I am a regional CFO for a multinational company, I have lived and worked in five countries in my life and traveled to many more. Where I am today may be very common in the professional world, but I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, but by the obstacles one has overcome while trying to succeed. I have come a long way in my life to get to where I am now — here’s another blog entry that tells my story.
Every one of us, at some point in their life has experienced the impostor syndrome in one way or another. This syndrome can cause us paralysis in our ability to achieve a higher and more advanced self. Acknowledging the presence of that disabling, negative voice within, can help you remain on your path to realizing your undiscovered gifts.
What is “The Imposter Syndrome”?
Here’s what Google said: “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
I have had quite a rough battle with the impostor syndrome for a long time in my career, I would like to share with you my story on how this whole thing came about and where it all started initially. So here’s my story with feeling like an impostor for years and how I managed to coexist with that voice and what I learned.
I was at work, at about 4’o clock in the afternoon. I was sitting in a conference call, ironically named a “Flash meeting”. I was in one city attending a conference call with some colleagues, on the other side of the call there were colleagues in another city. This was a monthly meeting that took place on the 2nd working day of every month — I was supposed to explain some large variances in the stock of the multinational company that I was working for at that time.
I was both nervous and anxious, because simply I didn’t know what I was doing and what I was dealing with! My turn came to start presenting and explaining the variances. After a few moments, it became obvious that I was not giving proper explanations and the more vague I was in my explanation, the more I was getting challenged with difficult questions that I could not answer — even the individuals that normally do not interact, decided to ask me a question in that meeting!
Finally, the questions ceased, and my turn on the grill came to an end. The team in the other city started presenting. I leaned back in my chair furious and frustrated with my performance and I started cursing some of the individuals that were challenging me for the first time ever, until I realized something. My colleagues forgot to turn off the microphone. My little venting session had been recorded “live”!
Silence reigned for a minute. Slowly, I turned off the button to the conference call and I decided to go take a walk.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that you were fake, and you feared that someone was going to discover your true identity as an impostor? That you didn’t know what you were doing or what you were talking about?
Ever since that day, I have had this inner negative voice in my head that I call the Impostor. This imposter is constantly reminding me that soon enough, someone will discover my true identity. Over time, this voice gets louder. I start to feel more vulnerable and insecure and I compensate this by over working myself with long hours and thorough preparation.
Eventually, I moved to another country with a new company. I wanted the experience of moving overseas and becoming an expatriate. I thought that once I moved to a new country I could have a fresh start, a new mindset, and perhaps mute that Impostor voice.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire! The new job actually demanded me to be more knowledgeable in the domain where I felt most insecure. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to change companies, but the economy got hit badly, so I decided to fake my way through until I get a window of opportunity to walk out of that place.
After several years of dealing with this pressure of insecurity and various attempts to run away, I decided to adopt a new approach with dealing with the Impostor voice in my head. This coincided with watching a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy speaking about faking it in life until you actually become it.
With that, I decided to create a new perspective to this syndrome called the “Fuck It” Perspective. It enabled me to actually identify and isolate that Impostor voice within me and face my fear head on. I also had to program my mind to nurture a new voice that would be the complete opposite of the Impostor — I called that voice The Director! Triggered by this fear of getting discovered, I started educating myself on my weakest points. I read various books and attended several seminars.
Fast-forward 8 years, I am still with this foreign company and I realized that the Impostor voice will never go away, it will remain in my head with its mean attitude — nevertheless the Director voice has, in most cases, overpowered the Impostor within me. It helped me bring clarity into my head. This framework enabled me to climb up the corporate ladder far beyond what I imagined I could ever achieve.
So what did I learn from all of this?
It’s a chemistry cocktail in your brain:
I actually did my research on this syndrome and here is how one of the many sources perfectly explains the process in your brain:
Once the negative thoughts start to flood our brain, it activates the process that translates into the stress we feel during the experience. “We get the thought about our insecurity or how we are a fraud, and that stimulates the amygdala in the brain that is part of the limbic system (which controls our moods and instincts),” explains Dr. John Mayer, clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. “The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data is accurate. If the data is perceived as something that causes angst, the adrenal gland produces a hormonal secretion that results in the release of catecholamines, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine. Then the body is brought into a state of stress.”
Acknowledging the problem is probably 50% of the resolution:
This was true in my case, I have always had an illusion that this impostor voice actually represented who I truly was in life. Nevertheless, when I began to pick up on certain moments in my job where my contribution was a valid and a key factor to the success of a certain event, I continued to monitor these light bulb moments and there were a few. That led me to start questioning the integrity of how much the Impostor voice represented me. Once I was convinced that the Impostor voice was not who I was, this is when I started researching ways for combating this syndrome. Also, what was consoling and enlightening for me was hearing about some successful people who struggled with this syndrome and how they manage to get through that hindrance in their lives.
Discipline is a fundamental ingredient for the cure:
I have had a long history of adopting habits in my life that helped me build solid discipline. Discipline and Patience are two ingredients that were essential in continuously programming my brain to nurture the opposing voice of the Impostor. The most challenging moments were the dark moments when I was doubting myself following an incorrect or inefficient output that I have given. This is when my discipline was helping me to remain connected with the Director who enabled me to acknowledge that there are enough capabilities in me that makes me a legit leader.
In conclusion, if we continue to foster the voice of the Impostor within us, we will eventually surrender to some limiting beliefs that can cause us to stop in time and perhaps generate some anxiety. With these conditions we will navigate through life with our head down trying to avoid criticism or judgment and we will not be able to tap into our greatness.
Start acknowledging that this Impostor voice actually does not represent who you truly are — connect to the voice of the genius within you (in my case The Director).
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