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VIOLA DAVIS on “Imposter Syndrome”

Do you suffer from it, too?

Shortly after winning her Oscar this past Sunday, actress Viola Davis (who has also won Emmy and Tony awards) told ABC News that she sometimes feels like she has “Impostor Syndrome”.

“It feels like my hard work has paid off, but at the same time, I still have the Impostor, you know, Syndrome,” Davis said. “I still feel like I’m going to wake up and everybody’s going to see me for the hack I am.”

Several years ago, during a teleconference where motivational author Josh Hinds had interviewed me about my work around fear and limiting beliefs, listeners got to hear one attendee, Matt (not his real name), tell us that he was about to receive an acceptance of his offer to work with a big, new client.

“How do I deal with the feeling that I may have oversold them,” he asked, “—that I’m not really capable of delivering what I promised?”

“My wife calls what I’m going through ‘imposter syndrome’,” Matt continued, “but whatever you call it, it is really making me feel like a fraud, and as though that at some point, they’re going to figure it out.”

Imposter Syndrome describes that collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.  It is the feeling that you are not really competent; that you are only posing as someone who is competent.  It often hits professionals at the worst time—when they are negotiating an exceptionally large contract.

Josh and I both came to Matt’s aid.  I pointed out that Matt should tell himself that it is okay to have this fear.

“Instead of trying to fight it,” I recommended, “acknowledge that it’s there—that it’s okay to be afraid—and take steps to do what you need to do to get rid of it. Be the expert you told them that you are.

I explained to Matt that the first step anyone takes in order to become an expert at something is to declare that he or she is an expert.  Then, he or she needs to “walk the talk”.

“Get whatever training, materials, and books you need to make what you told them true,” I advised him.

Josh and I both also pointed out that Matt needs to trust his clients’ gut opinion of him.  “Believe that they have thoroughly considered your credentials and background,” we coached.  “If they have more faith in you than you do,” we told him, “Then you need to borrow theirs.”

Like Viola Davis, many of us have a gap between what our abilities are and what we perceive that they are.  While it sometimes works the other way, usually our abilities are greater than our perception of them.  If you’re feeling the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, more often than not, your inner critic is undervaluing you.

If the feedback you’re getting is overwhelmingly positive, trust in your clients’ perception of you!  If you’re still afraid, acknowledge the fear, and contact me for help getting over it.  Move into your best self in spite of the syndrome, and keep REACHING…

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