Imposter syndrome has become a popular topic of discussion over the last few years, and deservedly so. You don't have to be a full-time freelancer or flexing your entrepreneurial spirit in order to find yourself suddenly gripped by the fear that you're not worthy of the accolades you receive for your work. People who hold down a 9-to-5 and have climbed the corporate ladder through years of blood, sweat and tears can also have moments of self-doubt and fear of the "fraud" label.
But I'm not here to talk about that imposter syndrome.
I want to talk about the imposter syndrome that rarely gets attention. The one that doesn't come with success. I'm talking about that crippling fear of thinking you are indeed an imposter because you haven't found the fame, abundance and happiness you seek no matter how hard you try.
For those who struggle to find a consistent stream of income doing what they love, whose work compels more rejection than applause, and spend years struggling to make a dream a reality, imposter syndrome as it is often discussed seems like a champagne problem.
I'm talking about the Vincent Van Goghs, the Emily Dickensons, and the millions of unknown artistic talents and unnamed creative professionals who only sell one painting once in a blue moon, can never seem to get their poetry or articles published, or find a steady stream of opportunities and clients.
If your career fits the average person's definition of a success, yet you still wonder if you're a one-hit wonder or someone who just got lucky, there are a host of Vincents and Emilys out there wishing they could one day know what that perplexing feeling is like.
Every day millions wonder if they're truly on the right path because not a sunrise passes when they're not:
And yet, success eludes them.
We all know that comparison is the thief of joy, but it's hard not to compare when half of the people in your field all have a class, podcast, webinar, ebook, or special technique that they want to sell you as a means of producing revenue for their own business's bottom line. As a matter of fact, plenty of experts and influencers openly admit that one of the reasons they are so successful is that they're selling their advice or skills to others via a class or book.
And not to take away from their business savvy -- and sure, there are a handful of lovely folks who offer advice for free (I see you, Bizzy Coy) -- sadly, this doesn't negate the unmistakable fear that many who have yet to find their golden goose are nothing but imposters.
If you truly believe in your skills and talent, and you're doing your best to implement all the strategies, hacks and expertise thrown at you by the successful ones in your industry, but still find yourself struggling to gain any traction in your profession, why wouldn't you start to feel like an impostor? Or dare I say, a failure?
I mean, if you weren't a fraud, you'd be a success by now, right?
No. Of course, not!
But sadly, none of the advice on how to combat imposter syndrome actually addresses the very real fear that you may be deluding yourself into believing you will be successful following your dreams. Instead, 9 out of 10 articles tell you to eschew perfectionism, be humble, and celebrate wins in order to conquer imposter syndrome.
What they don't tell you is that even if you do all those things, you still may not find the success you seek. And if it continues to elude you, are you indeed a fraud?
So what do you do?
Far be it for me to pretend I have all the answers, but I know firsthand how it can be incredibly difficult to keep your head up when rejection and criticism know your name far more often than acceptance and contentment. But it's critical that we always remind ourselves that success by anyone's definition has never been based on a meritocracy. Nor is the lack of success or praise a sign that someone lacks merit.
Allow me to explain.
It is possible to toil for years, working toward your dream -- being a successful writer, dancer, actor, chef, social media strategist, you name it --- and the realization of that dream takes its sweet time arriving on your doorstep and changing your life for the better. That's a reality that many of us don't like to talk about. Perhaps because it's difficult to convince others to sign up for that online class, listen to that podcast or buy that book if we do.
Instead, many in the creative class sell others who are struggling on the idea that they must be doing something wrong. The successes, dare I say, feed on the self-doubt of those trying to manifest their best lives, and arguably use that self-doubt to promote themselves as authorities, gurus and influencers.
Sooner or later, those struggling to find their footing in their craft or industry experience the dreaded imposter syndrome. And then, they must decide if they're feeling less-than because they are truly untalented or because everywhere they look is yet another sign that there is just one more thing they should be doing in order to achieve success.
My conclusion? Stop listening to others' advice.
I know it sounds extreme or counter-intuitive, but hear me out.
People often feel they have to be perfect because we keep telling them that if they're not doing one thing or another, then that's the source of their lack of success. It's hard for many to not feel like an imposter when every day there is a barrage of blog posts, podcasts, books and articles insisting that if you do "these 10 things that all successful people do," you too will be living in the land of joy and abundance.
Collectively, experts help create the problem while insisting they know how to fix the problem.
I think it's high time that we admit that none of us know how to cure or resolve imposter syndrome, but more importantly, it is sometimes our own enterprises, revenue streams and "success stories" that feed it in others' imposter syndrome.
That's why it's imperative that when you're feeling as if you're never going to "make it" or despite your best efforts, you feel you're not cut out for XYZ, you should step away from all the advice, the experts, and the influencers.
Instead, sit back, give yourself space, and simply take stock of where you are, where you've been, and where you want to go. Focus on what you can do that is reasonable with your life at this time.
As I mentioned earlier, we often acknowledge that comparison is the thief of joy, but we can't stop comparing ourselves to others because we're constantly being invited to do so by those who claim to have our best interest at heart. But sometimes, the action that is in your best interest is to walk away from all the successful people who want to sell you their expertise and share their tales of accomplishment.
It's true. They may share something you're not currently doing, but maybe the reason you're not doing it is because you're already trying to implement 10 other pieces of advice, they're only 24 hours in a day, and you're already sleep-deprived.
It's OK to walk away and focus on what's right in front of you, while ignoring all the advertising, retweets, and sponsored ads beckoning you to step-up your game. You have to stop beating yourself up, and remind yourself that you are doing your best. And your best IS good enough.
Giving yourself such a pep-talk while wondering if your ship will ever come in can be a Herculean feat, but it will definitely serve you better than listening to all those who feed your fear that you will never succeed unless you do everything "just so."
Your imposter syndrome is just as valid and debilitating as those who meet their accolades with the fear that they got lucky or aren't deserving of their success.
You are not an imposter. You are a work in progress. And the road you are traveling will rise to meet you in time ... perhaps when you least expect it.
Top Image: Disappointed by Anthony Tran | Second Image: Imposter Syndrome by Bradford Veley | Third Image: Defining Targets Differently by Hiking Artist | Bottom Image: Quote by Steven Furtick