Recently, I was on LinkedIn’s Hello Monday podcast hosted by Jessi Hempel discussing Imposter Syndrome and during the interview, I shared some of my own personal moments of career crises and impostor syndrome.
I received the kindest and most lovely comments about what I shared with many people identifying with my experiences and appreciating my openness and vulnerability. It left me thinking about the importance of being vulnerable with others and having compassion for yourself and their crucial roles in working on our Impostor Syndrome.
When you struggle with Imposter Syndrome, it’s very common to have the belief that it is critical to maintain the façade of competence, control, and the ability to handle almost anything. It’s the constant appearance of “I’m ok” even if it feels like you are crumbling on the inside – nobody needs to know. This faulty notion leads us to rarely ask for help, share our difficulties and avoid any appearance of vulnerability.
I remember very clearly when I was battling Imposter Syndrome, and stuck in an awful, punishing job, sharing the experience for the first time with a colleague (who became one of my closest friends and mentors). I recall in that stairwell how she looked at me. Looking back, I know she was looking at me with compassion, but what I saw through the distorted lens of Imposter Syndrome made my skin crawl and made me feel horribly embarrassed – I thought I saw PITY! It made me want to recoil, take it back and never mention it again, but she is amazing, kept on me and with me, and never let me run away. She kept asking about it and stood by me as I struggled for months to make a decision about what to do next.
When I share these vulnerable stories on podcasts and live broadcasts, I do it because I am asked and it’s the truth, but I also do it because I want to show you that it’s ok and that even an “expert” in the field can struggle, and struggle really badly. I want to normalize your experience and encourage you to share it with others. You don’t need to do this on a podcast, but you can share what’s really going on with the trusted people in your life. Just try one and you don’t need to tell them every detail of every story, but you can titrate what’s happening behind the façade in small doses. The small doses are useful as you practice your vulnerability and work to build real trust with a community and manage the anxiety that comes up from being vulnerable.
As you practice vulnerability around your Imposter Syndrome, remember:
- To work on trusting the positive feedback
- To know that they won’t always “get it right” or say the appropriate thing
- To give people in your trusted circle constructive feedback when it’s warranted about what you need in a given moment
- To feel uncomfortable after being vulnerable is normal that’s why you titrate – to allow yourself to get used to experiencing it in small steps
- If you receive negative feedback after being vulnerable, find someone to support you while you process and make sense of it.
While I received a lot of positive feedback for Hello Monday, I also received negative, critical feedback – mostly from people that I didn’t know, but at the same time wanted to join my network. (scratching my head)
Which brings me to compassion.
Along with the difficulty of being vulnerable comes a lack of compassion for ourselves, which is a hallmark of the Imposter Syndrome. We are usually very critical of ourselves, tolerating nothing less than perfection and constant achievement. While being vulnerable is a critical task for improving our experience of Imposter Syndrome and building our team around us, developing compassion for ourselves becomes central to both internalizing the positive messages being addressed to us; maintaining these relationships around us; and tolerating real growth.
Without compassion for ourselves, we can become very rigid, fragile and struggle with accepting feedback without self-flagellation, which can be exhausting and prevent us from taking risks, exposing our vulnerabilities, and in the end, keeps us wedded to the Imposter Syndrome cycle.
Having compassion for yourself doesn’t mean letting everything go and not holding yourself accountable. It means being kind to yourself when you do make mistakes because you realize that this is human. It means allowing yourself to stumble, not know, or be awkwardly outside of your comfort zone because it is critical to your growth and the conquering of your Imposter Syndrome.
Showing yourself compassion means:
- Being conscious of the words you use to speak to yourself and about yourself;
- Valuing your self-care and demonstrating that through how it is prioritized in your life;
- Believing your dreams for yourself deserves time and space and should not be an afterthought;
- Internalizing your cheerleaders and not choosing to internalize your harshest critics;
- Treating yourself with kindness and recognizing that this will be more helpful to your advancement and future than criticism.