My brilliant, talented, accomplished friend reached out to me for support as he vulnerably shared that he was scared about a presentation he was giving to a large client of his. He texted, “I’m terrified and have serious imposter syndrome kicking my ass.” I wasn’t surprised although most who know him would be. All they see is his seemingly effortless ability and savant-like talent when it comes to helping others find the right words to brand themselves in the most positive way. He can cut through the noise in others’ heads that keep them confused and stops them from acting. He hears a voice audible to only him that tells him what, at that moment, would be of most benefit to hear. His doubt wasn’t surprising because all through our almost 30-year friendship, he felt like an imposter because his very behaviors and talents people raved about were so natural, he felt he couldn’t take credit for them. He has built a business where he averages $20,000+ per month per client and he sometimes feels he is undeserving because the expectations are easy for him to meet. In his heart, he knows he has earned it; it’s his head that is the problem, as most of us can relate.
It made me think about my long-time affair with imposter syndrome. Why and how did I conquer that? It just hit me that I don’t feel it even though I have arguments to support it!
When I was a financial planner, I definitely felt like a phony…and for good reason. I had absolutely no background, neither academically nor through work experience, in this field. I didn’t even balance my own checkbook. I went from being an executive secretary at a casino to passing the SEC exam and going into financial planning because two friends who owned a brokerage firm felt my contacts would easily bring in business. I was able to do that and my income increased dramatically and quickly over my secretarial pay, but I was miserable every day. I stayed there, hating it, for over a decade because the money was good, and I didn’t think there was anything else I could do that would equal that income. Every moment I was discussing someone’s finances or a certain investment, I thought there was a neon sign flashing, “Don’t listen to her—she doesn’t have a clue!” Luckily, the two guys I worked for did have a clue, so no one got hurt from my lack of knowledge, but that was such a depressing, worth-shattering time in my life. During those years I volunteered on political campaigns to fill my soul. I was valued there—especially when I was so willing to raise money—and I felt empowered by my knowledge I had picked up by my educated older sister and by surrounding myself in all that was the Democratic Party in Las Vegas. Because of that, when an incumbent U.S. Senator and County Commission candidate both offered to pay me to fundraise for their campaigns after doing it for various candidates for free for over 20 years, they didn’t have to ask twice. I had no idea that was an option for me, and when I understood it was, I turned my book of business over to another financial planner and was out of there, opening my own fundraising company within two weeks. I was in heaven. I remember walking down the hall to my new office thinking, “If I could sing, I would burst into song right now!”
I didn’t feel like an imposter—I was an extremely capable, successful, sought after fundraiser. Well, I didn’t feel like it in my work life, anyway. Personally, I felt like a Hoax, with a capital “h”. Because of my connection to elected officials and my fairly high-profile life, I was written up in magazines, asked to sit on panels or speak, and given awards. Oh, those awards—they really brought up the guilt. When I heard kudos thrown at me about how great I was or how deserving I was, how talented or whatever I was, all I could think was, “If you only knew!” I had a secret and it was a doozy and the shame it produced drowned out anyone or any voice that said anything other than, “You know you aren’t what you pretend to be. You’re an imposter!”
After a series of situations, including getting breast cancer and reading a life-altering article about a teenager who was killed by her trafficker, I knew I couldn’t keep my secret in anymore. I felt, with every ounce of my being, that if I didn’t do something to rid myself of the shame, I was absolutely going to implode and die. I believed that. It took several more years to figure out how and where I was supposed to do that. I found myself sitting in front of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Nevada State Legislature, sharing my secret of being trafficked for the first time. If you’re interested in hearing my story, you can find it here.
And, almost like magic, the weight of shame was lifted from me and everything in my life changed for the better.
My speaking coaching has similarities and vast differences from my financial planning days. I don’t have an academic background in communications and I didn’t work in jobs with the titles connected to that type of knowledge. What I have always had was an innate ability to tweak a speech slightly in a way that causes a huge difference. What I do have is years of experience working with candidates and nonprofit leaders on how to articulate their ask. What I do have is a hard-earned speaking coaching certification. And what I am grateful to have is a super sense of what someone isn’t saying that needs to be said and the ability to create a safe place for them to finally articulate it. Add to that my lived experience of the empowerment and freedom that comes by breaking our silence and speaking up and out, and you have the ingredients for crushing the imposter syndrome. Does it ever sneak back in? Yes, of course; in my case it often does when setting my prices and comparing them to the higher fees others have in place. But now, I just get quiet and listen to my inner voice that always whispers what is right for me.
I haven’t met many who haven’t at one time felt the dreaded imposter syndrome. Sometimes, like my friend, it is quieted—at least temporarily—by others’ response to his brilliance. For others, like me, it’s quieted when we are gifted by finally finding one of our true purposes. Yes, I believe we can have more than one.
Even the supremely talented Maya Angelou suffered her doubts. She said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find me out now.’” What about you? Are you haunted by the dreaded imposter syndrome? Is it valid? If it is, you can set out on the journey of finding where you truly belong, where you’re in perfect alignment with your gifts and joy; if it isn’t, you can listen to that still inner voice that never lies to you and you’ll hear, “You’re worth it! You’re valuable and valued! You are fabulous!”
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