Day 1,049 – Thankful for the Upside of Impostor Syndrome; Invoking Interrogative Self-Talk

Have you ever had that feeling that you weren’t good enough to do a certain thing, been a certain group, or coach a specific topic?  What was it about each moment that caused you to feel that way?  How have you responded in that situation?

I’d love to say that my post today is all rosy and full of successes, but it’s really not.  The road to today’s blog is littered with mistakes, missed opportunities, and lost moments.  Each of those missteps are exactly why I’m thankful for Impostor Syndrome today.

Before reading the book Presence by Amy Cuddy I thought I was about the only person in the world who felt like they’d been promoted too fast, trusted with too much responsibility, and were given so much more than was earned.  I’d sometimes count luck as my biggest reason for success and was nervous about being “found out” at some totally inopportune moment.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t just me!

When reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography my jaw dropped when he explained the way a concert performance fell totally flat.  As he described the thought process it was like he’d spent time in my head.  Bruce said (totally paraphrasing here) that he kept thinking about how he didn’t belong in front of the audience, how much he was screwing up, what a poor performance he was doing.  By the end he’d basically worked himself into a meltdown of negativity.  Each sentence hit me right between the eyes as this was how I’ve often felt when giving a presentation, training a group of peers, and so on.  My mind was blown that even The Boss has tangoed with Imposter Syndrome!

So where am I going with all of this?  After I learned about Imposter Syndrome I’ve worked at ways of stopping it.  Some are preventative and some cut it down as it strikes.  For a variety of reasons I’ve had the opportunities to battle it lately, and I’m so thankful for each of them.  In each case it was an opportunity for me to become stronger, to hone my skill, and to practice ways to keep my mind focused in the right direction.

The tool that I use as a defense when something hits my “IS” tripwire is interrogative self-talk.  Daniel Pink brought it to my attention in his wonderful book To Sell Is Human.  This is a great tool to aid my focus.  Instead of saying “I am smart enough” or any other statement that I must force myself to believe I put it into a question.  “Do I belong here at this moment?”

When asking this question my brain is forced to answer.  I don’t like losing so my mind often says “yes.”  But that’s not enough as I’m also smart enough to call BS on myself and smell the false sense of bravado.  Then I have to dig deeper…  “Why do I belong here at this moment?”  That one gets more difficult.  It causes me to think of the hard work I’ve put in.  I’m reminded of the studying and training I’ve been doing.  Past experiences (good and bad) rush into my memory and I can quickly start to see why I belong here.

Imposter Syndrome is like a schoolyard bully.  He seems all bad and tough until you punch him back in the nose.  Once you fight back he leaves you alone.  Instead of throwing punches I throw interrogative self-talk logic bombs at Imposter Syndrome until it runs for the hills.

Sure, sometimes I don’t put up the good fight and I lose.  There are times when I ask if I belong here and the answer is “NO” when I think deeply about it.  Regardless, I’m definitely winning more often than not.

And that’s why I’m thankful for Imposter Syndrome today.  It really sucks until you figure out what it is and how to beat it.  Once I learned to start swinging back by thinking about why I belong there at that moment my overall self-confidence has continued to grow.  IS still helps to keep me humbled, but every opportunity I have to face it is one more time I have the opportunity to get stronger.


It kind of reminds me of a quote by a famous philosopher…

“You can’t win, Impostor Syndrome. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Ben Kenobi


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