Is it safe to be real? When tackling the Impostor Complex feels unsafe.

Those of us in the self-development space mean well. (I reckon that’s the first time I’ve ever said I’m in the self-development space, but y’all know I’m writing a book and if there’s one thing Big Publishing loves, it’s titles… but I digress.)

We really do. Or at least, I operate under the assumption that those of us in the self-development space mean well.

And in that meaning well, we can do harm. You know I’m talking about that chasm between impact and intent.

I am certain I have done harm when I have said things approximately (or quite literally) like:

Believe in yourself!
Take up more space!
Shine up!
Be bolder!
Step into your Starring Role!

I believe in those things. I want those things for you. Truly and deeply I do. And… they are insufficient.

If you’ve been around for any amount of time, you know as a Libran Leadership Coach, I am a little more than preoccupied with seeing the both AND of things. That life is not happening in the extremes, but rather in the spaces in between. I tend to see and dream in nuance. Frustratingly, I speak in nuance too. What others may perceive as wishy-washy, I assert to be discernment.

But maybe that doesn’t always come through. Because “ALWAYS,” I mean...isn’t that one more extreme? (See what I did there?) Even last week’s article: The answer is almost always: bring more of you, the “almost” in the title was an intentional linchpin word.

And here’s what I want you to know.

The Impostor Complex is highly concerned with you belonging. Or not belonging. Which is a fundamental need. Refresher: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs goes like:

  1. Physiological needs

  2. Safety needs

  3. Belonging

  4. Esteem

  5. Self-actualization

So it follows that you need to feel safe before you can feel you belong. And you can’t feel the fullness of your esteem and confidence until you feel you belong.

So… we can see how unhelpful it is when we see and say:

Believe in yourself!
Take up more space!
Shine up!
Be bolder!
Step into your Starring Role!

...in response to a crisis of the Impostor Complex variety.

Out of context — and it’s all about context — these are not simply incomplete directives because they don’t offer up a HOW. They are incomplete directives because they belie the reality that for some, it may simply not be safe to do so. Or it hasn’t been safe to do so up until now. And maybe it still isn’t.

In this instance, these confidence hacks are insufficient. This is not simply about shifting your mindset. There are real structural and systemic forces at play here.

So here’s what I want to offer up. Another lens.

It’s true that when I see diminishment and/or comparison and/or perfectionism and/or procrastination and/or leaky boundaries and/or people-pleasing running the show, I suspect that the Impostor Complex is in the house and I want to make sure you’re not hiding out in those coping mechanisms.

But/AND the ORIGIN STORY of those behavioural traits… may be that they come from your second most basic need: safety.

Diminishment is an entirely appropriate response if you have ever been targeted.

Comparison meant you always knew how you were stacking up. And how to modulate accordingly.

Getting it perfect may have meant you were spared some kind of punishment.

Procrastination meant you delayed getting it wrong.

Leaky boundaries meant you could shape-shift to fit into hostile environments.

Pleasing the people who hold power over you is just deeper wisdom keeping you safe.

See why these are such hard(wired) habits to break?

I sure do.

Let’s pause here and breathe together.

I see you.

And I am sorry.

I am sorry for every time you have endured a reductionist rah-rah quote that didn’t attend to the complexity of your lived experience and the emotions you endure.

Truly, I am sorry.

And I want to offer a little tenderness to those painful places.

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What if…

Diminishment meant you valued humility.

Comparison meant you valued connection.

Perfectionism meant you valued excellence.

Procrastination meant you valued discernment.

Leaky Boundaries meant you valued generosity.

People-pleasing meant you valued inclusivity.

What then? What if these glorious aspects of you were not something to be fixed but rather to be calibrated… and then, maybe even, with time and care, to be celebrated?

What then indeed.

Maybe they only become a PROBLEM when we allow them to shut us down. To stay out of action. To doubt our capacity. To stay alone and isolated. And THAT’S when I’m a hard NO on your behalf to these behaviours.

When those behavioural traits are getting in the way of your good work. Your leadership. Your art. Your movement. Your activation. We need to call them out. That’s just true.

When those behavioural traits have been speed bumps on the road of your expansion, we need to know how to circumnavigate them.

But maybe we don’t need to eradicate them. Because they are PART of you. The discernment is in knowing when they are born of a good place and when they are getting in the way.

So I just want you to know why they’re here and for you to adjust your route—knowing why and where and WHEN they tend to show up. (Psst… usually on the precipice of your desires.)

And when the whole world wants to trivialize just how remarkable you truly are and you are prepared to buy into it, I will indeed remind you that you are made of stardust… you are literally the stuff of stars.

That much, I am certain I am right about. Without exception and without apology.

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The answer is almost always: bring more of you.

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From the moment I landed the plane on the language that I currently use around my process: “Step into your Starring Role,” I have had to defend it.

Most people hate it.

“I don’t want the spotlight!”
“I don’t want the stage.”
“Stars are egomaniacs… why would I want anything to do with that?”

And yet, yet, there is something to it.

Because folx stick around. They stick around and they read my words and they work with me and I am forever and truly and deeply grateful that they do.

And I’m stubborn, it’s true. But given how vociferously folx argue with me about the language, I’ve always wondered why I haven’t let it go for the ten years I’ve been using it.

It wasn’t until last week when I invited Nicole Lewis-Keeber to teach inside the Starring Role Academy and she had us consider what our younger selves wanted that I remembered.

Settle in for story time…

When I was six, I was in the church Christmas pageant. I wanted to be the Angel. Not Mary, but the Angel. She, to me, was the Star of the show. The Knower and the Wayshower. Instead, I kind of called it in for the audition, shelved the fullness of my passion and was given the role of a Shepherd. I loved the staff my father hand crafted and stained for me and I really loved getting to wear a colourful terry cloth bathrobe to Church, but for all my brave face, I was miserable that I didn’t get to be the Angel. It was made worse by the fact that my arch nemesis got the role instead.

You know how these kinds of pageants go. There are few lines and even fewer directions. So the directions that are given are sacrosanct.

The Angel decided to breach protocol and step out in front of Mary and Joseph. Her act of defiance was more than my little six year old jealous heart could bear and I was apoplectic.

“SHE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO GO IN FRONT OF MARY AND JOSEPH,” I proclaimed to the congregation, pointing the sinner out with my awesome staff.

The audience did not join me in my righteous indignation. In fact, they started to laugh. And so, I responded — as one does — and started to pee right there on stage. My Sunday School teacher came to carry me off… mid-stream. I remember being in her arms as she made a lighthearted joke about wishing she knew how much the staging of the Angel mattered to me… she would have given me the Role.

Truth of the matter is, I have made peace with this 41 year old story. I have loved up that wee one and given her plenty of care for the shame she felt. I have forgiven her for her temper and she has forgiven me for making light of that story for all these years.

But the idea of not having had the chance to Step into my Starring Role then? Because I didn’t bring the fullness of myself to the audition?

Well… I see it now. I see why and how deeply it matters to me. For me. And for you.

You see, we all know the truth of it:

We offer others the thing we most want for ourselves.

Love.
Care.
Permission.
Amplification.
Kindness.
Generosity.

And for me, I see in others what I wished I had seen in my six-year-old self. The Star she was.

So, I get to see the Star in you.

In fact, I don’t just see the Star… I see the Moon. I see the Universe. I see the ALL.

And I want you to see it too.
So that’s what I do.
That’s why I offer Star Tipping Intensives.
That’s why I defend the language.

The answer is almost always: bring more of you.

I want you to change the game.

How?

The answer is almost always: bring more of you.

That’s what’s on my heart.

That’s what’s on my mind.

Bring more of you.
And that thing you give so freely of yourself?
Give it to yourself…too.

The answer is almost always: bring more of you.

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THE PRAISE YOU SEEK AND THE CRITICISM YOU AVOID. TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN?

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We’re spending a lot of time over in the Starring Role Academy looking deeply at our current and existing relationships with Praise and Criticism.

Where we are looking at what triggers our need for praise and what we do to avoid criticism at all costs.

As ever, we’re in excellent company. We’ve heard Oprah say that every single guest on her show (Gloria Steinem! Sidney Poitier!), over the years asked her how they did when the cameras stopped rolling. This is the handiwork of the Impostor Complex but also, just our basic human need to be told we've done a good job.

So yeah. This is UP for us. And so this people-pleasing piece is inextricably linked to the Impostor Complex, as one of the behavioural traits we try to hide out in to avoid feeling like an impostor (along with comparison, leaky boundaries, procrastination, perfectionism, and diminishment.)

The real problem shows up when we compromise our integrity by playing to our fans OR to our detractors. At a macro level, that means we are not doing our best work.

What we’re really doing is playing the odds: How much praise can I get and how much criticism can I avoid?

So yes. We go out of our way to seek praise and approval. Why shouldn’t we? Praise gets us going, feeds us, inspires us to keep going, and bolsters us when our energy (and stamina) wanes.

The paradox of praise, however, is that too much, or not the right kind, or an unbalanced diet of praise alone really rattles the cage of the Impostor Complex (“I’m really not THAT good… they mustn’t mean it” or “it’s just a matter of time before they find out how wrong they are about my abilities”) AND so the value (and impact) of the praise starts to diminish.

And then, of course, there’s the ACTUAL diminishment we engage in lest we commit the “sin of outshining.”

As for criticism, we do everything in our power to avoid it. Stopping short. Keeping our heads down. While it’s true, we don’t get barbed with the sting of criticism, we do miss out on the honey that is available to us when it’s well-delivered and well-intended. The best kind of criticism, delivered as conscious critique, keeps us sharp, on our game, and moving us into our starring role. But too much criticism? Yeah, of course that also shuts us down.

It’s a game of discernment.

But the thing that I’m wondering about today, and the thing that I invite you to explore is this:

When does praise NOURISH you and when does it DEFINE you? Big difference with a life-shifting impact.

And then I invite you to consider the things that you want and don’t want. Do you see any connections? Any similarities or opposites?

The thing you are afraid of being criticized for is most likely the thing you have not yet accepted about yourself.

The thing you are most wanting praise for is the thing you don’t feel like you CAN accept yet.

I think that praise and criticism are two sides of the same coin. They are often mirror images reflecting back the same deep desire from different angles.

The thing you are afraid of being criticized for is most likely the thing you have not yet accepted about yourself.

The thing you are most wanting praise for is the thing you don’t feel like you CAN accept yet.

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When you feel confident, you won’t be overly swayed by praise or comparison; only when there is an underlying issue, desire, unmet value, or other sticking point will you feel swayed by what praise and criticism have to offer.

Praise about my parenting isn’t what I’m after. That feels good and solid and I give thanks.

Criticism about my parenting is not what I’m avoiding. That ALSO feels good and solid and I give thanks.

You see, I am clear and comfortable with my parenting. Did I say I’m doing it perfectly? Nope. But I have accepted what is.

The praise that I seek is in regards to the power of my work. The criticism I am fearful of receiving is that my work isn’t powerful.

See how that goes?

It tells me that there is something going on internally that it is holding me back from accepting the power of my work, and I need to start looking deeply and analytically at the places I diminish. And the places I compare. (Because those are indicators that PRESENCE needs some attention, and of course, POWER underpins Presence. Full circle… just like we love.)

Let’s take it one step deeper.

If I’m really wanting people to tell me I look great for my exercise efforts and absolutely do not want to be criticized for having gained weight, well I guess that’s an excellent time to look at my shame relationship with fatphobia.

The things we haven’t accepted about ourselves will be the places criticism feels unbearable and the places where we crave praise the most.

Continue to let praise and criticism unseat you when they get out of alignment? Or learn to face the lessons they're trying to teach you and keep their power in check?

The choice is up to you.


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Follow through

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The Unshakeable Confidence model I have developed stands on three pillars: Presence, Integrity, and Action. Of these, it’s Action that has my attention in 2019, with Integrity not far behind.

Which means I started out the year clear that procrastination and perfectionism (the two behaviours that get us stuck when we are out of action) don’t get to vote this year. Or, maybe they get to vote… I just get the veto. My business. My life.

I’ve prioritized them long enough, you see. Searching for the perfect words. Waiting on the perfect time.

And I’ve come to know that I can’t count on perfection. But I can count on truth.

So procrastination and perfectionism simply can’t rate this year.

And they won’t.

FOLLOW THROUGH is my theme for the year. It’s not sexy. And that’s good. Because when I’ve succumbed to sexy, I’ve committed to overpromising.

Following Through is the belonging to Overpromising’s fitting in.
Following Through is the responsiveness to Overpromising’s reactivity.
Following Through is the enduring legacy to Overpromising’s fleeting fame.

Following Through is, at its essence, Action, balanced with Integrity. If I Overpromise, I may get into Action, but not see it through (lack of Integrity). So it’s clear that following through is the truest way for me to get ever closer to the fullest expression of who I know I am at my most essential being.

It may not be fastest. And it’s definitely not the sparkliest.
But it is truest.

So why would I settle for less?

And so, my commitment to Follow Through is the reason I won’t share the three page-long list of promises I’ve made to myself for 2019… because until they’re complete by Dec 31, 2019, I haven’t followed through.

Because nothing matters unless and until I have Followed Through.

Which I did in January.

Including the measures I’ve taken to lower my blood sugar because diabetes is one of my family’s enduring gifts… along with the love of all the things that raises blood sugar.
And the 30 day yoga challenge.
And dry January.
And the writing.
And the meditation.
And the water consumption.
And the preservation of family time on the weekends.
And the journaling.
And the reassessment of my charitable donations.

And I liked how that felt.
A lot.

My intentions don’t matter if my integrity is eroded.

And for my integrity to remain in tact:
I need to show up authentically as the person whose insides are congruent with her outsides;
I need to be obedient to my vision… whilst allowing it space and grace to ebb and flow as the world keens and groans and hearts do too; and,
I need to honour my word. To others, of course. But above all? To myself.

If I can’t trust me, how can you trust me?
And, oh, how I want you to be able to trust me.

My capacity may be immense… but it’s not infinite.

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There are a number of things that have not been checked off. In spite of how it felt, January was still only 31 days.

My eyes have always been bigger than my capacity. And my capacity may be immense… but it’s not infinite.

But as these things continue to be important to me, I will triple down and follow through.

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Because they are glorious.

What are you committed to following through on in 2019?


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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.


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