Outsmarting the Imposter

stamp fake with red text on whiteFor some of us it speaks in a silky whisper. For others, the tone is derisive, condescending, or downright mean. You know the voice I’m talking about. The one in your head that, in those moments when you most need confidence and support, says something like, “Nice try, but you’re an impostor and it’s only a matter of time before everybody finds out.”

After years of coaching leaders, I’ve come to believe that the impostor syndrome is a nearly universal human experience, especially among high achievers facing an unfamiliar challenge. Many leaders work valiantly to overcome its erosive message, investing precious time and energy that otherwise could be used to create, connect, and inspire.

Nowhere was my impostor syndrome more evident than during the startup of my practice 17 years ago. After a few months of struggle, one friend gently observed that I was unlikely to find many clients between my couch and refrigerator. He gave me the bad news: get out there and network. Suddenly I felt myself back in 6th grade at a pool party where the boys slow danced with every girl but me. Fear of rejection had me in its grip and I was stuck.

After several days of deep reflection and brownie hot fudge sundaes, I hired a coach.

We worked for several months and did all sorts of things to open up space for change. We created a vision, identified and addressed behaviors and beliefs that stood in the way, and developed a new personal narrative that more accurately described my current capability and the possibilities into which I was growing. The work was rigorous but fun, and I began to feel more in control. We crafted tangible action steps. You guessed it, one of those steps was networking.

While no longer terrified, I was still skeptical and had lots of reasons why networking wasn’t for me. My coach listened respectfully, and then said, “Networking is talking to people. Isn’t that what you love doing for a living? Talking to people?” That moment was like a brain transplant without the mess. In an instant, something I had dreaded for months became fun and exciting. I started visualizing people as colorfully wrapped packages, waiting to be opened so I could discover the beauty inside.

All that time I thought I was learning to network with other people, it turns out I was meeting my best self. And in that process I discovered many things. That I see the best in people. That I care deeply. That I have some valuable skills and the opportunity to learn a lot more. That I’m not perfect. But an impostor? Nope.

Laurel Callan