How to Combat Impostor Syndrome

Originally posted on Mediumfollow Melinda on Medium here.
Backstage after my keynote at the H3 Conference with Wayne Sutton.
Backstage after my keynote at the H3 Conference with Wayne Sutton.

Written two hours before my keynote at the H3 Conference in Puerto Rico on November 20, 2015:

Impostor Syndrome is real.

Here I am, having worked on social entrepreneurship and changing the world my whole life. And yet when I prepare to speak about it I still worry that people will see through me, that I’m not an expert, that it should be someone else up there.

But there is no one else with my experiences. I am the expert. I am inspiring. I was put on this planet to be here, now, making ripples in the way we do business, inspiring people to be their best selves, to strive bigger, better. To truly change the world.

And so I work to put aside the few negative comments I’ve heard in the past, from people bent on judging vs listening and learning.

I replace those images with the many people whose lives I’ve changed. I think about the hundreds of people in that audience who are anxious to learn from me, who want to see me speak, who want me to succeed — because they need role models, because we are all still learning, because we each see a little bit of ourselves in others.

And so I breathe and remember just how wonderful I am, how much I’ve done, and where I want to go with my life.

And I step forward onto that stage with confidence.

On Stage at the H3 Conference. Photo by Wayne Sutton.
On Stage at the H3 Conference. Photo by Wayne Sutton.

What happened after the talk?

There were 5 newspaper articles about my talk (!), 5 entrepreneurs have told me since that my keynote changed their life. And that’s just what I know.

I killed it.




Who else grapples with Impostor Syndrome?

If you ever feel this way, you’re not alone.

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” — Maya Angelou, multiple-award winning, internationally acclaimed author

“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing. I suppose that’s my one little secret, the secret of my success.” — Jodie Foster, two-time Academy Award winning actress

“I’m a fraud! They’re on to me!” — Tina Fey, actress, comedian and author

“All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.” — Don Cheadle, actor, director, author, producer

“There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook (Fortunes’ 10th most powerful woman in business in 2014, Forbes’ 9th most powerful women in 2014…)

“I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.” — Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court Justice

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” — Albert Einstein

How to Recognize & Outsmart the Imposter Syndrome

Once I became aware of the imposter syndrome, the biggest step for me has been to recognize it and address it in the moment.

Learn to outsmart your fears. Read and look for different tricks. Stand in a superwoman pose before you go into a big meeting — it actually helps. Practice stepping confidently on a stage just before you do it — visualize it in your head. Remember everyone in the audience wants you to succeed — so give them what they want! My favorite books addressing these tricks for outsmarting your fears are The Confidence Code and The Definitive Book of Body Language.

Be an expert. Write down what an expert means to you. An author? An executive? An award winner? Then be honest: are you those things? You probably are, so own being an expert. Want to be super sure you’re an expert? Start writing and become an author, look for an award to apply for, go for that next promotion.

Then really listen when people tell you that you’ve changed their lives with your work, wholeheartedly accept the awards and rewards you’re given, step into that newly promoted role and be the badass that you are.

Psst, it’s not a secret anymore: you really are a badass! Tell yourself this every time you notice it. Killed a presentation? Stop and tell yourself you’re a badass. Mentored an employee who is killing it in their job? Stop and tell yourself you’re a badass. Wrote a Medium post that received 25 recommendations? Stop and tell yourself you’re a badass!

Wouldn’t you say the same about someone else? Don’t let yourself have double-standards — let yourself be the badass that you are. And give yourself a moment to celebrate it.

Meditate. There are many reasons to meditate — longevity is a big one! Meditation can also help with fear, anxiety and confidence. It certainly has for me: see “My Year of Presence: One word, one intention is sometimes all it takes to make a radical change.” So seriously, get over your judgements of meditation being a woo woo thing and just do it, there’s too much science out there that shows it’s good for you. My favorite meditation apps are Headspace and Insight Timer.

Keep doing it. The more I step on stages, the less I feel I’m an imposter. ‘I’ve done this enough, I must be an expert now!’ My presentations actually do get better every time. My bag of tricks for getting over the fear increases each time, too. Plus the older I get, the less I feel I’m an imposter, ‘I’ve lived over 40 years, so I must be an expert at something by now!’

Getting over imposter syndrome is a journey. I encourage you to take one step toward it today.

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