Some of my clients say that they feel like a fraud. That they show up to work and fear that at any moment people will see through the capable and competent persona they present and expose the ‘real’ person beneath. They will be revealed for the person they believe themselves to be – the person who doesn’t know enough, who is pretending to get it. This is such a common idea that there is, of course, a name for it: imposter syndrome.
Now the interesting aspect of this understanding is that when we believe who we think we are – all of us are imposters.
All of us are imposters whatever we believe about who we are. Whether we believe we are brilliant or awful, talented or incapable, successful or a failure.
Because how can we possibly be who we think we are? That is an idea entirely created in thought. And thought changes. It is transient, nebulous, immaterial.
So when we are there in a meeting or a presentation or working with a client and the thought comes to us ‘What if they see through me? What if they realise I am not who I seem to be?’ we can start to see now that actually that would only be a good thing. And in fact how great if we saw it for ourselves: believing beliefs about ourselves, whether those beliefs can be labelled positive or negative, we are always an imposter.
Believing ourselves to be this idea of self, we are there as something we are not.
Imposter syndrome can take us on a never-ending quest for more self-belief, more confidence, more presence all as an attempt to make our identity more secure. This will never be fulfilled because a self made of thought, can never be secured. There is nothing there to fix in place. Until we see this, we will always be looking for a way to make this self of ours more robust and we will always feel like an imposter because it can never be robust.
Alternatively, we can take imposter syndrome head on. We can see it for the valid pointer it really is. We can use it as a way to genuinely explore what is actually true about this identity of ours, about our belief in who we are. Then we start to see that all of this changes. That in fact there is nothing there that is fixed or objective or independent of perception.
Seeing imposter syndrome as the inevitable result of believing anything about ourselves takes us on a very different exploration altogether. We give up the need to try to secure that self through more self belief or confidence. And instead we look in the other direction.
We start to look into what is actually true about who we are. We make the distinction between what is a creation of transient thought and what is constantly present.
This is such an important aspect to explore, let’s take it step by step:
1. Imposter syndrome implies that there is a ‘reality’ of who we are which is true and then there is a façade we present to the world or a belief that others have in us that covers this over. The truth is that, at any time, believing ANYTHING about ourselves we become an imposter.
2. Every single aspect of our identity is a creation of thought and belief. All of it changes. None of it can be true. So neither the façade that we present the world nor the underlying inadequate ‘reality’ is who we are. The underlying ‘reality’ is just as illusory as the façade
3. We can spend a ton of time, effort and money trying to secure the façade we want to present the world and address the insecurity. We try to have more self esteem, more confidence, more self belief. All this does is make this illusory idea of self appear more real, requiring more protection to stay in place.
4. And when that idea gets knocked, ‘How dare they question my leadership? I am a leader!’ ‘She asked X for advice when everyone knows I am the expert in that area.’ ‘What are they talking about? I’m the creative one in this group.’ our whole being seems to be under threat.
5. Any feeling of insecurity is a sign that we have things backwards, that we are trying to secure an idea of self that is impossible to secure. The freedom is in seeing the insanity of all of it: the façade we present AND the belief in an underlying individual self. None of that is who we are. Believing any of it we are an imposter. When we no longer believe it, we have no identity, no idea of self.
We show up as freedom. As authenticity.
That is who we are.