I’m probably one of many who jumped on the “May the 4th be with you” bandwagon recently! Pure coincidence as I came to write this piece about imposter syndrome, and the confusion at play with it: The Force is already with you.
Imposter Syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
This leads to people saying things like “Everyone else is better than me. I am not as good as people think I am and I am going to get found out.”
In the belief of those thoughts, people who believe they’re imposters work really hard and commit themselves to lots of learning to try and quiet that voice. If I can just learn this, achieve that, get to that level — then the voice will go quiet.
In the presence of all this hard work and commitment they often get recognised, praised, and promoted — the very things they think they don’t deserve — and, in the fear that they’ll definitely be found out now, they keep working hard and learning hard to compensate for what they think they lack.
Eventually, this becomes unsustainable. Often a level of seniority or experience is reached where they start to think something’s up with this game. Why do I still feel incapable and insecure after all this work and all this learning?
Now, teetering ‘higher up’ the professional pyramid, it looks like a long way to fall.
So what do we do?
Most development tries to get this voice to go quiet, or tries to overwrite it with something more positive — look at everything you can do, look at what you know and are capable of now compared to earlier in your career, look at what you do with ease that others find difficult.
This is fine, I did this, and offered it to others too. It is a great way to poke holes in the storyline and open us up to see that there is more going on than just ‘I don’t deserve this praise, I’m not that great’.
And, this approach has a limit. It tends to lead to the old belief being switched for the new one: ‘I am capable and I do deserve praise’.
This keeps us at the level of limited, conceptual ideas and beliefs and this level of thinking can only work in ‘black or white’, ‘this or that’ thinking — switching from ‘I don’t deserve and I’m not capable’ to ‘I do deserve and I am capable’.
The latter is no more true than the former, and so we find ourselves becoming lost in a new limit — a nicer-looking limit of ‘I’m capable and I deserve’, but still a limit. And deep within we know it’s still not actually true. It’s not a fixed and definite truth. There’s still a nagging sense of doubt, and quite rightly, because beliefs at that level are un-fix-able.
- Unfixable because they can’t be made permanently, fixed-in-stone ‘right’ ever. There’s only ‘right’ for this moment now, and then it changes.
- Unfixable because thought always moves and changes. It can’t be pinned down or fixed in place.
- Unfixable because these thoughts aren’t broken. They’re just doing what these thoughts do — which is tell stories of lack and not enough. Tell stories of ‘I’m not OK’. And something in us knows that not to be true.
So where to look instead?
Let’s come back to the fact it’s Star Wars Day and the metaphor of The Force, or what I call innate brilliance. You might know it as true self, essential nature, capital S Self, capital M Mind. It has many names because it is nameless, formless, unconceptualisable! And it is universal.
Who you really are — right here, already and always, including when temporarily hidden by ideas that I lack, and I’m not enough, or worth it, and I’ll get found out. It’s still there.
When imposter syndrome arises, all that’s happening is you temporarily believe those thoughts that run through your mind and, in doing so, they seem to solidify; suddenly looking real, true, definite and fixed and — of course — now creating horrible feelings, and an experience in the content of life that looks like it ‘confirms’ it — I feel horrible it must be true, I’ve been promoted now they’re really going to see I can’t, I didn’t deserve that praise, I really don’t know enough, they’re going to find out I’m not that great.
But the horrible feelings aren’t telling you about you, your capability, or the job. You’ve innocently believed, and been taught, that this discomfort is confirmation that, yes, you must really be awful and you must really work harder at becoming better.
But no. You’ve been given an impossible job to do — to fix what was never broken. To fix what is unfixable. The horrible feelings and the downstream experience of supposedly being ‘not as good as they think I am’ are all designed to get your attention to look elsewhere: to see that feeling secure was never, and will never, be found in transient conceptual thoughts and beliefs, or in the downstream ever-changing reality they create.
What’s available is to see that it’s only in the belief of those thoughts that these feelings arise and those experiences happen. That when those thoughts are absent, or not bought-into, you continue as The Force that you naturally are and you have a whole different experience.
I had an experience of this in action just now as I wrote this post. A thought came up about my interview with Sara for Stories Worth Telling and then the thought — oh, did that get released on the podcast? *Checks podcast* No, it’s not gone out. Oh! Was it so terrible that she didn’t feel she could publish it??
Temporarily the thought was believed —I’m really not capable enough, I really have been found out! and what inevitably came with it was a contraction and feelings of fear, embarrassment.
But there was enough space in it to see that there was a confusion of thoughts happening, so I messaged Sara, telling her this thought-storm that had just arisen and, as I wrote, I realised that I was actually OK — very much including if she did think it was terrible and couldn’t put it out there. Then an idea appeared that if it was terrible we could do a re-run, or just bin it. No big deal.
In the absence of belief in the thought, it settled, and the natural Force of our innate brilliance was revealed again, with OK-ness, fresh ideas, and clarity.
It also turned out Sara’s just been busy and hadn’t got to it 🙂 Our thoughts have no idea about life and in the confusion of believing they have valuable information about us and the world, we’ve understandably got scared.
“We aren’t afraid of what we think we’re afraid of. We’re afraid of what we think.” Michael Neill
The more you know that all thoughts are transient, temporary clouds over The Force of the sun that you really are, the less afraid of them you get, the more you see they don’t need to be — can’t be — fixed, and the more easily you stay in the flow of life.
And here is where I depart from the Jedi metaphor because, rather than requiring effort or practice (see last week’s topic) all that it takes is a gentle noticing of what’s already here, who I really am (already and always), and how The Force is already shining through in every moment, just ever more brightly when our thought-clouds drop.
The rest takes care of itself.
With love, Helen