Last week I had the sublime pleasure and honour of speaking at a conference hosting 11,000 women engineers (with a smattering of spectacular dudes).
I spoke at three separate sessions. One for collegiates, one for senior leaders, and one for everyone. Each presentation was about the Impostor Complex. How it shows up in leadership, in transitions, and, frankly, in any place where we are required to grow, expand, and evolve.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times: I’m like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who can tie every English word back to Greek origins (including “kimono”).
I do this with the Impostor Complex - behavioural traits like people-pleasing, leaky boundaries, procrastination, perfectionism, comparison, and diminishment - I clearly and unwaveringly loop them back to the Impostor Complex like it’s my job.
In each talk, I shared the twelve lies that the Impostor Complex really, really wants us to buy into. Including “You can’t trust the praise of others.” (Which can also sound like “they’re just being nice.”)
I have a whole spiel on this. About how it’s really up for us people-pleasers. How we believe that we have charmed every poor sod into thinking that we are smarter, more competent, or more capable than we actually are.
And how when we believe this lie, our pesky integrity has to set the record straight by insisting on clearing the air. Pointing out all the flaws in our copy, sloppiness of our work, gaps in our logic, missed opportunities with our clients. Call ourselves out for the Impostors that we are.
I also shared a little snippet of an article that I had read on my flight written by a software developer about her experience with the Impostor Complex. As a transgender woman, she has legitimate concerns for her safety. Her teammates know this and keep a close eye on her when they leave the lab.
I do not exaggerate when I say, "I trust them with my life." Which sets up a little bit of cognitive dissonance. I trust these eight people with my life, yet I do not trust them to tell me when I've done a good job? How is that possible?
RIGHT? I know.
After each and every talk I delivered, there was lineup of people asking me about this specific lie. How to move past the belief that *everyone* is just being nice and then actually believe their compliments about the work and their capabilities.
You struggle with this too a little, huh?
I’ll tell you what I told them.
The Impostor Complex shows up with no small amount of arrogance. Making the assumption that everyone is just being nice is as impossible as it is dismissive of their intelligence and free will.
Imagine lining up every last person who has ever lifted you, advocated on your behalf, complimented your work, allowed you past the velvet rope of academia, gave you a great mark, review, reference, testimonial, tweet, bit of kindness.
Go ahead. Line ‘em up against that wall over there. Ran out of wall? Imagine a bigger wall. (Make it ‘uge)
Got them all there? See them looking at you with the kindness and admiration and respect that they feel for you?
Now. Deep breath.
What if you just believed them?
Your clients have done their due diligence. Your references have checked out. You passed the test.
You’re simply just not that good at fooling anyone.
Try this instead:
Dare to believe someone when they tell you how remarkable you truly are.
I dare you. And THEN say the two words feared most by the Impostor Complex: THANK YOU.