Can we ever get comfortable with or overcome imposter syndrome?
Alongside my work as a coach, I also lead a content strategy consultancy. If there’s one thing that I hear over and over again amongst content strategists around the world it’s that they are held back by imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re a fraud, that everything you have achieved is in doubt or in question. Though typically the only person who actually thinks you a fraud or questionable is, of course, yourself. In some forms it manifests itself as a feeling that you don’t have the adequate skills, qualifications or experiences to really belong, or it comes across as a deeply held self-doubt.
Imposter syndrome traps us in a disempowering context in which self-doubt prevents us from getting ahead in life, whether that’s just showing up in joy and confidence in the things we currently do, or from making the steps needed to get ahead.
Amongst content strategists (and undoubtedly other similarly broad professions) it appears in epidemic proportions. Why? Because content strategy is such an embryonic profession, that the “profession” itself is vast and includes anyone from content engineers, to taxonomy specialists, to copywriters, to SEO specialists and search engine marketers. With such a variety of skills, experiences and personalities all now coming together to “own” the title content strategist, is it any wonder that so many of us are left with debilitating self-doubt and, yes, imposter syndrome?
This video from Cal State LA talks about imposter syndrome and what you can do about it in the context of being a college student, but the descriptions and advice are equally powerful for anyone experiencing this phenomenon.
My own story with imposter syndrome is one that I choose to share because I recognised that it’s just part of my conditioning, and it’s a survival mechanism in my life that wasn’t serving me. It surprises many people to know that I experience it, since I’m a public speaker and an outwardly confident person. But pretty much every other public speaker I know - especially in the content strategy world - also experience it. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m original and I’m innovative… and, yeah, I’m also human and prone to self-doubt.
I’ve made such great progress with my own, that I’m now launching a special Overcoming Imposter Syndrome coaching programme to support others work through theirs to empower themselves to the future they deserve to have.
I’ll share more in the programme, but mindful that if you’re reading this you want something right now, here’s my experience of overcoming imposter syndrome and turning it from a debilitating force, to just being a thing, to then being an empowering thing:
Label it and notice it
A clear sign of imposter syndrome is often our own self-talk. Imposter syndrome has a powerful voice that dictates how you see yourself. From the interpretations we make (see my post on sabotaging stories) to those voices of “whoa, you’re way out of your depth here, dude”. Notice when they come up and label them for what they are: your stories, your context, and your imposter syndrome. See them, call them out. If you want, give the origin of that voice a name. If you can make the name funny, all the better. So, my survival mechanism names that I associate with different forms of my own imposter syndrome are called “Idiot Einstein” and “Ab-Fab Failure”. Someone I know has labelled theirs the “internal shitty committee”.
Accept myself as whole and perfect with nothing to fix
Once you’ve learned to notice and hopefully laugh at that voice in your head that tells you you’re an imposter, now’s the time to put that voice in its place. This one can take some work and practice (and having a coach really helps here), but adopt a default position that sees yourself as whole, perfect and complete exactly as you are. In other words, there’s nothing to fix or defend in your life and in who you are. Tell yourself this and remind yourself this regularly. Have the words “there’s nothing to fix” tattooed on your right hand if you need to! Anything that serves to remind you of this.
See my superpowers and special gifts
Recognise and accept that you do have something to offer. You might not know everything that others in the room know, but I assert that you also know many things that they don’t know. Chances are (especially if they’re a content strategist) that they probably have their own internal shitty committee to contend with exactly as you’re noticing yours. So, think about the things that you really bring to that room and totally own them as your gifts and superpowers. For me, that’s been about celebrating that I have a really useful breadth of knowledge of the content strategy discipline, and I can point people to those who have the depth of knowledge in areas that I don’t have that depth in. I’m also brilliant at understanding people and their contexts. So whether it’s audience awareness or stakeholder engagement work, I’m a powerful force in those area as a content strategist.
Learn to love and laugh at my imposter syndrome
Lastly, once you’ve done all of the above, you can start to really laugh at it and believe that while imposter syndrome might be present, it’s not to be taken too seriously. And from laughter to love? Well, I started to realise that my own imposter syndrome was in and of itself also a superpower, since it drives my curiosity and will to learn new things. In doing so, I turned the self-sabotage into growth and learning, and learned to love it. Now, I’m super comfortable with it and not disempowered anymore.
If you find that imposter syndrome is stopping you from believing in yourself and living your best life, then you will find my new programme to be worth every moment of your time that you invest in it. So, sign up today and start the journey to overcoming your imposter syndrome.