... and other terrifying bedtime stories I used to tell myself.
I'm listening to Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, which is the newest in my self-professed business book addiction. In the book, Amy Cuddy talks about "the imposter experience," which is the feeling that you somehow don't belong in or don't deserve accolades, job offers, promotions, scholarships, friends, etc.
Apparently, this is not just a feeling that I have, it's kind of universal. So I'm going to write about it in the hopes that if you also experience this feeling, you will know you're not alone.
And I'm going to write about it even though the voice in my head wailed, "But if you tell people about this feeling, they'll know that you really don't belong here! You can't tell people this!"
How much of my life has been affected by this (for lack of a better term) mental condition? It's impossible to know.
- I might have hung out with more people when I was growing up
- I might have taken the honors calculus class in High School
- I might have made friends with senior executives at work
- I might have gone to business school
- I might have been braver about sharing my ideas and opinions at my corporate jobs and got promoted...
it's impossible to know what different trajectory my life would have if I didn't think it was a favor, a con, a mistake, or stupid luck every time I got anywhere in life.
For most of my life, I have been convinced that the Math scholarship I got in High School was an administrative accident. Because of course I couldn't get a Math scholarship! I'm terrible at Math!
I was lucky enough (ugh, that might be another symptom of this... Is it so crazy to believe that they might have seen talent in me and genuinely wanted me on their teams?) to find some incredible mentors who opened a lot of doors I myself wouldn't have had the courage to even knock on.
It was only until recently that I have been able to recognize these feelings for what they are: self-limiting delusions of a chronic over-achiever.
And the one thing that broke through to me has been this business.
It's in seeing the faces of customers (strangers!) who come up to our booth or table and say "OH MY GOSH! I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS!"
It's in receiving a review of a product from a customer (who isn't a friend or family) with glowing praise about our products and our service.
It's in making genuine relationships with our customers who are fans of our product and our company, not because I somehow tricked them, but because they like us.
It's in getting a Google alert about us from a blog or magazine that I didn't pitch.
It's every retailer who writes and asks to carry our products, and then reorders again and again.
I didn't somehow fool these people into liking anything, they just LIKE IT because it's GOOD.
And then I got REALLY MAD AT MYSELF because I realized that if I've been suffering from imposter syndrome for my whole life, I have not only put myself through a ton of unnecessary misery, but I've also sold myself really short. I haven't entered essay contests, asked for mentorship, asked for help from teachers, or entered competitions. The only times when I asked for a raise or for promotions was when someone was really pressuring me to.
WHAT THE HELL, MAN?
So here I am, at 40, and thinking back on all these things I should have gone for. And everyone reading this who knows me will almost certainly agree that I have gone for A HELL OF A LOT.
But still, there's so much else I would have gone for.
If I can give you one piece of wisdom from my ripe old age of 40 (haha... I feel so young!), it's this:
If you're going through your life feeling confused or inadequate, rest assured, so is everyone else.
No matter how amazing or confident they seem, they're probably living in fear of being "found out" or "discovered" to be a fraud. In fact, I might go so far as to say that people who don't at some point feel like they're in over their head are either not trying hard enough or are sociopaths. But for the most part, almost everyone goes through their lives feeling like they don't deserve any of the good things that come their way.
And just like their brains are lying to them, yours is lying to you.
If you work your ass off and keep getting ahead, it's because you deserve it. It's because hard work is rewarded. It's not an accident. It's not a fluke. It's not because you tricked people into liking you. It's because you are working your ass off and you deserve it.
So get out there and get promoted.