The two words feared most by the Impostor Complex


In my over-preparation for my TEDxWomen talk, I found plenty of resources speaking to the prevalence of the Impostor Complex in academia and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. (Refresher for you on the impostor syndrome:: it’s that enduring feeling that it’s just a matter of time before everyone finds out that you’re a fake.) For the sake of efficiency, let’s just say it strikes MOST of us. If you have high standards for yourself, a desire for excellence and a value of integrity, I suspect that at one time or another, you’ve felt its power over you. And it IS as powerful even when it presents as innocuous.

It can look something like this.

You are told:: You are so committed to your yoga practice. It’s awesome and inspiring. You respond:: Yeah, well my handstand is a train wreck.

You are told:: This pasta is exquisite. You respond:: Naw, I put in too much salt.

You are told:: You are my go-to when I have a style question. You respond:: What? I’m a sloppy mess.

You are told:: You’re a really great writer. You respond:: Ach. My sentences are fragmented.

When we undercut, diminish and dismiss what we are being offered as the gift of acknowledgment, that’s the handiwork of the Impostor.

Why do we do it? SO.MANY.REASONS. Here are the ones flaring off like fireworks all around me lately::

  • We want to be in integrity and make sure that everyone has the “full story” about us. (Lauren Bacon wrote an excellent +  robust piece about recognizing the difference between expertise and infallibility.)
  • We are perfectionists not actually content with ANYTHING until it’s good enough (“for whom?” is the real question here).
  • We cannot perceive the real value of our contributions (especially if we're "naturally gifted" and haven't suffered for our art).
  • We have been raised to be humble above all else.
  • We are superstitious. That by accepting ownership over our excellence, we’re jinxing ourselves.
  • We do not want to commit the crime of outshining (fabulous term coined by Gay Hendricks).

I have so very, VERY much to say about all of those reasons. 

But for now…

The next time someone dares to see you and share with you what they see in you, in your contributions, in your abilities, instead of showing them where they’re wrong (they’re not) try saying this:: 

Thank you.

That’s it.

Thank you.

No more, no less.

Thank you.

Neither discount nor deny their gift of acknowledgment. Just as you wouldn’t find fault with a present given to you from the heart, so too should you not find fault with the acknowledgment. Accept it with the grace that only “thank you” affords.

And

The Impostor Complex despises this because you are, in two words, owning (or, at least, for the time being, BORROWING) the truth. You are doing good.  Full stop.

Added bonus

Train your brain to say those words and you’ll be sending sweet synaptic love notes to your subconscious with this immutable fact:: that you ARE worthy of praise and acknowledgment.

Because you are.

Sure, it’s possible that your handstand, pasta and sentence structures could use a little more attention. (Which is awesome news for you and your high standards…you get another turn up the upward spiral called life in pursuit of excellence).  But for this moment, this very moment, rest in the knowledge that you, your yoga practice, your pasta, your style, or your writing has moved, delighted, or even inspired someone. Saying Thank You locks and loads it.

And THAT is excellent.

+++++

Sign up for updates about the next run of my Step into Your Starring Role program. We’ll be tackling the Impostor Complex head-on so we can finally step into all that we deeply desire. It’s time.

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