Understanding Imposter Syndrome (and How to Fix It)

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sabotageselfThere’s a lot of material out there – books, videos, articles, seminars – all designed to help you find your life’s purpose. To help you discover what makes you special and why you’re here on this pale blue dot.

The meaning of life is something for philosophers to contemplate, but the meaning of your life is a question only you can answer.

Answering that question takes soul-searching, self-awareness, and a whole hell of a lot of courage.  

When you discover your true passion (or even just get an inkling of it), something happens that no one tells you about…

You have to get people to give a shit.

Sure, there are some callings that might not require acknowledgment from the masses. Maybe you enjoy woodworking and you’re perfectly happy creating art in your garage and giving your pieces as gifts at Christmas time.

And that’s cool. If that’s enough for you, enjoy it.

But for the rest of us, when you’re truly hit with the magnitude of your passion, you want as many people as possible to know about it. You want others to feel your awestruck joy. You want people to experience the relevance and deep meaning of your work.

Yes, there’s perhaps nothing more exhilarating than realizing you’re one of the fortunate few who has discovered your life’s purpose.

And there’s perhaps nothing more heartbreaking than feeling like nobody else cares.

If you have mustered enough chutzpah to speak up and say, “I have a passion and talent for this, and I want to help people live better because of it,” and what you get in return feels like your mom saying, “Oh, that’s nice dear,” and doesn’t even get her to turn her head away from watching General Hospital, you feel dumbfounded.

How can they not GET IT?!

It’s at that moment when your soul’s sphincter tenses up with the realization that…

…in order to achieve greatness with your purpose, you have to get people to give a shit. 

This is where most people stumble and fall.

They can’t connect their passion to a compelling message that commands the attention of others.

Their passion isn’t wrong. Their mission isn’t wrong. Their drive isn’t wrong. Their dream isn’t wrong.

But their message is.

Without a message that commands attention, you will never gain the momentum you need to have the impact you dream of.

The success of your noble pursuit is dependent upon your ability to influence others to care and participate.

There is a specific reason why your message has been falling flat, hidden missteps that are keeping you from getting the recognition you deserve. 

The Demon You’re Fighting

Just because you’ve found your passion doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel entirely worthy of it.

I’m sure you’ve already looked at all the people who’ve been doing it longer than you. They’re better and more qualified than you. What in the world gives you the right to be so brash as to throw your hat in the ring and say, “Me too!”?

Anyone who’s pursuing a higher calling must battle with Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is when you’re afraid that people will find out that you’re a fraud. It’s that little voice that says, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

It’s the anxiety from the recurring nightmare that one day everyone’s going to realize that you’re just making it up as you go. That you don’t have all the answers. Imposter Syndrome tells you that you’re a charlatan and some day, the townspeople will grab their pitchforks and run you out of town. 

Or, in our modern-day version of the pitchfork, you’ll be humiliated on social media.

When Your Imposter Syndrome Demon is Winning

While very few of us haven’t experienced the debilitating effects of Imposter Syndrome, they often reveal themselves in more subtle ways than having a full-on panic attack before an article is posted. These milder symptoms are more insidious because they give you the illusion that you’re making progress, when in reality, you’re just spinning in circles. 

Here is how Imposter Syndrome manifests itself in ways that keep you from expressing your passion in a meaningful way:

1. You’re Toning It Down

If you feel like you have something amazing to share with the world, but are putting filters on how you express it, then chances are the imposter demon has whispered in your ear saying something like, “Oh, you better not say it that way. That’s too racy. That’s too grandiose. That’s too pompous. People won’t like that. You better cut that out and replace it with something more acceptable.”

I had this problem when I started my coaching business 10 years ago.

When I read my articles from back then, I cringe at how corporate I sound; nothing in my writing sounded like me. If you gave some rudimentary A.I. the job to write an article on the same subject, I’d put down money that it would have sounded more interesting than my grey-toned dribble.

At the time, my imposter demon wasn’t whispering: he was bellowing. “You better play nice! You’re just starting out. You’re in your 20s and you’re a girl! Better not make a splash or everyone will hate you for it. You better act professionally.”

Clearly, I’ve stopped giving a fuck.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that people don’t vocalize their dislike for my more authentic voice today.

In fact, just this week, I was in a meeting where I said the words, “I know what the fuck I’m talking about.” Immediately, a white grey-haired male said, “Sharí! Come on! You’re way too beautiful and intelligent to use that kind of language.”

My response was simply, “Well, I enjoy using that kind of language. So, here we are.”

And this isn’t just a female thing either. A highly successful speaker friend of mine says that on his feedback forms he regularly gets 3 people in the audience who comment on his hair.

The point is that when you try to tone it down, you’re trying to please people who will never be pleased in the first place. Toning it down is sucking the soul from your message.

When you tone it down, you’re muffling your voice. It’s no wonder why people aren’t paying attention.

Yes, it takes some time for you to find your voice and style, but you’ll never discover it if you’re constantly trying to keep it mellow for a faceless crowd.

When your message is vanilla, you sound like everyone else.

Not only does your passion not stand out, but when it’s vanilla, it actually repels the people who should be (and want to be) a part of your fanbase. When they hear your bland approach, they leave and go find someone who is brave enough to be their true self.

So, here’s to the misfits.

2. There’s a Lack of Clarity

While you’re battling it out with the imposter demon, one of the most effective tactics it has is to try to chip away at your clarity. When you start second guessing yourself, your message gets muddled. That’s why when you share your business idea, your coaching service, or your art, people aren’t drawn in.

The magnetic force of your message comes from clarity.

So, let’s talk about The Triforce of Clarity. 


When getting your message out into the world, you need to have clarity in three key areas:

1. Clarity on WHAT you do.

This isn’t your job title. This is is the heart of what you, your business, or your art does. WHAT is the transformation that you are creating? WHAT is the result (from all angles) that you are delivering? WHAT is is that you really do? WHAT is it all about? 

This is the purpose driving your efforts.

2. Clarity on HOW you do it.

This is the method or modality that you’ve chosen. People get tripped up here more than they realize. To say that you’re a coach isn’t quite enough clarity to grab the attention of a potential client. What does command their attention is when you can clearly communicate your process, the phases, the common obstacles that you help people overcome, and the results you can deliver.

Lacking Clarity: “Well, when I work with people, we hop on a call and discuss how things are going, what’s bothering them, and then I give them some tips that will help them out.”

Compelling Clarity: “At the high level at which I work with my clients, each client obviously has a very personalized experience. With that said, there typically three phase that each client goes through, at their own pace. First is what I call “knowing your enemy.” This is where we discover what’s been really holding them back from achieving their goals. It’s a no bullshit approach to get to the heart of the matter. Next is the “playbook” phase. During this part, we create their custom playbook with strategies, tactics, and if this, then that scenarios. And lastly, the phase that everyone loves to experience the most, the “level up” phase. New challenges always come up when you finally reach a goal. So, clients experience new problems, but they are better problems than what they had before. And together we work past those and that’s when they know they’ve stepped into playing high, better game.”

Obviously, I’ve kept this fairly generic, but what you can see here is the clear distinction of phases (which are the mile markers for working with you) and the plot of the emotional journey of your work, said in such a way that it is intriguing and compelling.

It’s so much more interesting than, “We talk and I help.” 

3. Clarity on WHO you serve.

If you aren’t clear about either your target demographic or their psychographics, then you will never be able to create a message that screams This is for YOU! Even the large companies who you might think market to “everyone” are actually very specific about who their message is meant for. In the advertising agencies, there is always a clarification of the WHO.

Pepsi targets teenagers and young adults. That’s why they created the slogan “The Pepsi Generation” and why they use pop stars and hip hop artists in their campaigns, but Diet Pepsi is marketed to adult women who enjoy home design

For your branding purposes, you also want to have clarity on the corners of your Triforce. 

1. Clarity of VENUE.

Pretty much, this helps you from being pulled in all directions. Where are you going to target your message? Are you going to crush is on facebook? Will you visit local community groups? Are you cold calling? What VENUE are you going to dominate?

2. VISCERAL Clarity.

A message cannot motivate movement without an emotional connection. Get clear about what emotion you want to elicit from your listeners, readers, or viewers. If you don’t know the emotional journey you want them to experience, then your message will be stuck as a boring intellectual exercise. Which means, it will be forgotten by tomorrow.

3. Clarity in VOICE.

We’ve already talked about this. If you’ve been toning down your message, then you’ve stripped yourself of your own voice. People listen to and stay engaged with those who have a unique style. There is nothing new under the sun, except your unique take on it. 

The clearer you are on each of these areas, the more you can inoculate yourself against Imposter Syndrome and the more likely people will be interested in what you have to say.

3. Procrastination

Let me ask you this: do you have a file folder filled with half-written articles? Or how about an email you’ve been meaning to send to your list for the past few weeks or months? Did you get some cheap but nice business cards printed up for you new coaching business, but haven’t handed them out to anyone?

All of these unfinished products and half-steps are signs that the imposter demon might be winning.

If you’ve been experiencing a failure to launch (Matthew Mcconaughey reference and all) it’s likely because you’re afraid.

You’re afraid that if you actually put yourself out there, you’ll be booed off of whatever platform you were brave enough to step onto.

Sure, it feels good to talk about all those awesome things you want to do, like that kickass article idea or that business you’re perpetually starting. And the ego gets a nice jolt when you can speak about how things should be done, but without the action to back it up, your talk deteriorates from simply being cheap; it’s now accruing debt because people slowly stop believing you. They tune you out. They’ve heard this story before.

Your actions (or lack thereof) become intertwined with your message. If you are all talk and no action, then you’re like the guy in the locker room who talks about all the chicks he banged over the weekend…and yet, no one ever sees him with a girl. Your story loses credibility. Which makes your imposter demon grow to Hulk-like proportions.

Find Your Peace and Claim Victory

So, you’ve lost a few battles to the imposter demon. It’s okay. We all have. But you can still win the war. Here are a few ways you can overcome imposter syndrome:

First, realize that there isn’t one successful person in the annuls of history who hasn’t gone toe to toe with this demon.

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find me out now.” – Maya Angelou

“I still believe that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” – Mike Myers

“Ah, the Impostor Syndrome!? The beauty of the Impostor Syndrome is that you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: “I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!” So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.” – Tina Fey

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” – Albert Einstein

I mean, if Einstein feels like he inadvertently pulled the wool over the world’s eyes, I think you get a pass.

So, perhaps, instead of fighting the imposter syndrome, maybe you make your peace with it. Recognize that it’s always going to be there.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic writes:

Dearest Fear, Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently. your job is to induce complete panic when I’m about to do anything interesting, and may I say you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must.

But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home. But understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way.

I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still, your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours, you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you’re absolutely forbidden to drive.

It’s Time to Shift Your Focus

The reason why the imposter demon is so successful at keeping you from making your mark in this world is because it’s attacking the weakest and most vulnerable part of your psyche: your ego.

The demon whispers slanderous statements about you, who you are, and how people see you. Your ego is the child stomping its feet in the grocery store because mommy won’t buy you the “good” cereal.

The ego is perpetually desiring validation, recognition, and praise. It is never satiated.

And the imposter demon is the one that tells the ego that if it steps out into the big, bad world, it will be attacked relentlessly. So, better to stay home where it’s nice and safe. And we all know, the monsters under the bed can’t attack you if you’re under the covers.

If you allow your work to be about you, then you are fueling the imposter demon with powers from the yellow sun.

On the other hand, if you allow your work to be about something bigger than yourself, the imposter demon transforms from the burning eye of Sauron into a just a buzzing gnat-like annoyance.

The demon will never go away, but it will have less power over you.

Make your work about the deeper purpose that you want to serve. Make your work about the people you want to help. Make your work about the lives that you want to transform.

Make your work about the work, not you.

Does that mean that you must be egoless in all you do? No. A little ego can be good, but not when it forces you to constantly evaluate yourself. 

When you first discovered your purpose – that thing that sparked your desire to do something different, something bigger – that initial spark wasn’t about you. You sensed its deeper meaning, even if you couldn’t put words to it at that very moment. You sensed it.

Make your endeavor about that.

When that imposter demon whispers, “They’re going to find you out.” You can reply, “It ain’t about me, honey. It ain’t about me.”

Mastering this inner voice in your business (and let’s face it, your life) takes time. 

And this is just the beginning.

You’re now primed for advanced training. This Thursday (August 4th), I’m leading a FREE online training series about to help you increase your influential powers, What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Con-Artists.

I’ve studied from the world’s best con-artists, as well as CIA agents, hostage negotiators, many others. I’ll teach you how to use their tried-and-tested methods to make your message compelling. 

You can also join me for The Passion/Persuasion Paradox to figure out why your passion for what you’re doing is limiting your persuasiveness (and how to fix it) on August 10th. 

And Spy Talk, where we’ll geek out over cool linguistic techniques that you can use in your sales and marketing (August 17th). 

Sign up for any of these LIVE training series here, and together we’ll fight off your imposter demons once and for all.  

About the Author

Sharí Alexander is a leadership and persuasiveness coach based in Los Angeles. She works with entrepreneurial leaders on how to be influential in all aspects of their business - from sales, to client and investor relations, and persuasive speeches. Her mission is to bring the “dark arts” of influence into the light. She personally learned persuasive techniques from CIA agents, hostage negotiators, con-artists, and others. She teaches business leaders how to use the same skills in business, making them the leaders that people want to follow.

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