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How Professionals Can Get Beyond Impostor Syndrome4 Min Read

How Professionals Can Get Beyond Impostor Syndrome4 min read

“What’s holding you back from marketing your consulting services?” I asked my client.

After a long, in-depth conversation, we discovered it.

“I believe I’m an impostor,” she told me. “I really don’t think of myself as an expert, despite all my credentials and experience. And as a result, I don’t want to tell anyone about my services because ultimately they’ll discover I’m an impostor.”

Once we talked a little more and I’d done some digging, it became very clear that she wasn’t an impostor at all. She just felt like one.

Fluent in three languages and a leadership consultant in a major European city, her colleagues regarded her as an amazing networker who made great connections. But she kept holding herself back, waiting to “be invited” instead of putting herself out there.

Very few of her business connections even understood what services she offered. 

In the two weeks between our marketing coaching sessions she started doing things that were completely out of character. She initiated conversations. She listened and explained what she could do for her clients. One of these conversations resulted in an invitation to lecture in another city.

The identity of an impostor, like a great weight, had lifted off her shoulders and she wasn’t just feeling better about marketing herself, she was exuberant. She started to see unlimited possibilities in her business.

I’ve witnessed similar situations many times when clients realize an identity they’ve been holding on to (often for years) is simply a fearful thought or belief with no real substance.

My questions helped to reveal the identity as an “imaginary construct,” not a provable fact. This type of identification with an identity is a little like adamantly insisting we’re poor when actually, we have a million dollars in the bank.

This is not rare, in fact, almost everyone has an issue with false identities. That is, we think we are one thing when in fact we are, more often than not, exactly the opposite.

• We think we are unattractive when we are really quite attractive.

• We think we are ignorant when we are very knowledgeable.

• We think we are poor communicators when we communicate brilliantly.

• We think we don’t have value when our clients receive tremendous value from us.

• We think we don’t have time when we have huge unbooked spaces in our calendars.

I encounter these perceptions all the time with my clients. They tell me how they feel limited, incapable, inadequate or not good enough. But I never buy it.

When we look closely, we never find that self. We find thoughts, feelings and actions. We might find beliefs, avoidance and fears, but we never find that identity. It’s just not there.

Instead, what I find is capability, caring, passion, and intelligence. I find people who make a difference with their clients, love what they do and are committed to excellence. I rarely find impostors.

But the attachment to a limited identity like this can be quite tenacious. And the cost of holding onto this identity is high: lack of success, playing small, avoiding putting yourself out there.

The payoff can be even stronger than the cost. The imaginary identity is a conditioned pattern that feels safe and comfortable. An identity is much like clothing we’ve worn for years and years. It’s faded, threadbare and unattractive, while at the same time also familiar and safe.

I suggested to my client that believing she was an impostor had outworn its usefulness. Perhaps once it served her and kept her safe. But now it was only a liability, holding her back and keeping her from actualizing her potential.

When she really got that, the impostor identity simply dropped away. And it its place she found her authentic identity, her natural enthusiasm, and commitment to making a difference. Her smile and excitement during our second session were contagious.

What old, limited identity are you still clutching onto for dear life? Look more closely and you may discover that it’s not much more than smoke and mirrors, an illusion to keep you entrenched in your comfort zone.

Tell the truth about that identity. Bring it out into the light and you may discover that it has no substance or reality. And at the same time you may realize your true identity: ever-present awareness, always shining radiantly in the background.

Cheers, Robert

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