CEO’s of large companies, stars of sports and movies, and professional musicians have something in common: a large majority suffer from something that has come to be known as The Impostor Syndrome.
I knew a talented young man who graduated Summa Cum Laude from an important music school, with a major in classical guitar. He continued to study with a famous instructor in New York City whose students’ albums were in the top ten on the charts of popular music. This young man became a guitar teacher, accepting students at home. One day, he seemed depressed. I asked him what was wrong, and he replied, “I’m afraid they’ll find out I’m a fake.” It was a mystery to me that anyone with his accomplishments could feel that way.
Over time I learned that many top people in their fields feel the same way, and keep it to themselves as a dark secret. It is usually unfounded, of course, but they can’t be convinced of that. It helps tremendously to know we are not alone in this fear, and to accept that if we have “done our homework”, we are not fakes, and no one will think we are.
What we believe deeply about ourselves is a hundred percent of why and how we live and behave. It’s not just how we consciously view ourselves, and certainly not entirely what we consciously tell ourselves. I used to do everything I could to give myself positive messages, but my progress in life was slow and poor. Finally, I asked myself what I saw deep in my mind’s eye as the essence of “me”. What I saw surprised me greatly. Instead of a capable, intelligent person (the one I consciously thought I was), I saw an image of myself as a cowering, shameful, and basically flawed being. I recognized immediately that this was who, as a very young child, I’d been told I was. Nothing I had accomplished in my life had changed that image, and I had not been aware I still carried it, yet the consequences remained. As long as I had this subconscious image, no matter how many positive affirmations I used and no matter how much recognition I got, I could never live up to my capabilities. After recognizing the existence of that image of myself and seeing it for what it was, I was able to redefine myself realistically and on purpose. I began making progress in life. I tell you this story because so many people hold unrealistic, negative images of themselves, and thus hold themselves back from doing and being their best.
Some believe deeply that they must be “humble”, and not shine their light in the world. But not doing all we are capable of doing is a statement that says we don’t want the gifts and abilities we’ve been given. True humility is doing what we are meant to do, using the passion we’ve been given, and accepting it as our job in life, rather than rejecting it for something more “normal”, more responsible, or that someone else said we should do.
I love the following quote from Marianne Williamson, which Nelson Mandela used in his inauguration speech:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Maybe you’re not yet the best you can be skill-wise. We all have farther to go. That doesn’t mean we have to get to the ultimate level to be very good at what we do (there is no ultimate level – it’s a continual process). Confidence is not arrogance. It is merely the knowing that you can do what you say you can do, you are who you say you are and who others say you are.
The Impostor Syndrome exists in most of us. In most cases it is an inner judge lying to you. You don’t have to listen to it. Go out and shine your light.