owen. Maybe a better maxim would be “fail til you make it.” There’s nothing wrong with failing, as long as we learn from it along the way. Good luck on your new business!

owen · September 30, 2017 at 4:47 pm

thanks for the article. i’ve been using this phrase “fake it til you make it” for the last month or so as i’m trying to start a new architectural photography business. i had to laugh when i read the title. i should probably stop saying this to friends as i’ve been lucky enough to generate some good contacts and thus increased business with some big companies. I’ve always been afraid of failing all of my life (i’m 50)and it’s probably the reason i’ve been stuck most of my life. I’ve had a successful career being a PGA teaching professional but not much growing has been happening from a personal standpoint. I failed a few times in starting this new business, but it’s just forced me to continue to learn about what I need to do to make this successful. It’s a very exciting time for me. look forward to reading your other articles

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