Episode 158: How to defeat the imposter syndrome, with Stephen Woessner.
Stephen is the CEO of Predictive ROI and host of the Onward Nation podcast. He is the author of two bestselling books, speaker, trainer, and his digital marketing insights have been featured in SUCCESS, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and other media.
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Good Morning Onward Nation…I’m Stephen Woessner. And before we jump into today’s solocast topic — I want to wish you a very belated Happy 2016. My hope for you is that your New Year has started off with the momentum you envisioned, with the progress you wanted and desired, and that you and your team are executing on all the plans and strategies you crafted toward the end of 2015. My additional hope is that during all the Christmas and New Year celebrations, you also made time to practice Habit #7 that we learned from the wisdom of the late Dr. Stephen Covey is his groundbreaking book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
We all must take time to “Sharpen the Saw” as Dr. Covey so masterfully described it. If you don’t maintain your health, maintain your sanity, take time to relax, rejuvenate, unwind, de-clutter, spend time with family and friends, and nurture relationships, your “Saw” — or your production capability — becomes dull and ineffective.
Just like a dull blade on a saw that has been overused and becomes dull then needs to be sharpened before it can be put back into useful service.
The holidays are an excellent time for sharpening — but — not the only time.
Today is Wednesday, January 27th…and Habit #7 is partly the reason behind today’s episode being my first solocast of 2016. I have been spending time with family, friends, traveling for a couple Predictive ROI engagements, and for the last 2-weeks, I have been in Disney World to teach a workshop, attend another, as well as some family down time.
It has been the perfect start to 2016 — a fine balance in which to sharpen the saw.
And it is a wonderful honor and privilege to be back here with you, Onward Nation, this morning for today’s solocast. Thank you so much for being here with me.
So for our time together…I am going to focus our attention toward an obstacle we all experience — this obstacle is something we all face. In fact everyone on Earth faces it no matter who they are — it is just that some people are better than others at pushing themselves past it.
The obstacle is known as the “Imposter syndrome.”
If you are hearing the term for the first time — I will start us off with some context and background.
The term Imposter Syndrome was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne Imes and was used when referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. In fact, they take their proof of success and pass it off as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest the impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women while other studies indicate that men and women are equally affected.
Now let’s take that definition and break it down into its two core ingredients.
Ingredient #1: the inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
Have you ever walked into a meeting and felt that you weren’t worthy — or that you didn’t belong there? Perhaps someone on the selection committee, the award committee, or board of directors had somehow made a mistake in selecting you. Heck, maybe even some of your colleagues, family members, or friends looked at you and even validated your own suspicions and asked you the seemingly innocent question of “So why did they pick you?”
I began to learn about the imposter syndrome back in 2009. My first book had been published while I was an academic staff member at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. My book had become popular with small business owners and several of the UW campuses around the state started asking me to teach a class at their respective campuses. Awesome. So one day I mentioned the opportunities to a family friend — that I was headed to UW-Green Bay the next day to teach a class based on my SEO book…and my friend looked at me and said, “Well, why are they having you teach the class? Couldn’t they find someone else locally to teach the class?”
My friend was not trying to be hurtful — not in the least. But those comments hit me hard. Never mind that my SEO book was #3 in the United States, I had just been interviewed for Inc. Magazine, and other credibility indicators. When he asked me that question — I actually paused and thought about it. “Yeah, why are they hiring me to teach…am I good enough…do I have what it takes…am I the best they could bring in…did I deserve to be there…was I a fraud…did I know what I was talking about?”
There is nothing unique or different about my story. We have all had these experiences of the little voice in our heads whispering — or in some cases shouting — “Who do you think you are to do something so amazing?” That is the imposter syndrome, Onward Nation, and it is holding you back — it is rearing its ugly head in the form of fear — and you need to push it aside so it doesn’t block your progress in moving forward.
Here’s the reality…high-performers work hard to prevent people from discovering that they are “impostors.” This hard work often leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor feelings and fears of being “found out.” The “impostor” may feel they need to work two or three times as hard. They over-prepare, tinker and obsess over details. This can lead to burnout and sleep deprivation.
I have felt that way before. With each new interview, success quote, media feature — I would think — goodness — did I deserve to be there? YES — but it took me a long time to believe it — and I still wrestle with it today.
Ingredient #2: the “imposter” takes the proof of success and passes it off as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be
Has your business ever gone through a growth spurt and you wondered why?
Have you ever looked around your office and suddenly realized you have some amazing people working for you, looking to you for leadership, and you cannot figure out what they see in you?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable heading into a presentation with a new client and you wonder why they invited you to the table?
Or in a personal situation — have you ever felt like you married up — that your husband or wife — was not only your better half — but completely out of your league?
Why do we ask ourselves such lousy and unfair questions?
And here’s the important point that I really want you to get, Onward Nation. When you ask yourself, “How on earth were we able to hire such amazing employees? Don’t they know that we don’t know what in the world we’re doing?” — your brain does a funny thing…it gives you an answer.
Your brain doesn’t want to make you out to be a liar — so it gives you the answer to fit your story.
You start hearing things like…”Yeah, boy, you really pulled the wool over their eyes on that one. Hope Becky doesn’t figure it out — because if she leaves — then Tom is sure to leave, too.”
Or, “Why did client X invite us here? We don’t really have a shot at winning this pitch, do we?”
And then answer you get back might be something like, “Nope, we have no chance of winning — especially if they knew all about the mistakes we made just last week on Client Z’s account. We are lucky to have kept Client Z — hope X doesn’t ask for references. Maybe we ought to back out of the process now.”
What nonsense. The reality is that you were invited into the evaluation process because you have a stellar network — perhaps stellar credentials — and you deserve to be at the table. The voice on your shoulder — the voice whispering in your ear — is the imposter syndrome.
And we all deal with it. It doesn’t matter who you are thinking of right now…Tim Ferriss has dealt with it…Joel Osteen has dealt with…all of the incredible business leaders that grace the cover of SUCCESS Magazine, Inc, and Fast Company deal with it…heck, I struggle with it… “I think to myself all the time — I can’t invite that person to be a guest on Onward Nation — they’ll for sure say no!” Good grief!
Every business owner — every political leader — every leader throughout history has dealt with this. George Washington did not feel he was worthy to be this country’s first president. No one is immune from the imposter syndrome.
But what is unique — and what is special — is when someone stares into the face of potential rejection — faces their fear and they do it anyway.
And to quote the beautiful words of Dr. Marcie Beigel — a two-time guest of Onward Nation…she said to me in her recent encore interview for episode 144 said to me, “Stephen…be scared, and then do it anyway!”
Wow…I loved that.
Because it is oftentimes fear — which is another way of describing the imposter syndrome — it is fear that gets in your way more than anything else. You — you, Onward Nation…are your business’s biggest constraint. Not the market, not your lack of customers, not your pricing, not your product quality…no…it is you. You set the pace and tempo of your company — either fast or slow — you do.
So I asked Dr. Marcie during that special encore interview to share how business owners can reach that elusive next level? She was kind enough to map it out into three simple steps.
- Get clear on what the next level is — how will you know when you’re there?
- Walk through your fear — make a plan — and just do it
- Find a mentor — we learn best from the people who have been there
And let’s look at all three of these.
First…get clear on what the next level is. Well, if the imposter syndrome (aka FEAR) is making you believe that you are not even worthy of your current level of success — how could you possibly believe that you are worthy of more? So how could you define what the next level looks like? Great question, right? Instead, perhaps you need to spend some time in gratitude being thankful for what you have already accomplished — consciously acknowledging that what you have achieved was deserved because you worked hard to get there and you applied your God given gifts and talents to get there — and now — to realize your full potential — it is time to leap off your current plateau and move onward to that next level — and your deserve to be at the next level — because you’re an expert. But the first step is to give yourself permission to define that next level so you know when you and your business have arrived.
Second…be scared about the next level…and do it anyway. Set your fear aside — what is the worst that could happen? Prospective customers could say no. You might make a bad decision and lose some money. An employee or a group of employees may disagree in how you’re redirecting the company and could decide to leave. Okay? Are any of these life threatening situations? Did anyone die? No. And like Mike Stromsoe taught us in episode 24 of Onward Nation — did anyone die? No? Then move on!
Stop making each decision more than it has to be. Just make a decision…then move on. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. So, Onward Nation, Be Scared — and then do it anyway.
And lastly…find a mentor to learn from. More specifically — find a mentor or group of mentors who are all moving at a pace and tempo that is faster than you. It matters who you spend your time with — and if you spend your time with people who are moving at your current pace — or slower — those people may make you feel comfortable to be around — they may not challenge you — they may not push you or ask you tough questions — and it is easy to relax and unwind. But guard yourself — if you don’t protect your time — you will slow down as a result. Why? Because as Coach John Wooden once said, you will never outperform your circle. You won’t — it is just human nature.
So you need to make sure the mentors you select are operating at a completely different level than you are currently at — that you reach — that you stretch — that you get yourself into a group of people where you don’t currently belong. And then you work like crazy to not get left behind — and in the process — you will expand and grow — and leap off your current plateau onto that next rung.
And as Scott McKain recently taught me, “Stephen, you cannot reach that next rung, unless you are willing to let go of the current one you are hanging on to.”
Very wise words, Onward Nation.
Please recognize the imposter syndrome for what it is…it is nothing more than fear. Please also know that we all deal with it…you are not different because you feel it…you are not uniquely burdened or yoked. But what can make you unique and distinctive is your ability to refuse the status quo and to push past your fear — to shove the imposter syndrome aside and to not let yourself be your own limitation.
You were meant for greatness. You are a child of the most high God. You are instilled with an infinite abundance of talent and gifts. Please don’t let something so small as fear limit all you were meant to be.
So with that said…
I want to say thank you for taking the time to be here with me today. It is an honor to have you here — thank you for tuning in — your time is sacred and I am delighted you chose this episode to be what you listen to, study, and take with you on your morning run, or maybe Onward Nation has become part of your daily commute, or in some other way has become part of your morning routine.
However our daily podcast fits into your daily routine — I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing some of your invaluable 86,400 seconds you have in your day with me and the strategies we learn and share each day from today’s top business owners.
And please continue to let me know what you think of Onward Nation…good or bad…I always want your feedback. My direct email address is email@example.com — and yes — that is my actual Inbox. No fancy filters or filing system and I read and reply to every single email.
So please let me know how you think we are doing. I look forward to hearing from you.
We will be back tomorrow with an incredible interview with Rob Berger — he is off the charts amazing. Don’t miss it.
Until then, onward with gusto!