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Assembling your cast

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you out of Action. Don’t let it.

This is the third article in a three-part series about how the Impostor Complex works. The first one lives here. The second lives here.

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I’ve been sharing how the Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone, isolated, and doubting your capacity. Separately felt, they are hard to be with. Compounded, they have the effect of keeping you out of action, which, unsurprisingly, is the Impostor Complex’s third main objective.

Keeping you out of action. Even (especially) the action you want to take. The action that will get you closer to your desires. The action that will prove to you that your tenacity is no joke. The action that will help you break your own status quo. The action that will have you reclaim your agency. The action that will change everything.

Yeah. The Impostor Complex is NOT a fan of change. So it lays down the internal dialogue tracks that are the lies of the Impostor Complex:

This self-doubt must be proof that I’m inadequate (so I won’t take action).
I have nothing useful or original or important to say (so I won’t take action and say the thing).
I’m not ready yet (so I won’t take action until I’m 1000% certain I’m ready).
It’s just a matter of time before this all crumbles beneath me (so I won’t rock the boat and take further action; laying low is my safest bet).

AND when you DO pull something off that is Impostor Complex-defying, it guttersnipes that you’ll never be able to pull that off again, don’t bother.

The Impostor Complex insists on perfection. It insists on pristine conditions. It insists on certainty. And it insists on zero-risk.

TWEET THIS

The One-Hit Wonder gave into the Impostor Complex. That’s what happened there.

The Impostor Complex insists on perfection.
It insists on pristine conditions.
It insists on certainty.
And it insists on zero-risk.

And I know I don’t need to tell YOU, my friends, that perfection, pristine conditions, certainty, and zero risks are not available to us. Never have been.

So, to keep us out of action, it has us doubt our capacity and keeps us alone and isolated.
See how this system works?

And once again, this is going to present in one’s life in a number of different ways, depending on which behavioural trait has its hooks in you you identify with the most. (Not sure? Take the quiz here.)

Each IC Behavioural Trait works on keeping you out of Action in its own unique and inimitable way.

If you’re a people-pleaser, you are likely to opt out of action lest it pisses some people off. (YOUR people? Unlikely. But you may be worried about everyone else.)

If you have leaky boundaries, you may hold back from taking action until you have the assurance that everyone’s on board. (And “they” never really are, are they?)

If you tend to compare, you may be waiting for the space to clear out by others in your field before you can claim the space for yourself. (But of course, you know by now that the space is yours to make, then yours to take.)

If you tend to diminish, you are unlikely to take the action that makes the waves and draws attention to yourself. (This is it’s own special kind of hell. On the surface, you are functioning at a high and enviable level. Which is the problem, right? It’s that envy that you feel directed at you that keeps you from the more that you desire with all that you have. Yes, yes. I know, friend.)

And finally, the two behavioural traits DESIGNED to keep you out of action: perfectionism and procrastination.

Procrastination with its heady blend of distraction and analysis which collude with perfectionism’s discernment and insistence upon impeccability and unreasonably high expectations that are not commensurate with the job at hand.

No wonder you haven’t jumped in fully.

YET.

Facing our fears

So why? Why do we do this? Why do we (allow ourselves to) stay out of action when we can see so very clearly what’s going on?

Not surprisingly, it’s complicated.

And to suggest that not taking action is SIMPLY a choice you aren’t making is reductive and dismisses the complexity of your life. There are power structures at play that can and will either liberate OR limit ideas, actions and outcomes.

That’s just true.

So our job then MUST be: find out what’s in the way.

Usually? It’s fear.

Now, before you settle in for yet another coach’s “mind over matter” rah-rah speech that is reductive and dismisses the intricacy of fear circuits in the prefrontal cortex, allow me to be clear.

Fear — in spite of clever acronyms like “False Evidence Appearing Real” —  IS REAL.

And like someone shared in the Starring Role Academy this past week:

"To be fearless isn't really to overcome fear, it's to come to know its nature." — Pema Chodron

So when we feel and ARE stopped in our tracks, I think there is massive value in getting into and under what’s in the way.

Because there IS something in the way.

Else you’d be moving forward, right?

Right.

So we must get clear what is here.
To be able to clear it out.

Meet the Critics.

When you are finding yourself blocked, stopped, and not taking action, make a list of every reason you can’t DO it.

Every last reason you’ve heard in your head that has you believe (on ANY level) that you don’t have what it takes to step into your Starring Role - be on the stage, be an authority, write the book, switch gears - say YES.

Then parse through. Sort them into two categories:

Realistic Objections or Inner Critics

Is this a realistic objection? Is there an actual roadblock that is in the way or a person stopping your ascent? A qualification missing for the posted promotion? A gap in your understanding that needs to be filled before you can legitimately proceed?

Or is it an Inner Critic that holds a limiting belief that is singularly focused on keeping you from action?

Here’s how to tell which is which:

Realistic Objections (i.e. “You don’t have business training to start your own business.”)

  • Makes definite statements, but has time and space for what’s possible

  • Points out limitations that point to actions/solutions

  • Planning for a workaround resolves the objection

  • Are typically logistical in nature

  • Expanded sense of excitement (“what if” energy)


Inner Critic Objection (i.e. “You’re not smart enough to start your own business.”)

  • Makes definite statements with little room for nuance

  • Not interested in possibility, problem-solving, or action

  • Persistent and repetitive

  • Aims to shut things down and sabotage your forward motion (hence its other name: “saboteur”)

  • Often has a contracted quality of defeat (“why bother” energy)

  • May take on the tone of someone in your life who may be an actual critic of your actions (and it knows how well you rise to this kind of criticism)


There is a myriad of ways to deal with Realistic Objections. Every last objection is an invitation for a solution to be engineered. Again, as ever, as always: Simple, not easy.

As for the Inner Critics, well, for us to get past, we need to get UNDER what they are here to tell us. I suggest you listen deep in what I call the Tantrummy Toddler exercise found here and find the 2% of value that those critical voices are offering you.

And of course, you may be dealing with an ACTUAL critic of your desire to take action; if so, listen up.

For those who are critiquing your action: do you respect, admire, and trust their opinions? Would you trade THIS SPECIFIC aspect of your life with them? Perhaps they are offering you valuable, conscious critique. Your job is to discern what is true and valuable TO YOU. But NOT defer to those set-points of people-pleasing and leaky boundaries. As you do with the Inner Critic, see what gold is available to you and proceed from there, trusting in YOUR capacity. (See why this work is so foundational?)

I want to be stunningly clear again:
I’m not talking about bullies in your life.
Or the ones who try to teach you to play smaller so they can play bigger.
The ones who tell you that you don’t belong in the lab.
The ones who will step on you to rise above.

No.

At ‘best’, those are mean people who suck. At worst, they are perpetrators of harassment who need to be called in and called out. Gather your people to help with that. That’s what HR is for. That’s what mentors are for. That’s what your cast is for.

But once we know what we are dealing with, then we can deal with it.

And deal with it, we must.

Our job IS to take action.
Our purpose depends on it.

Action creates confidence. Not the other way around.

TWEET THIS

And, friends? There is no way around this truth.

Action creates confidence. Not the other way around.

To paraphrase Pema:

To be unshakeably confident isn't really to overcome the Impostor Complex, it's to come to know its nature.

Just like fear, the Impostor Complex has a job. We can't cut it out from ourselves. But we can choose better.

Simple. Not easy.

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you out of Action. Don’t let it… (with care).

And one final note.  When you finally DO the thing that matters so very deeply to you? Once you’ve gathered your cast and bolstered your authority and TAKEN the action? I beg of you: DO not berate yourself for how long it took. Because, it doesn’t matter what took you so long.

You’re here now.

And that’s everything.


Ready to name your Imposter Complex and Step Into Your Starring Role?

Enter your information here to receive the (mostly) weekly Friday Finale from me in your inbox, and my gift to you, Imposter Complex 101: Four short videos to prompt you to think more deeply and clearly about how the Imposter Complex wants to keep you playing small—and how you can fight back.

The Impostor Complex wants to keep you alone

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.


Ready to name your Imposter Complex and Step Into Your Starring Role?

Enter your information here to receive the (mostly) weekly Friday Finale from me in your inbox, and my gift to you, Imposter Complex 101: Four short videos to prompt you to think more deeply and clearly about how the Imposter Complex wants to keep you playing small—and how you can fight back.

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.

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.