When my clients tell me that they suffer from “Imposter Syndrome”, I tell them Imposter Syndrome is a lie. It quite literally is, and it’s a lie we have to stop telling ourselves if we want to effectively advocate for ourselves and our ideas. I teach my clients how to use perspective, evidence, credibility and questions to ask for what they want and get it. And we have no time for Imposter Syndrome.
If you haven’t heard of Imposter Syndrome, it describes high-achieving individuals who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize their accomplishments and have persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud or impostor. It’s not a recognized psychiatric disorder, and has been bandied about in the lay literature far more than in any peer reviewed mental health articles. And in my experience with my clients, Imposter Syndrome holds them back.
Imposter Syndrome often shows itself as a fear of doing hard things, because the person who has to do those things is afraid. She doesn’t want to fail, so she blames her failure to act on Imposter Syndrome. Then she feels even more like an imposter the next time she gets the opportunity to live up to her potential. This turns into a cycle of failure, which can be catastrophic. It’s time to take a closer look at Imposter Syndrome.
I teach people to advocate for themselves with the tools I used in the courtroom, and one of those tools is words. Words have enormous power. They hold energy and their meanings matter. We have to know what they mean in order to use them well (or at all). Imposter means “a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain”. No wonder Imposter Syndrome is such a problem. Imposter Syndrome is a lie. In the basest terms, it’s lying. But when my clients get ready to advocate for what they want they aren’t lying — they’re aspiring.
My clients don’t have Imposter Syndrome — they have Aspiring Syndrome. Aspiring is directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards become a specified type of person. The difference between lying and aspiring is the difference between pretending you’re something you’re not and becoming what you’re meant to be. When you’re aspiring, you’re simply trying your future you on for size. Just like children playing doctor, firefighter, teacher and pilot, you’re preparing for a potential future. And just like that type of play helps children develop better social skills, popularity and ability to step into roles, aspiring helps you step into what you’re meant to be.
One of my favorite quotes is from Michelangelo, about his famous statue of David. He said that when carving that statue he “saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set him free”. You know there’s an angel in your marble. You know it, you see it, and you want to set her free. That’s Aspiring Syndrome. And it leads you to success.
You have to aspire in order to advocate. In my book The Elegant Warrior I talk about the difference between faking it until you make it and showing it until you grow it. Faking it=Imposter. Showing it=Aspiring. When you are faking it you feel like a liar, and then it’s no wonder you think you’re an imposter. But when you’re showing what you want to be, you’re not an imposter. You’re simply on your way.
Stop telling yourself you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome, or that you’re trying to overcome Imposter Syndrome. That’s an excuse, it’s beneath you, and Imposter Syndrome is a lie. You’re not an imposter. You’re simply aspiring to be the best version of yourself. Aspiring Syndrome is the truth of who we are — always carving away at the marble, always trying to set the angel inside free.