Over the past few days I’ve fired up an old favorite audio book of mine (okay, it’s not really very old but it’s still a favorite) – Presence by Amy Cuddy. I’ve you’ve ever had any self confidence issues, this is one hell of a read. The book itself is incredible, while I could give you my summary it’s better hearing the concept from her directly in the TED Talk below.
One of the most important topics that she covers, in my opinion at least, is the concept of Impostor Syndrome. In short, here’s the definition:
“Impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
For most of my professional career I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with this. There have been many occasions in which I’ve had that little voice in the back of my head telling me, “You’re not supposed to be here, you’re not this good, they’re all smarter than you, it’s all luck that’s gotten me to where I am, pretty soon I’m going to screw up and everyone is going to know it.”
To be clear, I know that I am successful and that I have earned most of my success through hard work. That said, I struggle to beat that little voice down when it starts to speak up. It seems to come up at the most inopportune times, like at the beginning of a presentation, while sharing a business strategy, and while working with my peers. When that voice starts to speak up I have started to learn tricks to fight it back. I use the mental tripwire of saying “flip the switch” to shut it up before it starts to whisper in my ear. I use interrogative self-talk to remind myself of the times I’ve been successful in that specific situation. There’s a few emails and old homilies that I read to remind me to be strong, to remember that I have had success. Since reading Presence I’ve used power poses to trick my brain out into being more confident that the voice in my head wants me to be. It doesn’t always work, but I can usually start to fight that voice off.
Sometimes it doesn’t work and I can slump into a spiral or slip into a fixed mindset to try to help myself grasp onto the little confidence I have at the time… exactly what I don’t want to have happen. If I’m honest with myself the times when I slip into a fixed mindset are typically due to that little voice, the Impostor Syndrome. When I fail at containing it I reflect on how it won and then find ways to prevent it from happening again.
One of the reasons that I really appreciated Bruce Sprinsteen’s autobiography was his incredibly honest admission of having similar challenges. He talks about one concert in which he wasn’t completely present and the little voice got the best of him.
Today I’m thankful for Amy Cuddy focusing on this topic and helping me give a name to something that I’ve struggled with, not knowing what it was. The reason I bring this topic up today isn’t for anyone to feel bad for me, it’s to get it off my chest and to help others who may wonder why they sometimes feel the way they do. It can happen to all of us, and the best part is that we can all learn to beat it!