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Meet the critics

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.


climbing back into the box

climbing back into the box

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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.)

 


Mean People Suck

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She was maybe six years old when she said it. Young enough to not necessarily know what "suck" meant, but old enough to know that it fit the bill. The age at which I ought to have called her out for her language. But her eyes... her eyes were so filled with hurt and confusion and pain that I let the PG-rated near-curse slide and made a silent prayer to take all the pain and hurt and confusion from her so she wouldn't have to feel it. But more importantly, that she wouldn't have to know the truth that she already knew:

Mean people suck.

In truth, I can't recall how what happened next. If I offered any advice or simply a soft place to land. (I hope the latter.)

I was thinking about this last Thursday night when I went to see Amy Cuddy speak here in Toronto. You've likely seen her TED talk on power poses and the body-mind connection.

Her new book speaks to what lives on the other side of the coin of power. If powerlessness is HERE, we would surmise, powerfulness (why is this not a word?) is THERE. Not so. She says it's presence, which is quite appropriately the name of her book.

I respect and admire her work (and HER presence) and reference both in my work on the Impostor Complex, so I was delighted when asked to hear her speak and then join her party for dinner afterward.

My date, a talented and big-hearted columnist who has received more than her share of vitriol, and I often talk about handling snark and trolls and she was curious to hear what Amy had to say on the matter.

Similarly, during speaking gigs where I walk people through my Step into Your Starring Role process (and we "meet the critics"), I usually get asked about how to handle everything on the wide spectrum from critics to asshat bosses to haters. (Happened again on Saturday when I spoke at an event for 70 women in engineering - and a couple of brave dudes.)

So when Amy was asked a question from the audience about how to deal with people in power who try to subjugate you and make you feel powerless, we both leaned in. (Get it? Impostor Complex humour.)

"Don't try to out-alpha the alpha dog," was Amy's response. AND:

"Stand your ground (literally and figuratively). Try to stay open. And above all, if at all possible, try to find a touch of compassion for them."

Simple, smart, sane, and challenging. Of course. How could it not be challenging?

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all approach. But I have yet to come across another way. It's generally a feel-your-way-into-it variation on:

  1. Feel what you feel.
  2. Know who you are.
  3. Try to imagine why they do what they do. (They generally know not what they say, nor do, nor their impact.)
  4. Integrate what you need (from their criticism - assuming we're not talking about trolls - and release the rest.
  5. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and love your lovers.
  6. Try to find a bout of gratitude for the teachings they have offered in their own inimitable, asshat-esque way. (You know, like, I'll NEVER manage anyone like that.)

A day or so after my then six year old's declaration about mean people, I circled back and asked her how things were working out with that grade school meanie.

"Fine," she said, entirely unruffled. "She is still calling me names, but I'm not going to let it bother me."

"How are you managing to do that, love?" I asked.

Well, you can imagine how my heart swelled when she responded with:

"My power is my happiness and no one can take that away from me."

You heard that, right?

NO ONE.

All love,

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For more, I recommend Maria Popova of Brainpickings curated this wellspring of resources on managing haters. Specifically: Benjamin Franklin’s trick for handling haters, Vi Hart on how to tame the trolls, and Daniel Dennett on how to criticize with kindness.

 


The only difference between you and the woman you admire...

The only difference between you and the woman you admire is the fact that she decided she was ready. (You know the woman I mean. The one who's getting it done. Getting it right. Getting it.) She decided that she was ready to release the binary narrative of the Impostor Complex (that decreed if she wasn’t a complete success, then she was a dismal failure).

She decided she was ready to step into her starring role.

She decided she was ready to step into herself.

And her path wasn’t silky smooth. Sure, there were some gifts from the heavens. But moreover, it was challenged with twists and turns and shadows and doubts.

Her readiness precluded turning and her desires were bigger than her fears, so she asked her fears what they were here to teach her and she kept on going.

She gathered support when she needed it, putting past her life-long abhorrence of asking for help. In her travels, she came to recognize the gift she was offering the world in stepping into her starring role. And that she wasn’t required to go it alone. Not by a long shot.

When here were gaps in her ability, she filled them.

She kept going. She kept going.

When she got where she wanted to go, she rested there. She celebrated the decisions, the choices, the learnings. She recharged and she integrated.

option-14And then she decided that she was ready for the next quest.

The only difference between you and the woman you admire is the fact that she decided she was ready.

And worthy of meeting her desires.

Step into Your Starring Role registration opens Monday March 17. Get on the list for a super sweet registration bonus.

Ready?

 

 

Dear "Who, me?"... We're through.

Dear “Who, me?” – Hello old friend. I’d love to say it’s good to see you again, but this letter is about being honest. So, I can’t start with an untruth. I’ll start here instead.

We’re through.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ve been a faithful and loyal companion. Every time something wonderful has come along, or an opportunity has landed in my lap, or I’ve been complimented, you’ve been there with me, by my side. How do I know? Because beneath your veils of innocence, you’ve always delicately but clearly asked:: “Who, me?”

Oh, I get it. You’ve wanted to keep me humble. You’ve wanted to make sure that I’ve stayed on my game, never resting on my laurels…whatever that looks like. Your seemingly innocuous “who, me?” does a magnificent job of taking the wind out of my sails. It’s a mighty wind, but you’re truly powerful. You with your wide doe eyes.

I know that you’re just one member of the Impostor Complex clan that lives in my being. I know your kin:: “I’m not ready”, “I got lucky” and “they’ll find out that I’m a fake soon enough”. Your sweet softness masks the sharpest edge though, “Who, me?”.

At my best, I remember to receive compliments with the two words feared most by the Impostor Complex :: thank you. At my worst, YOUR two words send me back to the recesses of my insecurities. To dark places. Who, me? indeed.

If I sound fed up, it’s because I am, “Who, me?”. I truly thought we were through a while back. I thought you’d packed up your bags and moved along.

But when Ronna said she was traveling across three time zones to spend the weekend earlier with me this month, I heard you in the arrangement-making conversations. Your whispered “who, me?” echoed her every response.

Me:: What do you want to see while you’re here? Ronna:: Just you. You:: (Who, me?)

Who do you want to see? Just you. (Who, me?)

What do you want to do? Be with you. (Who, me?)

YES. Me.

You’ve been a steadfast teacher. You keep sending me to dark corners of my self to show me where there is lack. To keep my God-given light hidden from me…the very light that others can see so clearly. But it’s through your work on me that I can actually see that my mind, my heart, and my light are quite enough to bring all of the joys that I desire in this life.

And I can see this::

Going into darkness is not a reasonable response to joy. twitter-bird-tiny-blue

It’s that light that brings me the opportunities, grace, acknowledgments and gifts that I desire. And so it’s standing in that light that I will hold my arms wide open to receive.

I’m coming to see you. We’d like to interview you. You got the gig. Write the book. I’ve wanted to work with you for years. I made this for you. I love you.

YES. Me.

So, yeah. We’re through “Who, me?”.

I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and I release you. May you transform into a kinder, more compassionate way of teaching. And may the outcome of your work be the same:: that the next person you visit be empowered to stand in their light and to root deeply and firmly into YES. Me. For good.

So long,

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++++++++ This post is part of the Let it Go Project: a collection of stories leading up to a beautiful releasing ritual, hosted by Sas Petherick on the 30th of January. All the details for this free event are here. Be inspired by other posts in this project, and share what you are ready to let of of on the Let it Go Project Community Page. For good.