Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I’ve dealt with the imposter syndrome my entire life. It was only in the last twenty years or so that I learned there was a name for it and others feel it as well. It’s common. Maybe everyone has experienced it at some point. I think it hits perfectionists and high achievers more than others. It manifests as “The Voice”. The first time I can recall this was back in my early days of Christianity. I was told that God had created me defective and hated me for it. He wanted to torment me eternally. The only way to escape this fate was to love him and obey his every command. I pretended to love him. But, how are you supposed to love someone who only loves you for what someone else did (Jesus)? I was terrified of being exposed as an imposter for the next thirty-five years. The Voice told me I would be exposed soon.
Then, there was my career in sales. I’m naturally shy, or so I thought. I took up a career in sales to make more money and to force myself out of the shell I found myself in. I was good at it. I made the 100% club every year I was at IBM. I left IBM and made even more money. But, every time things turned for the worse, which they will in any long sales career, The Voice said: “Maybe I was never any good. I’ve been faking it. Now I’m being exposed for who I truly am.”
As an entrepreneur, I started my own company from nothing. It’s sustained our family for seventeen years now. We’ve gone from selling other people’s products to developing our own line, to (finally) landing our first distribution deal. Yet, I often feel like I really don’t know anything about running a business.
When people started suggesting I consider life coaching all I could think of was what a joke life coaching is. Life coaches are for wealthy people who have too much money and too little self-esteem. Then, I saw a couple of life coaches and realized the value they could have. A few sessions helped me tremendously. But, could Brian do this? My whole life I’ve felt drawn to the ministry. Pop, my paternal grandfather, was a pastor. His parents were pastors. It runs in my family. I didn’t have the traditional Christian beliefs to serve as a pastor in a church. That was out. When Tywana and I did pre-marital counseling at the Vineyard and I stood up in front of people about to get married teaching them the skills that would improve the odds for a successful marriage, I felt right at home, much more than I ever did in sales. That’s a form of life coaching and I loved doing that.
Can I charge people for what I do for friends for free? Isn’t being a life coach a bit like being a prostitute? You charge people for what you’d give away in a relationship. I gladly spend my time helping people. I’d do it for free, for anyone, anytime, anywhere. The problem is, in this world, you need money to live and no one’s giving away money for free. We have to charge for our time.
I started to reflect on much of my typical day. People call me for advice all the time. As an example, just yesterday, I spent over an hour on the telephone with one friend who was so pumped up they just needed someone to listen. I got in a few “Uh huh”s. But, it was really about them getting it all out. Another friend sent what had to be over a hundred Facebook messages as I’m being a sounding board for her. A third friend and I had a long conversation when they needed some advice on something of a spiritual that had just happened that they didn’t understand. For her it was a brand new thing. After the years I’ve spent studying this, my expertise was valuable to her. Hours of my day are spent helping people out, being a sounding board, giving advice, sometimes frankly Googling things they could Google themselves.
Six weeks ago I took the plunge. Five people had told me I should do this, including three people who are already life coaches. I purchased a life coaching course. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I was going to educate myself. I set a goal to have the course completed in a month. I completed it a week before my self-imposed deadline. Then, it was time to work on the website. I decided to build it myself. It’s not nearly complete. But, one of my friends saw what I was doing and asked about my new business venture. She wanted to hire me. Then I felt it again. Imposter syndrome. The Voice started. “Who are you kidding? You’ll never get this website finished. You can’t build a website on your own. What do you know about advising other people? You took a course now you’re an expert on life? What will we talk about? Will she find any value in our conversation? You should just stop this now before you embarrass yourself. You know people will think you’ve gone off the deep end completely” I thought about calling her and telling her “Nevermind. I’m not doing this.” Besides, I wasn’t ready. The Voice started whispering excuses “The website’s not nearly finished.” But, the purpose of the website is to let people know who I am so they’ll hire me. It doesn’t need to be ready. “But, my scheduling system, I haven’t even started on it. How will we schedule the appointment?” We schedule it the old fashioned way. Pick a date and time and put it on the calendar. “But, I haven’t organized all the materials from the course. I want to re-write all of the material and put it online so my clients can fill it out on their computers.” The answer to that was to just send her what I had. The next client can get the re-written, automated stuff. I told myself to stop making excuses. Everything is good enough now. We can continue to work on perfecting it.
I pressed forward. I told that inner critic to shut up. If I set my mind to this, I can do it. I’ve been doing it for free most of my life. There’s nothing wrong with charging. I spent two or three hours yesterday helping other people out. This is time that I’m not working on my own business. I have to make money. There is nothing wrong with exchanging time for money, as long as the person paying the money finds value in it.
As the time for our appointment approached yesterday evening, the nerves came back again. The Voice, starting to give in said: “At least I’m not charging her for the first session. If she hates it, she can make up an excuse and we’ll just pretend it never happened.”
When we got on the call, it started coming naturally to me. I scheduled a 30-minute initial consultation to get a feel for what she was seeking in a life coach and for me to explain to her what I think I can provide. 40 minutes into the call, I started to wrap it up. I did a very soft close. “Should you choose to work with me, these will be our next steps… Just take some time and think about it and let me know.” She said she definitely wants to go forward and would contact me in the next week or so.
After the call was over, I felt fantastic. And, I was proud of myself. Six weeks after setting the intention, I had completed the course, started the website, and taken my first appointment. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m equipped to do. I’ll continue education to learn more techniques. But, it’s really about communication skills, empathy, and life experience I think. I have all of that. I can help people and I can make at least some money along the way. The Voice telling me I’m an imposter will have to just shut up for a while.