Most People Think Imposter Syndrome Reveals Your Gaps. The Truth Is It Reveals Your Growth — Lionesses of Africa

by Lori Milner

Imposter syndrome is not based on logic. The most successful people still experience the feeling that everyone will find out that they know nothing, that their success is based on luck, and that they don’t deserve to be there. It’s a debilitating pattern and one that can keep you playing small if you buy into your own story.

What if you reframed imposter syndrome as a good thing? What if you could see it’s the passport to your growth? You can’t win the lottery without the ticket – what if you accept you can’t grow and move beyond your comfort zone without experiencing a healthy dose of imposter syndrome?

What if you could see imposter syndrome as something that belongs? It’s part of your journey and has a place at the table. The fact that you have imposter syndrome means you’re trying new things and stretching yourself beyond your current abilities that you feel comfortable with.

I have coached countless people who share a common dilemma – they are successful in their current role, although they are not fulfilled. They may want to move departments from sales to marketing but fear the judgement of not being perfect or failing. The fear of moving into uncertainty lies beneath the resistance to make the change. The loss of the known is scarier than moving into the unknown. It’s the fear of being perceived as incompetent which prevents you from taking the leap you desire.

There are phases to moving from your comfort zone into your courage zone – it’s not one leap. It’s a process you ease into overtime, and eventually, that feeling of imposter syndrome evaporates when you build the career capital to validate your success.

Here are the three phases to mastering the stages of uncertainty:

Phase 1 – The Tourist.

Think about the first time you travelled somewhere new; it was an emotional roller coaster. You were filled with excitement and apprehension because you didn’t know what to expect.You were utterly over-prepared and bought every book and downloaded many apps. You take every precaution and are so nervous about getting lost that taking public transport can be a completely overwhelming experience – what if you miss your stop? What if you get off at the wrong station? The fun thing about being a tourist is that mistakes turn into discoveries. When you took the wrong street and found the hidden ‘hole in the wall’, which turned out to be a local culinary gem, you were overjoyed at your mistake. You have lists for your lists to ensure you use your time wisely and tick all the boxes on what you are ‘supposed’ to see and do in this city. You are driven more by FOMO (fear of missing out) rather than what you genuinely want to explore initially.

Phase 2 – The Local.

Over time, you become more familiar and discover all the shortcuts. Your once new city has become natural for you, and so your confidence begins to increase. You are comfortable taking new risks and trying new things because you know what to expect. Something like public transport, which used to paralyse you with fear, is now your new normal, and you can navigate your way around the city with ease. You are more open to allowing the days to unfold and see what you feel like each day instead of planning every minute in the fear that you don’t maximize your time.

Phase 3 – The Guide.

You are now the expert, and people contact you for advice and guidance on things that used to be so foreign to you. As a guide, you can now teach others and lead the way for them. Your failures and experiences are your most outstanding teachers and where you can now pass on the wisdom to others and fast track their journeys. As a guide, you share your knowledge openly and can identify yourself in them and where you once began.

When you are a guide, you can empower and encourage others to move beyond their comfort zones with the knowledge they have your full support.

How does this relate to you?

Think back to your first role or when you began your current position. In the beginning, you were the tourist where everything was overwhelming, and it felt like you would never get the hang of it. Fast forward a few months, and you merged into the local. You found better ways to do your work, and as things became more comfortable, your level of responsibility increased.

As you become more experienced in your role, you transcend into a guide. You lead a team, or people come to you for guidance and advice.

The next time you want to move from your comfort zone to your courage zone, remind yourself that you are not an imposter but just in the tourist phase. Remember, this initial discomfort is a phase because you have proved to yourself that with time and experience, things will eventually gravitate into a local phase for you.

You are not an imposter – you are meant to feel overwhelmed and out of your depth. That’s growth – you are not deceiving anyone, you are moving forward, and it has to be uncomfortable. That’s the nature of moving into the unknown and unexplored territory. You will reach the phase of a guide at some point, and the insecurities fade away. Of course, you will experience self-doubt, but it’s a healthy dose of self-doubt. It’s not the debilitating kind that prevents you from moving into your full potential and keeps you playing small.

Final thoughts.

When you have those days of feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and remind yourself what phase you are in. No matter how uncomfortable it feels, remember that nothing is permanent. It becomes more manageable when you can give yourself permission to be a beginner again and enjoy the process because you know what to expect now.

The only way to promote yourself to the next phase is by going through the discomfort; you cannot find your way around it or over it. Remind yourself daily to focus on the process, not the outcome. The joy is in the daily journey; if you went from tourist to guide overnight, you would miss all the lessons and who you are becoming on the way. The mistakes, stumbles, and downright failures provide the substance of your experience and the stories you can share so others can fast track your learning.

In the words of Seth Godin,

“When we embrace imposter syndrome instead of working to make it disappear, we choose the productive way forward. The imposter is proof that we’re innovating, leading and creating.”

Here’s to being a proud imposter,

Warm wishes


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