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Impostor Complex

Waiting for Your Big Break May Break You

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Big Breaks can make life easier. They feel like ginormous affirmations that we are really on the right path to THERE. They are universal winks of “I see you Kid…and it is good”.

So of course, we want ‘em. Bad. We yearn for them.

The tweet that will change your trajectory.  The windfall of grace at just the right moment.

But have you ever had a Big Break and felt a bit, erm, empty? Like: THAT was what I’ve been waiting for?

Or, have had the Big Break and then felt like you’ve fumbled it. That it was the ONE CHANCE and there will never, ever, EVER be another?

Or, possibly even worse, leveraged the Big Break but then never really allowed yourself to feel good about it…’cause after all: you “just got lucky that one time”, or: you “didn’t really deserve it”. (And THOSE, my friends, are two of the many calling cards of the Impostor Complex.)

Or, waited until the Big Break came…only to never have it show up.

Oh. Did you just feel that in your chest? Me too.

Waiting for the Big Break may break you. It may break your spirit. It may compromise your belief in YOU. Your genius. Your sacred gifts.

Know what’s a much, MUCH saner way?

It’s not sexy, and you’ve heard it before, but here goes:

Commit. Do the work. Get good.

Fairy Godmothers, silver bullets, magic pills, lottery windfalls…listen, I’m not going to tell you that they don’t exist. Because they might. Because they do.

And sure, leave a little white space for magic, serendipity, and chance, but waiting for them to show up as part of your strategic planning? Mmmmm, no.

Write. Immerse. Run. Bake. Practice. Teach. Expand. Fail. Sing. Train. Redirect. Preach. Sell. Pitch. Ask. Rehearse. Speak. Draw. Coach. Paint. Bead. Dance. Learn. Deepen.

Again and again and again. Imbue it with your truth, your heart, your integrity and your authenticity.

Practice isn’t about making something perfect; it’s about making something possible. – Justine Musk

And...

...look up from time to time. Take your own breaks. Make your own breaks. Revel in your commitment. Notice how far you’ve come. Breathe in your good. And then get back to it.

You are required to show up. And in that way, the universe DOES see you. And it IS good.


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.

Don’t confuse getting noticed with being seen.

Getting noticed is a wonderful feeling.Rousing, actually. A wake-up call to our capacity and maybe even our impact.

It’s that: “Hey, what you’re up to is attractive, alluring, enticing. I want to come a little bit closer.” It’s the raised eyebrow, wink + nod of “you’re on the right path, Love.” It’s the first step. It’s the foot in the door. It’s important.

It’s also fleeting. It does not endure. And it requires us to deepen in. To activate. To make it count.

Diminishment and the Impostor Complex

It’s a funny thing.

When people are faced with the different behavioural traits of the Impostor Complex — that is to say: people-pleasing, procrastination, perfectionism, leaky boundaries, comparison and diminishment — it’s DIMINISHMENT that most people come around to eventually. It’s a one-two punch. They may initially identify as a people-pleaser or a perfectionist, but upon further digging, what tends to often be in the way of getting their great work out in the world is diminishment. (If you haven’t ID’d what might be in your way yet, check out this quiz here.)

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Diminishment is about hiding out — dimming your light — to make others feel comfortable, and in doing so, convincing yourself that you're not actually worthy of shining anyway. Diminishment is the way in which we dial our brilliance and our message down. Take up less space. 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 minimizing our extraordinary work...because it’s “just what we do...it’s not special.”
Diminishment looks like a crisis of presence.
Diminishment looks like the opposite of sovereignty.

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

Maybe you have been burned by loving yourself out loud. (This is particularly acute for folx who are marginalized by the dominant culture.)
Maybe you have seen, far too often, the “good” person corrupted by the limelight.
Maybe you have seen… or have even inadvertently participated in the canonization to demonization of someone.
Maybe you have experienced the pain of the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Maybe you have experienced the sting of haters and trolls.
Maybe you have committed the Sin of (Out)Shining.
Maybe your strong and glorious 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. “Be satisfied with what you have, Sugar. It’s greedy to want more.”

There is no quick and easy hack to any of this. Trust me. I know.

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

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

It will involve you being brave enough to confront the reasons 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.

Do you diminish? Not sure?

Click here to take the quiz and discover which of the behavioural traits is holding you back the most from having unshakeable confidence.

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.

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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 you to doubt your capacity. Don’t let it.

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


We’ve established that the Impostor Complex is trying to keep you alone and isolated.

But, ironically, that objective rarely works alone; more often, it interplays with the second objective: The Impostor Complex wants you to doubt your capacity.

Which sounds like:

“I’ve never done xyz, so I can’t do xyz.”
“I just got lucky with that win.”
“They’re just being nice when they tell me I did a fabulous job.”
“I don’t have anything useful to add to the conversation.”
“I’m not ready yet.”

Lies...every last one. (Trust me… even if you could argue the case for any of these extremely well, I’m certain I’m right about this.)

Back in 1978, when Clinical Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes were studying the Impostor Phenomenon at Oberlin College in Ohio, what they noticed at its most BASELINE was:

“Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.”  The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.

In other words, folx who experience the Impostor Complex dismiss their success and overidentify with their failures.

In other OTHER words, the Impostor Complex wants you to doubt your capacity.

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You’re running a scam on everyone...you’re not super sure how. But you know it’s working — for now. And, tick tock, it’s just a matter of time before this all crumbles beneath you.

Now, 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 Colludes with Doubting your Capacity

If you’re a people-pleaser, it’s pretty much a given that you will discount the praise of others, when they tell you you’ve done a good job, or when they invite you to step up and lead. I mean, they don’t mean what they’re talking about, right? They’re just being nice, after all. (No...actually, they’re not.)

If you have leaky boundaries, you may shelve what you think you know, what you THINK you are capable of, in favour of others’ perspectives, which erodes your confidence in your knowing even more.

If you tend to compare, you know all you’ve done will never quite stack up to what others have done. Or you may despair that you’ll never be capable of what you see others doing. (30 before 30 and 40 before 40-type lists are notorious for causing these reactions!)

If you’re a perfectionist, you know all you’ve done will never quite stack up to your impossibly high standards of what you OUGHT to be capable of.

If you’re a procrastinator, every second you spend staring at that blinking cursor erodes your belief that you know what you’re even writing in the first place.

If you tend to diminish, welp… doubting your capacity, or at least DIMINISHING your capacity is the name of the game. Don’t shine too bright, or you’ll be cut down.

It is my true and deep desire that you know that all of these behavioural traits, in and of themselves, are not problematic. We are social beings, and so the relational focus on comparison and leaky boundaries makes perfect sense. People-pleasing and diminishment have deep roots in survival. Perfectionism and procrastination are two sides of the same coin: the desire for excellence and the resistance to that expectation.

Perfectionism and procrastination are two sides of the same coin: the desire for excellence and the resistance to that expectation.

TWEET THIS

But when these behavioural traits keep us alone and isolated, doubting our capacity, and out of action? That’s when it’s an issue. Which brings us back to this time and place. To be certain, there is oh-so-much more to be said on all of this. An entire books’ worth, in fact. (Coming soon to a bookshelf near you.)  

No matter which behavioural trait is keeping your belief about your capacity at bay, the best and only way to wriggle free is by deepening into the TRUTH about said capacity.

Simple, not easy.

There’s another factor that shows up when the Impostor Complex is jonesing to have us doubt our capacity. It will have us FURTHER DISCOUNT the value of our contributions if we feel they came too easily to us. As though there is a direct causal relationship between the effort expended and the merit of the outcome. It lives inside of a Puritanical need for value to equal sweat equity. It likes to negate alllll the work that got us to this place of good work which affords us a quality of ease that comes with practice. Writing. Experience. Learning. Failing. Calibrating. Because that is the investment you’ve made in building your capacity.

But for the IC, it doesn’t count.

So we need to make it count.

The Impostor Complex wants you to doubt your capacity. Don’t let it.




Go Inside First

We need/must/are required to look long and hard and close at the TRUTH about our capacity.
This requires us to KNOW ourselves.
Our strengths, our values, how we do what we do.

And uncomfortably, this means we have to look at what we have DONE.

Oh, how we resist this. How we resist looking at the proof of what we have accomplished.
The reason is simple.

The ego wants to want more than it wants to get.

That’s just true.

And still. Your job IS to do an analysis of all you’ve done. In my line of work, we call this Bolstering your Authority Thesis.

When was the last time you listed every.single.thing you ever did brilliantly well? Every.single.thing you delivered, sold, created, influenced, decided, authored, won, crafted?

When was the last time you listed every.single.thing you have survived? Every.single.thing you have healed and fixed and released?

Yes, I’m talking about that grade 7 science fair project and the time you asked for the business and the time you raised your hand and the time you claimed what you knew and the time you overcame THE THING and the time you had the hard conversation and the time you risked the heartbreak and the time you called them in and the time you did NOT tolerate it and the time you broke the record and the time you chose you and the time you did not back down and the time you got back up and the time you said yes when you meant it and the time you dug deep in spite of the fear and the time they recognized you but you realized the recognition of your self was more valuable. All those times. And then some.

When was the last time you did that?

Oh… you haven’t ever?

And why not?

I’ve already named it as the work of the ego above… so there’s that.

Celebration offers us the chance to remember that there was once a time when you believed what you have just done was not possible.

TWEET THIS

And ALSO, we struggle with owning up to our accomplishments because we don’t PAUSE in celebration. We don’t rest in celebration to integrate the hard work. We’re on to the next thing. Wanting to want, not wanting to get.

Celebration offers us the chance to remember that there was once a time when you believed what you have just done was not possible.

So yes. Get every.single.thing you’ve ever done written out. Keep on writing until you have run out of paper then buy another ream. You’ll know when you’re done.

Remember all the times that you decided to jump and discovered that the party was indeed on the other side of resistance?

TWEET THIS

And on an on-going basis, track your wins. All of them.

DAILY.

Because in doing so, you are building a new narrative. One that celebrates your resilience and tenacity and helps you to recognize all the times you've stood in your doubt at this very precipice of your desires. Of expansion. Of a breakthrough.

Remember all the times that you decided to jump and discovered that the party was indeed on the other side of resistance?


Get Outside

And ONCE you’ve done that internal analysis of your capacity — or, in other words, realized that you are a badass — THEN you have a fighting chance of believing people when they tell you that you are truly remarkable. (I highly recommend you believe them. It’s simply the arrogance of the Impostor Complex that has you disbelieving them after YOU’VE already done the analysis.)

But I repeat: you MUST go inside before you can receive what others on the outside are telling you. And when you’re there, gather it alllll up. The reference letters, the sweet tweets, the cards, the emails. Gather it all up and hold the sacredness of accolades as true. Feel the gift of the acknowledgments and notice how the doubt of your capacity starts to melt away.

You did things.

All the things.

And there are oh-so-many more things for you to do.

The Impostor Complex wants you to doubt your capacity. 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.