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Assembling your cast

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The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated. Don’t let it.

This is the first in a three-part series about how the Impostor Complex works. Make sure you’re signed up to my list to receive the next two.


Of the three primary objectives of the Impostor Complex, the one that seems to cause us the most suffering individually and collectively is this:

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated.

The other two objectives: keeping you out of action + doubting your capacity are also exceedingly damaging, to be certain, in that they preclude you from getting your brilliance out into the world. On the stage it deserves. That YOU deserve. But those objectives don’t seem to churn up the suffering in the same acute way that this one does.

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated. Don’t let it.

TWEET THIS

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated.

Yes. It does an excellent job of that.

This often results in you feeling like you are the only one who experiences the Impostor Complex. Even as your entire Instagram feed seems to be ripe with pithy quips about how “everyone” experiences it. Quips that feel satisfying in the moment, but can’t quite seem to scratch the deep itch you feel about just how alone and isolating the experience actually feels. Maybe even my own pithy quips.

Let’s be clear: the truth is there is no one who experiences YOUR exact, particular brand of Impostor Complex. It will be as unique to you as your DNA, your conditioning, and, most of all, the intersections that you inhabit and the way you are perceived and TREATED by the dominant culture.

And there may even be times and places in which keeping quiet about your experience of fears HAS KEPT YOU SAFE.

I’m holding that space wiiiiiide open for you. In the months to come, my relaunched podcast will be focusing squarely on some of these intersections with experts who KNOW those places intimately well, in ways my white, able-bodied, cis-gender self cannot speak to.

So, what I want to say here NOW is there is no one size fits all solution.

But. AND.

When we ARE dealing singularly with the Impostor Complex, it’s success requires it to keep you alone and isolated. To keep you quiet in your suffering.

I’ve been ironing out the edges of my thinking on this for years and I think I’ve landed the plane on how it has gained such fabulous traction.

Desire for Connection AND Independence

As my reader, I know a couple of things about you. Connection is a strong value of yours. Very strong. (I see you.) AND? So is independence. You like to do things YOUR way. Sometimes these two values are in tension. (How’m I doing?)

You crave the connection, the belonging, but feel if you ASK for it, it makes you appear weak. Or you feel you will not get the support you desire. It’s complex, to be certain… so why bother? Suffering in silence won’t hurt anyone.

Except you and your activation.

The Myth of Individualism

“We” bought into a myth of individualism that doesn’t actually exist. My thinking on this is very much informed by the brilliant mind of Nilofer Merchant and her body of work on Onlyness. In a recent article that invites us to consider the three questions: “Who are you? Whose are you? Who am I for?” she names it as such: "American society tries to isolate the question to the first one, “who are you”, celebrating a kind of individualism that defies all logic.”

But the truth of it, she goes on to say, is this:

“We do not exist in isolation. We do not conceive of ourselves in isolation. We are social.”

Precisely.

So when we buy into the Impostor Complex’s lies that try to keep us alone and isolated, in particular Lie #12 — asking for help is for suckers — and Lie #5 — you must not tell anyone about this — we are colluding with our confirmation bias that seeks to prove, on the regular, we are alone, we do not belong. No one gets us. No one cares.

The paradox, of course, is this:

NOT asking for help and NOT naming the fears KEEP you in the stasis of the Impostor Complex. And keep you from your top value: CONNECTION.

I call bullshit.

If the Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated? Don’t let it.

When you experience the Impostor Complex, I want you to NAME it.

To the whole world? Naw. There are indeed people who do not endorse, nor support your activation. And worse.

You’ve seen it.

You’ve felt it.

You’ve been cut back and down.

You’ve committed the sin of (out)shining.

So, nope. Do NOT name it for the whole world.

But name it for YOUR people.

Because as I’ve said, hundreds of times in thousands of words, in front of thousands of people and from every stage, in every conversation and interview:

“YOUR people want you to succeed. Let them help you.”

This is my most fundamental belief.

How do you know who YOUR people are?

I have yet to come across a more searingly clear rubric for discerning who YOUR people are than the poetry of nayyirah waheed from her book salt.:

some people
when they hear
your story.
contract.
others
upon hearing
your story
expand.
and
this is how
you
know. 

Yes. Here’s to the Expanders in your life.

The ones who are not afraid of your power.
The ones who are encourage you to know your self.
The ones who encourage you to show yourself reverence. 

THEM.

They are your people.

Call them in.
Call them forth.
Tell them when you are struggling with the Impostor Complex, or any one of the six confidence killers it presents with.
Allow them to reflect back to you your brilliance, your radiance, your shine.
Dare to believe them when they tell you how truly remarkable you are. 

And then say the two words the Impostor Complex hates above all others. Thank you.

 In a recent MarieTV episode on the subject of the Impostor Complex, Marie Forleo champions calling in your #fraudsquad.

I call those same people your cast, and I sure am grateful for the cast I’ve assembled for the production that is my life and my work.

Because it’s like Michelle Obama said:

“We all have to find the people who believe in us”

I know who to turn to when I am feeling the spectrum of comparison.

Or when I am having a tryst with diminishment.

Or when I’m stuck in perfectionism.

Or I’m out of integrity with my boundaries.

I may be fortunate... but not lucky.

Assembling my cast has been my JOB. And it’s yours too.

Because it is an illusion that I need to go any of this alone.

In fact, it is nearly impossible.

I’ve tried.

And I’ve failed.

And I’ve learned.

So yes.

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone and isolated. Don’t let it.


Next week, I’ll be drilling into the second objective of the Impostor Complex. The one that has you doubt your capacity. Like, when you downplay your successes and chalk them up to luck, fluke or timing… you know the drill. Then be sure to sign up to my list below.

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Ready or Not: Expansion, eclipses, and throwing your limitations into the volcano of your desires.

"'Come to the edge,' he said.
They said, 'We are afraid.'
'Come to the edge,' he said.
They came.
He pushed them.

And they flew."

- Apollinaire

My father loved to tell the story of how he learned to swim.

 

Long ago in Karlsruhe, Germany, my dad was a 6-year old tagging along with his big brother on a date. They had ridden their bikes to the Rhine River and my uncle was big-talking to his sweetheart about his swimming prowess. (Neither my father nor my uncle knew how to swim at this point, though my father really wanted to learn).

My dad called him out on it, to which my embarrassed uncle responded with brute big brother energy. He ripped the tire off of his bike, wound it around my father a couple of times, blew the air back into it with his hand pump, and chucked him into the river.

(Sidebar: I ought to be horrified by this, but I’ve known this story my whole life and can only ever see it through the animated filter of Bugs Bunny.)

He floated, of course. Bobbing alongside my uncle and his nonplussed girlfriend. And pretty soon his arms and legs caught on.

Ready or not, he learned to swim that day.

One event that had the same effect on me was watching a full lunar eclipse. I felt like I was walking along and someone hurled me into frigid waters.

I bobbed along in shocked disorientation for a while, then my arms and legs caught on and I began to swim.

Maybe you feel it too. Have any world-changing epiphanies doused your reality? Do you feel the rug coming out from under you? Are you rethinking EVERYTHING you’re doing in a current venture? Are your rethinking EVERYTHING period?

Yes, yes. You’re in excellent company. And now that the dust has settled (for now), you may be grappling with what's next. Like, what to actually DO about it.

I have seen what is next for me in my business. And it is huge and bright. And try as I might, I cannot unsee it.

(And why might I try to unsee it? Because the brilliance is blinding. Same reason we always try to dim the light.)

But it’s here. Because although I feel like I got chucked into the Rhine unexpectedly, I’ve been yearning for this expansion - dreaming of it, praying for it, conjuring it.

And, ready or not, it’s here. And it’s hungry.

So this past week I’ve been feeding it a steady diet of my limitations. For every “I can’t” and “I don’t know how” that has shown up (and there have been plenty), I’ve been hurling them into the gaping mouth of the volcano of my desires. (The ensuing lava flares and fire fountain I envision are Bugs Bunny calibre.) In with the limitations go old habits, beliefs, and stories.

It’s not always this easy. Except when it is.

And then I breathe into the space that just created.

If you’re on the precipice of your desires, whether you’ve thoughtfully and carefully navigated your way there, or you’ve been thrust into them by cosmic intervention, trust that your legs and arms will carry you. You will learn to swim. But to actualize your expansion, you will need to lighten your load.

Ready or not, there are many more eclipses on the horizon.


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On sacred socks, and bursting baskets. (Or, honouring what we say matters most.)

Tanya Geisler - Instagram Graphics - Nov 17.png

The other morning, I woke up from a sweet sleep and had something I needed to write down.

Maybe it was for you.

Maybe it was for me.

But I’m pretty sure it was for all of us.

I’m standing in a house I don’t recognize, talking to a woman I don’t know.

In her arms she holds a wicker basket of clothes. The basket is overflowing with clean laundry.

She’s struggling to keep the basket level, but even as I ask her if she’d like me to share the load or suggest that she set it down, she shrugs me off and instead asks me what I do for work.

 

I say succinctly, "I help people find the parts of themselves that they have dropped along the way. The parts that, when reintegrated, make them whole."

"Oh," she says, "That sounds good and important. Sacred work."

"It is," I agree earnestly, "And I am so deeply honoured to get to do it."

I notice that she has dropped a pair of socks.

I bend down to pick them up. "Here you go," I say.

"Oh, thank you. Those are my favourite socks. They were given to me by my beloved great-aunt, may she rest in peace. Feel how soft they are. Cashmere. They are my luckiest ones and make me so happy when I wear them. I honestly can’t live without them."

I reach over to add them back to her basket, but they slip off again.

"Can you hold them for me?" she asks, "I just can’t seem to keep them in my basket."

"Sure," I say.

We chat for a while longer. Me holding her socks. She holding her basket of clean clothes. I see generic white tube socks poking out. Tube socks that aren’t tied to her ancestry. That don't bring her luck. That aren’t part of her soul. They may be functional, yes. But they are not essential to her joy.

And then I have another thought.

"Honey?" I say. (By now we're close enough for me to call her "honey".) "I’m pretty good at holding these socks. Haven’t dropped ‘em once. But here’s what I’m wondering: wouldn’t it be better if you held onto them? You love them so. Maybe you could put the basket down, reorganize, take some stuff out, and make some room for what you say is important."

"That’s a good idea," she says.

And that’s when I woke up.

I woke up to the fact that those socks are your writing. Your calling. The parts of your soul that want attention.

The things you want to claim that you know are deeply important to you. That you say are deeply important to you. The things that no one else has any business holding on your behalf.

We know, of course, that the holiness isn’t in the tube socks. The holiness isn’t even in what you say you want. The holiness is in owning up to what you say you know and want and doing right by it. In claiming it.

And that’s our job as visionaries, change-makers, and leaders.

Your job. My job.

To honour the things we say we want. The things we say are important.

We visionaries, change-makers, and leaders do not allow our gifts to slip through our fingers into the waiting hands of others who could not, should not hold that which is intended for us and us alone.

Put the basket down, honey. Make the space. And tend to the socks.

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PS – Deep bow of thanks to my soul-sister, the visionary Amy Palko for helping me process this dream.

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Anne Lamott and the Impostor Complex

There she was in her dreadlocked glory. The truth-telling trobairitz from San Francisco, pissed off at the customs border lineup here in Toronto. (She called it the “punishment line”.)

Riffing with her signature reverence to (and irreverence about) faith, creativity, grace and surrender, Justin Trudeau, what Jesus would think of duct tape (spoiler: she thinks he’d dig it), and doing your anger, doing your grief and doing your life. It was an evening honouring Henri Nouwen, beloved theologian, and writer of deeply respected texts. Namer of the "God-shaped hole" and "twilight of your soul".

She was fabulous. Of course.

She’s Anne Lamott. A name synonymous with fabulous. But what makes her so fabulous? Her unflinching ability to stand in her authority.

Even as she called herself out for feeling like an impostor on occasion. Talking spirituality under the soft and kindly gaze of Nouwen's projected images. With nuns in the audience. Lots of them. She noted that ALL creatives feel like impostors from time to time. Well, you KNOW I couldn’t agree more. Creatives and parents and spiritual teachers and students and leaders and and and.

But you know what else I heard her say?

That she has made peace with her Impostor Complex. Not that she has surrendered to it, nor has her 62 years on the planet made her magically impervious to its sting.

No. I heard that she, whether consciously or not, uses the three strategies I speak to all the time when it comes to dealing with the Impostor Complex. The three strategies that EVERYBODYtalks about when it comes to dealing with the Impostor Complex, whether consciously or not.

It's like this. Overcoming the Impostor Complex starts with breaking it down into its three essential elements.

1) Our Impostor Complex tries to set us up for failure – meaning that its goal is to keep us out of action.

Solution:

Meet the critics head on. External AND internal.

We see Anne doing this all the time. On social media. In her writing. She speaks to her process. Her insecurities. She names her pain and opportunities for growth. And finds out what her critics are here to teach her. This is deeply wise.

2) Our Impostor Complex has us question and doubt our capacity.

Solution:

Show yourself what you CAN do. (You have done so so much.) Bolster your authority thesis. Track your wins. What have you delivered, sold, created, survived, healed, won, finished, saved, fixed?Believe you're a badass.

She is clear about what she has done. She is clear about the places in which she is masterful. She is confident in her authority. Sure, the critics may get her down. She is Anne Lamott, after all. (And YOU…are YOU. Blessed be.)

3) The Impostor Complex likes to keep us alone and isolated. Like no one else could relate to us and our fears and worries.

Solution:

Get social. Assemble your cast. Plant the seed and watch your people show up.

There they were, in the front row. Her people. Cheering her on. The same people she told us that “prayed on” her when she was in a puddle of tears in the customs line. She told us what I tell you: Ask for help. And ask again. Your people WANT you to succeed.

Overly simple in theory, perhaps. But oh so worth it to do the work. Bottom line is this: if Anne can do it, if I can do it, and if SHE can do it, then I promise, you can too.


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climbing back into the box

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climbing back into the box

Tanya Geisler - Instagram Graphics - Nov 18.png

Remember Paddington Bear?

The marmalade-loving, welly-wearing bumbling sweetheart found by the Browns at Paddington Station with a “please look after this bear” note?

Yeah. He was my main squeeze. Literally. I was given him at the age of five. Maybe six.

I loved that he was soft and gentle and sartorially splendid in said yellow rubber boots (that you could actually take off!),  jaunty red bush hat and blue duffle coat. I loved that he loved elevenses and enjoyed two birthdays a year, “just like the Queen”.

But most of all, I loved our adventures.

We had a big cardboard box that transported us everywhere. We'd fly to the mountains of Nepal, the badlands of South Dakota, the outback of Australia and the moon. Obvs. At the end of every adventure, we’d cry “tally ho to Darkest Peru”. (Neither of us knew what the hell it meant. Which was more than fine.)

It felt cruel and unusual to hoard such delight from my loved ones, so Paddington and I would often reenact our adventures on the stage that was the living room after dinner.

Into the box we would climb and regale (ahem) our audience of friends and family with the sights, sounds, smells of our escapades and keep them rapt with our witty repartee (he was the naïve sillyheart to my sage straight man). And, always knowing how to keep ‘em satisfied, we’d ask them to shout out where they’d like us to go next. To Marrakesh! To Mimico! To Miami! And we’d see what we could see and get ourselves into scrapes, as only a bear and a little girl in a box could.

When it was clear that the audience had had too much of a good thing (my mother's wrap it up gesture and the guests' glazed-over countenance were the telltale cues), we’d “tally ho to Darkest Peru”, take our bow and retreat to my bedroom where I’d remove his boots, hats and coat (long since lost), and we’d rap about the performance and plan for the next day’s adventures.

In short: my parents were the most excellent kinds of parents.

They fostered my uniqueness, encouraged my creativity and celebrated my desire to express what was mine to express.

They engendered in me an inherent belief that whatever was being created in that box was good and valuable and worthy of witnessing. No matter how rambling, drawn out or, if I’m being brutally honest, entirely aimless it was.

I was worthy of their time and attention.

I’m thinking about my mother in advance of mothers’ day, as I always do. Missing her and her unconditional love. And I’m thinking about the kind of love my father had, and still has for me. And feeling completely and fully blessed.

And. This.

Even with the creative colostrum of support they nourished me with at such a young age, somewhere between that last “tally ho” and now, I had lost that innate sense of worthiness. I started to believe that there were rules I would never be able to fully grasp. That I was missing the heart of the artist. That it wasn’t my job to do. That creativity was for others.

Somewhere along the line, with the compositions, then essays, then theses, then proposals, then pitches, then video scripts, then sales copy then editorial calendars, then posts all written from a deep and earnest desire to be useful and helpful and heard, I lost the delight, the flutter, the adventure and the wonder I felt in that box, with my beloved bear by my side.

No where is this more apparent than in my book writing process.

I currently have 63,129 words written for my book on the Impostor Complex. Good, thoughtful, smart, helpful, useful, insightful words.

Words that defend the answer to the question: Who am I to write this book?

(The question is both internal and external. Agents want to know. Publishers want to know. But more viscerally, my own Impostor Complex wants to know, sneeringly derisively in the asking.)

So yes. Every last word is good and smart.

But I’m writing them from the wrong place. I’m writing them from my bubble.

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It’s from my BOX that I need to write from.

Back to where I knew that innate sense of worthiness.Where I knew the enduring power of what’s possible.Where I knew that my heart had more to say than my head.Where I knew that joy wasn’t a nice-to-have. It was everything.

So that’s where I’m going now. Climbing back into the box. Ditching many of the 63K words and starting fresh.

Undefended. Leading with my creativity. Knowing that this is where the magic happens. And where there is magic, there is flight.

(Say hey to my newest writing partner, and oldest pal, Paddington.)

 


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