Impostor syndrome as an idea has been hanging around for quite some years now.
To me, this term is a convenient, short form label that allows us to give a place to our feelings. Experiencing crippling self-doubt and feeling like you might be trying to operate above your true pay-grade becomes “Impostor Syndrome”.
I am generally opposed to labelling our ways of being in the world unless truly necessary to find a way through them. For example, someone might really appreciate a diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood because it can lead to them finding the right information to function optimally. When they know they think differently, they can leverage both the shadow and the gift of this diagnosis and feel better about themselves and how they show up to life.
To me, impostor syndrome feels different. It doesn’t offer a new pathway, an operating manual or suggest new conditions for success, rather it dilutes our personal power by pathologising something that is very normal.
For people who are challenging themselves to do new and different things regularly, I wouldn’t expect anything less than some sense of not having it all together. The mind loves the familiar and avoids the unfamiliar, so it’s always going to feel weird to do something different (even if it is in the direction of something “better”).
I want to offer a new line of enquiry for those who are experiencing what they might recognise and label as impostor syndrome, especially if it's pervasive. It’s an abstract one, but also grounded in physics, so please humour me for a moment…
Let’s start by introducing the Hermetic Principles, a set of seven key principles that are attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a figure that arises out of a fusion of ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. The essence of these teachings is present in almost every religious and spiritual tradition alive today. From the ancient Greeks and Egyptians to modern Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, the key ideas underpinning Hermeticism are pervasive. The principles were more recently published in a book called the Kybalion, in the early 20th century. The work belongs to the realm of occult wisdom, which seeks to join the physical and metaphysical worlds, and feels a lot like physics. A quick Google search will teach you more if this sounds as fascinating to you as it does to me, but to keep this as succinct as possible, let’s get to what all this has to do with feeling like an impostor!
Here, I want to offer you the Hermetic Principle of cause and effect:
"Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to law; chance is but a name for law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law."
Take a moment with that.
Read it again if you need to. And then drill down here:
“...chance is but a name for a law not recognized…”
If nothing is by chance, how is it that someone ends up in a situation where they feel like an impostor? I’ll offer two possibilities, and I welcome you to add more by reply email if you can think of them:
The person suffering impostor syndrome is actually suitably qualified for the role they play by virtue of character, skill, experience or otherwise. They have been reasonably vetted by the unfolding of life to arrive in the situation they are in today and have the resources needed to bridge any gap that should arise, despite not immediately recognising this due to an internal bias preventing clear seeing of the facts.
Life is presenting to someone a situation that is revealing to them where they are not “free” within themselves, so that they can overcome it. Are they in a situation they don’t want to be in but afraid to tell the truth? Are they not ready to believe in themselves? Are they saying yes to something that they want to say no to? Or no when it’s really a yes? Are they meeting an “upper limit” that's testing their conviction?
If you’ve experienced times in your life where you have felt like an impostor, perhaps you’d like to take a moment now to reflect on these possibilities and how they might apply in your situation.
Really stop what you are doing, take a few deep breaths and centre yourself in the present moment - a place where you can connect to your heart, rather than just letting your head answer all the questions. And now ask:
“What is truly being revealed to me?”
[Close this email and go and sit with that question if you need to.]
Life can feel extremely challenging. I’ve personally been meeting many of its edges in recent times and there have been many moments where I deeply questioned my ability to hold the weight of what I am creating. If I stay in my head, I doubt myself. If I connect to my heart, I know the truth of the moment, and I keep going.
This has been true as I have taken what feels like an important and timely decision in my business to refocus my work on supporting men more specifically. I’ll share more about that in the coming time, but worth noting that my professional support as a coach will continue to be available to all kinds of humans, while the external focus of my business will be on inviting more men onto this personal development path. I believe when men reconnect to themselves and step up to realise more of their potential, everyone wins. And there are far too few invitations being offered to support men with this expansion.
On arriving at this decision, did I ask myself “Who am I to think I can be a coach for men?” Of course. And I decided to step into it anyway.
Fear: F**k Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise?
We get to choose.
If you meet impostor syndrome, you don't need to fear it. If you're a growth-oriented person, I'd be more concerned about addressing the lack of it. We get to play with the laws, use them to our benefit, and position ourselves at cause. Ideally not recklessly. But hey, if I totally advised against that it would make me a hypocrite!
For me, doing big and scary things always leads to success or learning on some level. Which are both wins (once I have finished recovering from them...). If we might, for a moment, pretend that this is by virtue of this law of cause and effect, then I suspect the same may hold true for you.
Before we wrap up this conversation, I want to share with you the definition of an impostor from the Merriam Webster dictionary:
im·pos·tor | \ im-ˈpä-stər: one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception.
If you woke up this morning with a devilish plan in your head to deceive the people in your life, then I’d love to hear from you about how you ended up on my email list! If you didn’t, and you’re also not flying a jet without a pilot’s licence, then I’d really like to invite you to reconnect with your personal intention for any situation(s) in your life where you feel like an impostor. My guess is that your intention comes from a pure, perhaps even a tender place, that could do with a little less judgment, a little more acknowledgement, and a lotta compassion.
If you’re feeling like an impostor, start there. Create space to connect with a deeper truth around what is really at play.
Know someone who feels like an impostor? Send them a link to this article and let them know you see their heart.
Walking the path with you.