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Impostor Complex

The two words feared most by the Imposter Complex

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Chances are, if you are a high-performing woman, you have experienced Imposter Complex at some point in your life and career — maybe at lots of points in your life and career. 

Remember, Imposter Complex is that enduring feeling that it’s just a matter of time before everyone finds out that you’re a fake. 

And you are not alone. 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 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 a gift of acknowledgment, that’s the handiwork of the Imposter.

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. 

  • 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 believe it is part of the work we are meant to do to unpack the whys behind our Imposter Complex so that we can move past them more quickly and easily when they arise so that we allow ourselves to step into our starring roles. 

Which is why I created the Starring Role Academy, as a place to learn and experiment and trust and lean into the work that will allow you to call out the Imposter Complex’s BS, build your own foundation of unshakeable confidence, and decide that you are ready enough to name and claim your starring role. 

Want to try it out…?

I have a simple baby step you can take right now, today, to feel what it feels like to stop diminishing, stop letting the Imposter Complex dictate your responses, and put one small baby toe towards stepping into your Starring Role.

Ready (enough)?

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 gift 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.

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.

When you try it this week, will you share it with me?  If you’re feeling bold, post about it on Instagram and tag me @TanyaGeisler so that I can celebrate with you! If you’re feeling tender, send me a private message on IG and we’ll have our own, private celebration.

Either way, take half a moment to celebrate the noticing and the shift. It’s more powerful than you might think.

And if you like the way that feels? You’re going to LOVE the next iteration of the Starring Role Academy. Click here to get on the VIP list and be the first to know when enrollment opens again.

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.

TWEET THIS

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.

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.