The problem with feeling like an imposter is thinking there’s something wrong with it.
I know this is different from any way you have thought about it, but humor me. What happens when we are offered an opportunity but we feel like an imposter?
We overwork to compensate.
We look around at our colleagues and resent them. Because why do they get to feel so secure? Why aren’t they feeling insecure? They don’t even spend time worrying about it, and that leads to more resentment! They are not working as hard as you, and now they are not stressing about the opportunity like you are.
What is the result of those actions? We spend lots of time in indecision, overwhelm, fear, resentment, and overwork. We might take the opportunity, do well even, but hate the whole process and add it to the bad feelings we already feel about ourselves.
What is behind feeling like an imposter? It’s the thoughts that we tell ourselves. It helps to understand the motivation behind these thoughts.
We were wired to survive.
Our brains don’t think for themselves (Ha!). The brain’s focus is to keep us safe. And when a new opportunity arises, think of all the immediate thoughts that come up from the position of someone trying to keep you safe.
You could embarrass yourself.
Others could criticize you.
They think you know things, but you don’t really.
If you mess this up, your career will be ruined, and no one will come to you anymore.
Someone else would do it better.
It will take a lot of time, and what will you have to show for it?
It would be safer to just come up with an excuse.
We often don’t stop and question these thoughts. Are they even true? We may not even know what those thoughts are because we haven’t gotten past the label of “imposter!”
What if we embrace that imposter inside of us? Give her a name. Imagine what she looks like. When we treat the part of our brain like another person with thoughts, feelings, fears, we can now start to understand where we are coming from. Welcome her in, sit her down and start to have an honest and real conversation with her.
Your brain, trying to keep you safe, is not interested in more and better opportunities. If you turn down these opportunities, then you are safe. You may not advance, but that’s not a safe plan. Staying where you are is safe. Not putting yourself out there is safe.
What if you start first with the gratitude that she is trying to keep you safe? You could start to love that part of yourself rather than resist and resent it. Now you can see a way to move forward. Now it is about a conversation, not an argument.
You just have to find a way to make putting yourself out there safe.
Before we have a conversation with others, it helps to be clear in our mind what we want. When this opportunity comes up, how do you feel about the opportunity itself? Think about your choices. If you accept the opportunity, your brain is offering all the reasons not to. But take that thought all the way through.
How would you feel about yourself if you called them and said, “No, I can’t take this opportunity?” What comes up for you?
How would you feel about watching another colleague accept this opportunity? Now you get to watch them do what you could do. What comes up now? The part of your brain that wants to do it now has a lot to say!
The part of your brain that wants to do it and knows she can do it just has to sit with the part of your brain that fears the opportunity. Now we have a negotiation. Gone are the indulgent emotions of resentment and resistance. Now we have cooperation, compassion, gratitude, and sincerity. Let both sides be heard.
A part of you knows you are an expert and that this opportunity will empower and encourage further success. The other part is not sure. But if you approach with love and compassion and understanding, it’s easy to see a way out. Reassure the part of your brain that worries that the world will not come crumbling down around the opportunity.
We were already enough before we started.
We will be enough after it is over.
We are safe regardless because we will always have our back.
The beautiful part of letting go of the resistance: we get somewhere! We can embrace other emotions, like excitement and challenge. What are the actions that follow emotions like excitement and challenge? If we know we are good enough, that we will not allow that part of us (any part of us) to be hurt, then we can explore what we can do.
We leave ourselves open to learning more with less time battling between ourselves and our thoughts on others. Others do not threaten us, so we are open to learning from them, too. Now their knowledge is not another weapon. It is an opportunity to learn more and improve ourselves. Their success does not weaken ours. Their success can elevate us, too.
Amy Vertrees is a general surgeon and founder, BOSS Business of Surgery Series.
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