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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. They are your CAST.

Assemble the Cast

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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It doesn’t matter what took you so long.

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My poker face is lousy. I mean, really, REALLY lousy.

When a client or someone whose hopes and dreams I know intimately shares with me that they did something spectacular, I can’t hold my excitement in.

“How fantastic! You did the thing you’ve been wanting to do for such a long time!”

Now, after ten years of being a professional leadership coach, you’d think that I would know better.

Can YOU spot the trigger words in: “How fantastic! You did the thing you’ve been wanting to do for such a long time!”?

You get partial marks if you guessed: “How fantastic." Only partial credit because this is most unique for people-pleasers who think I’m just being nice as they would be. (Hint: I’m not. I no longer have time for that.)

You get FULL marks if you guessed: “You did the thing you’ve been wanting to do for such a long time!”

While I’m genuinely excited for their accomplishment and wanting to root into celebration (which is the only way to truly lock in accomplishments), they want to go ahead and bypass that and hang out in the “Damn. She’s right. It did take me too long.”

You’ve heard that too, right?

You finally get to the other side of the pivot or launch or ask or hire or creation or sale or award and, though there may be an immediate surge of dopamine, it is swiftly followed by:

“What took you so long?”

Hands down, this is THE LEAST HELPFUL of all of our Inner Critic questions and it shows up just on the other side of a breakthrough. To be clear... our breakthrough of THEM. But like death and taxes, you can count on it showing up.

And the truth is, there are a thousand reasons that it took as long as it took. I mean, of course it’s possible that you were colluding with your Impostor Complex by hanging out in procrastination or perfectionism. And you can make yourself as wrong as you want for that (you get to choose).

Or, and just hear me out on this: maybe it was something else.

Maybe on some level you knew it wasn’t safe. (I have more to say on this in this week’s Friday Finale - you can sign up for those emails below). Maybe you were subconsciously fearful of who you would piss off. Maybe you hadn’t done sufficient analysis. Maybe you took exactly as long as was needed to do this the way it needed to be done. Maybe you weren’t actually ready for reasons you may never, ever, ever know.

Any of these statements could be true. And probably another hundred.

But I’m here to tell you the bottom line:

It doesn’t matter what took you so long. It just matters that you’re here now. (tweet this)

And let us celebrate you.

You did the thing.

Fin.


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Down with Diminishment

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Of all of the behavioural traits that present themselves when someone experiences the Impostor Complex - that is to say: people-pleasing, procrastination, perfectionism, leaky boundaries, comparison, and diminishment - it’s DIMINISHMENT that comes up most often in my clients, readers, and audience.

Diminishment is the way in which we consciously dim our light. Dumb our message down. Take up less space. Play smaller. Avoid displaying actual confidence at all costs.

I suppose this should come as no surprise to me given the evocative language I use in and around “Stepping into your Starring Role." It’s INTENDED to be a calling forth of those hiding ever so slightly in the shadows off-stage.

Which is to say... YOU.

Diminishment is a nice and safe way to avoid feeling like an Impostor. No one can call us fraud, charlatan, or cast us aside if they can’t see us, right?

To be certain.

And of course, it doesn’t just look like staying off the metaphorical stage.

When you tell me that you were so lucky that the universe sent you the perfect designer, I will remind you that YOU made it happen. YOU took the chance and went on a coffee date and were open and willing and transparent. That YOU have built up a reputable business through tenacity and with excellence that anyone would be thrilled to be a part of. That YOU did your due diligence and knew what the market would bear and made the ask, even as you feared rejection. But yeah. Sure. It was the universe.

When you tell me that you are having a hard time filling up your Yum and Yay folder because “they’re just being nice” with their praise, I will remind you that nobody has time to just be nice like that and if they sent you a lovely thank you card because you helped them find a new way forward with the problem that they have been grappling with that MAYBE, JUST MAYBE you ought to dare to believe them when they tell you how truly remarkable you really are. In fact, MAYBE, JUST MAYBE you ought to take their words and add them to your testimonials page for the world to see truth.

So yes,
Diminishment looks like discounting others’ praise.
Diminishment looks like downplaying our successful decisions and wins.
Diminishment looks like handing over credit where credit isn’t due.
Diminishment looks like hiding behind your clients.
Diminishment looks like a crisis of presence.
Diminishment looks like the opposite of sovereignty. (This is informed by a sacred conversation in The Starring Role Academy lead by my dear friend and guest teacher, Ronna Detrick.)

Now, you have good reasons for hiding your glory from us, I am certain.

Maybe you have experienced the pain of the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Maybe you have seen, far too often, the good person corrupted by the limelight.
Maybe you have experienced the sting of online haters and trolls.
Maybe you have committed the Sin of (Out)Shining.
Maybe your strong value of humility fears getting it wrong and having to eat humble pie.
And speaking of pies, maybe you’ve been told you’ve already had too much pie.

If you want to come out from behind the shadows and take the stage with your message, your vocation, your calling, it will be worth every moment of tension.

TWEET IT

But if you want to come out from behind the shadows and take the stage with your message, your vocation, your calling, it will be worth every moment of tension.

It will involve you being brave enough to confront the reasons why you stay out of action and the resistance that is keeping you from what you say you want.

It will require you to look at all you have done, without the red pen of editorializing and discounting the efforts you’ve made and the outcomes you’ve created.

It will demand that you not go this alone. It will mean you will gather your people, assemble your cast, bring your fans in close, and trust in them. But, above all, it will demand that you trust in you.

Like we say in The Academy: More pie, please.

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Getting Right With My Heart

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After my dad died, I made some promises to myself.

I’m excellent at keeping the promises I make with others but don’t have the best track record with keeping promises to myself.

So, it's no surprise that “keeping the promises I make with myself” moved to the top of my promise list.

The second promise I made was to get into right relationship with my heart and begin treating my heart with the same reverence and care that I give to others.

Revolutionary.

And, in truth, it’s a curious time to explore it, what with grief being seventeen thousand kinds of messy.

It’s hard to know which way’s up and which way’s down. And it’s hard to know if I can trust my emotions. Hard to know if I can trust my heart.

But that... right there - that’s the lie I’ve been telling myself:

That I can’t trust my heart.

It’s my HEART that should be mistrustful of ME.

I’ve ignored and shelved and bartered and negotiated and bypassed and done everything BUT listen to my heart in more ways than I care to admit over the past couple of years.


So, to get us back on the same page - what this has meant (so far in any case), is that I need to listen to my heart when it summons the courage to ask me for something. And offer it what it desires freely and enthusiastically and reverentially. Nomaddawhat.

Also revolutionary.


It’s Valentine’s Day and my heart asked me to write this to you. So I did.

Take some time and space to love into your own heart today, will you?

Listen to it. And honour it above all else.

You’ve only got this one.

Treat it like the source of all things sacred that it is.

Because it is.


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For the Moment That Has You Question Your Bravery

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You were brave. You remember, don’t you?

No? Okay. Here it is. You were brave:

when you stayed.

when you left.

when you said, "No, but let’s try this."

when you said, "No, never."

when you said, "Yes, thank you. More, please."

when your wave to the cool kids wasn’t returned (and still, you kept your head high).

when you kissed the ground (even though you wanted to shake your fist at the sky).

when you stood up.

when you stood down.

when you kept writing, speaking, teaching, singing, preaching, going.

(even though...)

when you danced with the shadow (but didn’t go to second base).

when you were so worn out, but made it count anyway.

when you wore your heart on your sleeve (it SO brings out your eyes).

when you believed.

when you trusted.

when you knew that you knew.

when you raised your hand.

when you took the high road (and not just for the panoramic views).

when you didn't feel so hot in the bathing suit, but swam in the grace around you just the same.

when you made your dreams your mission.

when you shelved your dreams for someone else’s (though you’ll never do THAT again).

when you tossed your limitations into the volcano of your desires.

when you committed to your life.

when you kept your promise to others,

when you kept your promise to yourself.

when you kept your promise to your soul.

when you trusted how it felt (not how it looked).

when you kept showingupshowingupshowingup (even though the duvet beckoned).

when you forgave (REALLY forgave),

when you decided to stop deferring to others.

when you decided that enough was enough and that you were enough (oh, that was a good one).

when you risked it.

when you risked telling someone they matter.

when you decided it wasn’t too latebut also that it wasn't too soon to just.get.going.

when you chose collaboration over competition,

discernment over decisiveness,

generosity over guarantees,

curiosity over certitude.

when you tapped yourself in.

when you switched gears (even though everyone was watching).

when you chose to love.

when you chose joy.

and, when you chose you.

So, you see? Every.single.day. you keep showing it. You keep showing us.


This Thursday, February 1 at 2pm EST,
I will be live on Facebook talking all things bravery. I hope you'll join me.


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