My impostor syndrome.
How it makes me better.
I have talked about struggling with my anxiety and depression and how it effects my impression of myself. It makes me feel like I’m not worthy of the clients I get. It causes me to doubt my own expertise and it gets in the way of personal relationships. Today I wanted to talk specifically about what has been called “impostor syndrome”.
Wikipedia defines impostor syndrome this way:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Um, yeah. That’s pretty much it. The thing is … there’s nothing to expose. So why the hell do we feel this way? I’m sure it depends on the individual and their past experiences. After all, most of us can only see from within our own perspective.
I believe that my impostor syndrome is a direct result of my anxiety. Being diagnosed with “generalized anxiety disorder” in 2016 was just a formality after managing it since my late teens. I had navigated all of the obstacles, and was able to identify much of what triggered my anxiety. I also identified my depression as a symptom of my anxiety and not a thing that lived on it’s own. It needed my anxiety to feed it. So, if I could manage my anxiety to better control my depression, that should also work for this impostor syndrome.
My impostor syndrome manifests in a lot of ways. When I start to hear my inner anxiety voice rambling about how I should “just cancel this meeting because this person knows you don’t really know what the hell you’re doing, Heather” … well, my whole personality changes. I might seem jittery, like I’ve had too much coffee. Or, I might seem angry or grumpy. Sometimes I just seem like I’m lost and apathetic.
What’s really happening is that I’m shutting down, rather than turn my internal nagging around. Let’s take a walk through one of these scenarios.
I’m picking an outfit so that I can get ready for a meeting in an hour. My inner dialogue goes something like this:
“I shouldn’t go to this meeting. I mean, I’m not prepared. This person is going to take one look at me and laugh. Why did I ever think I could be a professional anything? Seriously, Heather, you’re a damn mess. You didn’t even graduate college! What if they ask you about college?!? Oh my gosh! Even if they sit through a whole hour and talk with you about their project, their going to leave and immediately tell all of their friends how absolutely NOT worthy you are. Everyone will know that you’re a mess! You’re silly and ridiculous. You will not be taken seriously by “real” professionals. They’ll think you’re just a silly girl pretending to be something she simply isn’t …..”
And on and on and on. That dialogue will sometimes continue right up until the person is sitting in front of me. Then? Silence. It’s like “Anxiety Heather” suddenly freezes up and she doesn’t know what to do. So she sits there and smiles. It can get quite awkward. Good thing “Mellow Heather” has a plan.
I have a one liner that always snaps me out of it. I simply ask how the other person is. It puts the ball in their court and then we’re having an actual conversion. It’s like magic!
Thankfully my anxiety is manageable. On really bad days I’ve actually dissociated during a meeting. That’s when you kind of go on auto pilot and don’t remember what just happened. Yeah, I never heard from that person again … or did I?
Alright, let’s get to the part where all of this awfulness makes me a better professional. I guess, technically, it doesn’t. It does make me a better human, though. I often just tell people about my anxiety (assuming it’s appropriate and in the context of our current conversation). It forces me to be honest with myself and with others. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll take a minute to sort my thoughts right in the middle of a consultation. Hint: it looks a lot like note taking.
I find that potential clients and those who become clients, appreciate my flaws when I’m up front about them. I often joke with several of my clients about these struggles. Turns out, there are a lot of business owners and professionals out there that feel the same way. I’d never even know that if I wasn’t honest about being human. Go figure.
What I need to remember is that I’ve been a designer for 20 years and running this business for 10! Of course I know what I’m doing and this wonderful person is going to appreciate my knowledge and happily pay for it! I’ve got this!
Do you struggle with impostor syndrome or anxiety and manage to run a business? I would love to hear about how you’ve used this obstacle as a stepping stone to becoming better.