Many young change agents encounter Imposter Syndrome. We want to change the world, or at least our small corner of it, but we don’t yet have that deeply internalised knowing where experience and knowledge builds into intuitive leadership.
For some people Imposter Syndrome is a psychological condition that appears to be linked to ADHD. This article is not about such a condition. It’s about the voice that surfaces in our heads from time to time, tells us we are frauds, everybody else is going really well and we are the only one who is faking it.
And the voice has some credibility, particularly when we are trying to drive change. It is a like someone who has just starting painting saying, “I’m no good as an artist”. And that is perfectly true – they are no good, at the moment. But they have responded to that inner calling to be creative and with time, and dedication, the artist will emerge.
But the reality is that most of us have more than enough of what it takes to be a change agent, even if it feels foreign and alien when we start. If you “get” what this change thing is about, you are smart enough to want to learn more, and have reasonable personal skills, then it’s time to personalise, and banish, the Imposter in your head.
Imposter plays mind games. It will want you to be paralysed by the vision of global catastrophes and conspiracies presented by the social media robots. These robots are designed to feed you content similar to what you have been viewing, not to help you deal with your fears or tell you what is really going on.
The Imposter will also strongly suggest that that anything good that is happening is not adequate and does not meet It’s expectations of what needs to change. As a consequence, it will encourage you to disparage any imperfect actions by others who are trying to do good. The Imposter’s objective is to get you to live in a small, self-righteous, self-sufficient bubble of critique and inaction. Not a good outcome for you or the world.
Two quotes are helpful in dealing with Imposter Syndrome, both are about getting the ego out of the way and getting on with the job. The first quote is attributed to Nelson Mandela, but he borrowed it from Marianne Williamson, and you probably have heard it before….
“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? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Some atheists (and fundamentalists of any religion) may find phrases such as “…. a child of God” and “…the glory of God”, triggering. If this occurs please ignore the god words and assume that this text is about turning the focus off yourself onto making the world a better place.
The second quote is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
The message is – get on with it and accept the limitations that you bring to the position.
These limitations are the substance of life. People who seek to eliminate all such limitations so they can get on with the job of “saving the world” often leave a trail of collateral damage of discarded families, financial irregularities, and un-addressed personal demons. The corollary of this is using the limitations as a reason to do nothing – I’m too busy with the kids, the job, etc. etc.. Neither are good for the world or humanity and are not what change should be about.
So some practical actions to help manage the Imposter in your head.
Firstly – do something constructive, preferably hands-on. Learning skills doing a specific project with clear outcomes is a great way of clearing your mind. Being able to point to something that you have delivered is a great way to stop finding your identity through fear and critiques.
Secondly – at the start, stay away from activists. Quality activism needs to be informed by deeply learned, practical knowledge and a mindful centredness. The Imposter will want you to team up with activists very early in your career so you burn up huge amounts of energy, but don’t actually change anything.
Thirdly – find intriguing people who sort of, but not quite, share your vision and journey. Preferably include people who have been on the journey longer than you, even if they may be chronologically younger. Having a hand to hang onto as you step out of your comfort zone will be invaluable and you will learn a lot.
Fourthly – get to know the Imposter and develop clarity around the messages it is feeding you. It is a cunning adversary, but also huge resource of insight about your deepest fears. Insight into these fears allows a Nelson Mandela style of transformation, and with this, the energy that the Imposter was using to keep you paralysed comes available for real (but always imperfect) change in the world.