Podcast: Defying Impostor Syndrome With Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin
Jenn talks to Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin, an expert in impostor syndrome. Lisa shares methods to own your greatness and explains ways to keep our inner critic from holding us back from personal and professional growth. She provides methods to overcome impostor syndrome and work through negative thought patterns.
Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and executive coach with a focus on career advancement, leadership development, and job transitions. She is a co-founder and partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, a career and executive coaching consultancy, where she works mostly with high-potential managers and executives.
Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.
The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.
Hi folks, good morning, good afternoon or good evening. And thank you so much for joining us wherever you’re joining us and whatever time it is there for “Defying impostor Syndrome.” This is the second session in McLean Hospital’s author series.
I’m Jenn Kearney and I’m a digital communications manager. And I am joined today by Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin. And as you can tell, I’m already overjoyed and tripping over my words so I will try my best to keep it cool.
But out of curiosity and I don’t actually expect an answer from anybody who’s tuning in, have you ever overloaded your plate because you felt like you weren’t doing enough, even if other people had expressed concern about how much you were already doing?
Or maybe you second guessed your success as just being sheer luck or maybe you downplayed an accomplishment because you didn’t believe it was deserved ‘cause you’re just faking everybody out, right? You didn’t earn that.
If any of this sounds like you, you aren’t alone and it’s possible that you are grappling with impostor syndrome. But good news, you are in the right place right now.
So over the next hour Dr. Orbe-Austin and I are going to talk all about impostor syndrome, as well as the competencies in her book, “Own Your Greatness: Overcome impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt and Succeed in Life” which uses therapy backed exercises to gain confidence in yourself, recognize your strengths and become your own leader.
If you are unfamiliar with her, Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin is both a licensed psychologist and executive coach with a focus on career advancement, leadership development, and job transitions.
She’s also a co-founder and partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting which is a career and executive coaching consultancy where she works mostly with high potential managers and executives.
And as if she doesn’t do enough in a day, she’s also an author, she’s a TED Talker and she is so much more. So Lisa, I’m like over the moon about this, so I’m going to try my best, it’s my job. I’m going to play it cool, thank you so much for joining.
Lisa: You’re so welcome.
Jenn: I want to get started just by asking, can you provide an all-encompassing overview of impostor syndrome. And I swear, that’s not going to be the only question I have tonight but what exactly is the impact of impostor syndrome on our personal and our professional development?
Lisa: Sure, so impostor syndrome is the experience where you are skilled, competent, expert, have credentials, have competencies, experience but yet you haven’t internalized that.
And as a result of not internalizing that you fear being found out as a fraud and in order to compensate for that fear of being discovered as a fraud, you either overwork and over-function or you self-sabotage which often leads to burnout and other anxiety, depression, other kinds of consequences as a result of that functioning.
Oftentimes also we get after accomplishing whatever the task may be, we also get feedback. We are very low to take any complements, anything that’s positive, we’d want to dismiss it, show them our mistake, show them what we didn’t do well or at least that’s what we’re thinking in our head which gets us caught into this, what we call the impostor syndrome cycle.
And so it’s a bit of a cycle of an experience and it’s often correlated with experiences of perfectionism, of struggling to internalize successes and wins, feeling a sense of that you are keeping the truth from people about who you truly are, that that’s not as competent as people think.
And it’s engaging in some of these behaviors related to the impostor cycle so that’s generally what it is.
Jenn: So I know you’ve been studying impostor syndrome for a while, have you noticed that different groups of people are impacted differently or disproportionately by impostor syndrome?
Lisa: Yeah, so the concept itself of impostor syndrome, I think a lot of people feel like it’s new and it’s fresh and it just came out and it’s not. It’s over 40 years old, it was discovered by two psychologists, Drs. Clance and Imes in the late 1970s.
So it’s been researched since then and what the research finds is that it does look different in cisgendered men and women. That doesn’t necessarily mean... I think a lot of people say it’s more, it happens more for women, there’s no research to suggest that it’s more predominant in women.
What the research does say is that the experience can look different. For example, for women, what they find is that typically there’s a lot of overfunctioning, over-performing, overworking, a lot of feeling like insecure about performance, second guessing themselves but always being counterphobic moving toward the thing that they fear.
Where with men, what they find is that there is more under-performance that there’s more aiming for mastery so affiliating with less competent peers, allowing, taking less risks, challenging yourself less.
So there can be a different demonstration of what it looks like across gender. Now, this is of course cisgender experiences. We haven’t had research yet to look at all gender expression but this is what we see in cisgender expression.
Jenn: I’m curious about when you said counter phobia and that’s like women are actually or cisgender women particularly are gravitating more toward things that they’re afraid of or fearful of.
Is that something that can actually mask impostor syndrome? So it looks like somebody is being really aggressive and a go getter but they’re really just second guessing everything?
Lisa: Yeah, and I think the only person who often truly knows that is the person themselves. So oftentimes when people say that they have impostor syndrome, especially for women, I think people are often like, “Oh my God, I never ever thought you had impostor syndrome. I would never assume that. You’re always so confident, and you do all these things.”
And there’s often a connotation of, if you work hard, you show up, you do things then you’re confident and that’s not often what’s happening behind the scenes.
So yeah, there can be this assumption that you must be doing fine because you keep escalating, you keep achieving because it’s not that they’re not achieving, they’re achieving, they’re doing well. It’s just this internal feeling that’s going on that nobody knows about.
Jenn: So I have to admit that one of the things that I really enjoyed about your book is how simplistic you made impostor syndrome. So you broke it down into three Cs of overcoming impostor syndrome. And the first step you called clarifying, which is really identifying at its core, identifying where your impostor syndrome originates from.
And I know when I was reading it and folks it’s a workbook so you actually like, you got to do some digging and writing in it on your own while it suggests that it has some familial roots, is it actually possible to have impostor syndrome originate from outside of your family?
Lisa: So what the research shows and what the scholarship shows in the area is that most of it comes from the early templates in which we’ve been shown both in family dynamics and the roles that we take up in families that this is most predominantly where it comes from.
Typically when I speak to somebody who struggles with impostor syndrome, they tell me I’ve been dealing with this a long time. This didn’t just happen at my last workplace.
Oftentimes it’s happened throughout academic career, either academic career, it’s happened throughout their experiences. It’s not something that just like pops up. You can feel insecure in a job and not have impostor syndrome.
You can feel like you’re not good enough at a job and not have impostor syndrome. There’s a constellation of things that make it impostor syndrome. For example, things like intellectual inauthenticity which is one of the hallmarks where you tend to downplay what you know in order to make other people pleased with you.
Seeking mentorship for the purpose of external validation. These are systematic things that have been going on your whole life and so it’s likely that no particular incident externally caused the impostor syndrome to start. It likely had long roots and typically they are familial.
There is some research to suggest there are some issues around traits like there are particular traits. Well, yes, that can be true. I don’t like that stuff because if it’s trait, there’s nothing you can do about it, it is who I am as a person.
Yes, you can work on it and you can deal with it. I like to really think about the things that we can do something about and this idea that if you’re conscientious, you’re more likely to have impostor syndrome. Well, great, now do I be less conscientious?
I think you have to really think about how it’s functioning dysfunctionally in your life. I think it’s better for me to think about the things that you can like do something about, that’s what the whole book is about. I want people to be able to move beyond impostor syndrome and not have to live with it their whole lives.
And I think the reason also why we point out the origin issues in the book is because oftentimes the origin issues are the reasons why you’re getting triggered the way you are getting triggered in your current life. And so the meaningfulness of it is that if you can understand where it from, you can understand why it looks the way it does today.
And that’s helpful in disconnecting the trigger from your behavior. And so I think that’s why it’s so important to us not to blame anyone or be like, this is... We all have trouble with our families. It’s about the fact that if you can understand why it got created, you can understand what to do with it now and when it occurs and why it occurs the way it does.
Jenn: So you’ve mentioned triggers. I’m curious if there are certain times in life where impostor syndrome is more likely to surface, is it after promotions or like monumental academic events, any particular times?
Lisa: It depends on the roots of your impostor syndrome. So for example, if moments in which you were a kid and you achieved something, perhaps a parent took it away from you and was like, “Oh, I’m such a great parent, look how great I am.”
And then, so it became a moment of like, not yours, you don’t know how to deal with it, it feels weird. And so as a result, now every time you get an accolade, you’re trying to shove it down because you don’t want anyone to get jealous or to get upset. And so it depends on what your previous triggers are.
I think the one thing that is very true is that in certain toxic environments, they definitely promote impostor syndrome. So in toxic environments and oppressive environments and these kinds of environments, you can see, it pops up no matter what your origins are, it pops up more prevalently.
I think also certain managerial types also do it, having very perfectionistic bosses, having bosses that are erratic that you can’t tell what they want from one moment to the next. Bosses who feel like they’re insecure so they’re very worried about their positioning and that affects the way you feel in terms of security.
So there are a couple of different leadership types that can affect it, toxic environments affect it. But I think in terms of overall like a moment, I don’t know if everyone has the same kinds of moments, everyone’s are sort of different.
Jenn: It’s helpful to know, I mean that there isn’t just one parameter in which you’re going to be like, oh, my impostor syndrome is here. It’s a lot more understanding that in order to get to the root cause of it, you have to do a lot of digging to then realize what’s going to trigger it and cause it to come to the surface. So that alone is incredibly helpful.
Lisa: Yeah, I think one of the things that the reason why the trigger is so important is ‘cause then you can disconnect it from the behavior. Sometimes we get triggered for impostor syndrome like for example, one common one I often hear is like, I’m doing a presentation, I’m having a highly visible moment.
You’re triggered for, you’re going to screw up, you’re going to make a mistake, it’s going to go badly in some way. And then instead what you do in that cycle is over-function.
So you prepare for like 40 hours or 50 hours, you write a script, you try to memorize a script and it sets you up to have that moment of impostorism. Because when you script everything, you’re going to make a mistake because nobody’s going to follow the script exactly.
And it puts you back in that cycle. But when you know what the trigger is you can be like, “Look, I know I’m going to overwork ‘cause I’m going to get triggered here. Let me set a reasonable schedule. Let’s do some task management, let me get some support around not overworking and overfunctioning, let me review it ahead of time and be managed about this.”
And it makes this experience very, very different, even though it’s the same exact experience, you just handle it very differently.
Jenn: Oh yes, and I feel like that also that requires a lot of psychological flexibility which if something matters that much to you, so many people even when you have that flexibility, they’re so unwilling to give up that locus of control that they might over the situation.
Lisa: I think you’ve pointed out a really important point around it is that oftentimes the behaviors that surround our impostor syndrome like overworking or procrastination methods, they feel kind of comforting and safe and it can be really hard to let go of them because they feel like I became successful because of my impostor syndrome.
I am here because I over function and overwork. And those are myths, it’s not true. You are successful because you are accomplished, skilled, you have abilities that’s why you’re successful. You’re not successful because of the impostor syndrome.
The impostor syndrome is not allowing you to enjoy it and actually live in your greatness. Like it’s not allowing you to actually like sit and enjoy the things that you have done with your life. And I think that’s the piece that I’m always so focused on.
Jenn: I can’t help but ask about when you talk in the book about identifying your strengths and being able to acknowledge what you’re good at and not really leaning so heavily on impostor syndrome being like your cane of success.
There’s one thing that you point out, it’s called Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences where it lumps strengths into intelligence categories that helps really convey exactly where you’re smart ‘cause some people are textbooks smart, some people are street savvy. There’s a lot of different ways that you can be smart.
What I’m curious is if you’re having a hard time identifying your strengths and I myself am incredibly guilty of doing this. Should they try to enroll other people in getting them to figure it out? Is this a helpful way to start bringing people into the impostor syndrome process?
Lisa: Yeah, I think you pointed to two really important critical points around impostor syndrome. And one of them is like, we often suffer in this alone. We have often never told anyone that we’re having these thoughts ‘cause we think that that’s potentially the entree for everyone finding us out.
So we often hide in shame and I think so much a part of this is really letting other people know that you’re struggling with this and really building a team around you. And yes, I think if you’re struggling, the purpose of the Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences is so that you can see there’s more than just math and language that you can be smart at.
There’s a whole variety of things, you can be good at like naturalistic things, you can like nature, you can have good body kinesthetics. There’s so many ways to be intelligent and it’s really just to open up that idea.
And it’s not that Gardner intelligence hits them all but I think it starts to broaden your concept of what is intelligent. And I think you can talk to other people, who’ve known you, who you’ve worked with, mentors. And also think you can take things like the StrengthsFinder and other like instruments that are known to be helpful in identifying strengths.
The key piece for people with impostor syndrome though, is you’ve got to believe people. Like you can’t bother asking them if you’re going to be like, well, they just love me and they think that, they just want me to work on the next project.
If you’re going to dismiss them, don’t bother but really work on trying to internalize it, write it down, put it somewhere where you start to repeat that these are the things that I’m good at, these are the things that I’m strong at but find a way to take them in and internalize them, that’s key.
Jenn: I think that’s an incredibly helpful thing because with impostor syndrome, you’re already having a hard enough time where someone’s saying you did a really great job and you either deflect it to someone else that might’ve been on your team or you dismiss it as just being right place right time.
But being able to actually validate and confirm what other people are saying to you is so vital and overcoming that hump of actually getting beyond your impostor syndrome.
Jenn: I’m curious about if we try to enroll others in what we’re feeling and seeking validation for what we’re feeling and working through it, what do we do when people dismiss us? Because a lot of folks with impostor syndrome are really high performers.
So if you say, “Hey, I’m feeling like a fraud, this honestly kind of sucks.” And someone goes, “You don’t need to feel that way. You’ve got a PhD, you’re smart, you’re a lawyer, et cetera, et cetera.” How do we respond to that?
Lisa: Yeah, and I think if it’s someone that’s really close to you, I think it’s important to educate them as to what it feels like, what it’s been like for you, the distress that it has caused. And hopefully because of their relationship with you, they’ll start to realize it.
Sometimes people think things like what they call now toxic positivity is helpful, like saying, “You’re awesome, what are you worried about?” When it just feels really dismissive and I think you really want to be able to tell them, that doesn’t help me, what I need right now is X or being able to tell them what you need from them.
And I think it’s common to experience that with people just really shocked or really and maybe they’re not going to be like in that inner circle helping you but they can eventually be acculturated to understanding how to help you.
But you may have to provide them the tools with which to help you with because they may not have them inherently within them. Their tools may be just like, get over it or just think positive thoughts. Those things do not help you get over it. It’s not that simple. It’s not that hard but it’s not impossible but it’s also not like, just say positive things to yourself.
Jenn: I find that’s also one of the things that a lot of folks when they are trying to disclose mental health conditions to people that they care about. I’m dealing with depression, I have crippling anxiety. And the first thing because people don’t know how to react is that they’re either really dismissive or they’re overly shocked.
And you start feeling almost embarrassed that you came out about it so it really only ends up lending itself more to the stigma around impostor syndrome and being vulnerable and saying, “Hey, I feel like a fraud. Can you help me believe that I’m not?”
Lisa: Yeah, exactly. Yeah and I think they have to work on their own developmental process of being able to take that in. That that’s what you’ve been dealing with because oftentimes it is a shock to them and you haven’t been sharing it and you haven’t let them in and so they’ve been in the dark.
So you may just want to give them also some grace as they find their way to understanding what it means for you. A lot of the people that I’ve worked with initially, their partners have been like, “What are you doing? That’s stupid.”
They’ve really gotten aggressively dismissive of the process and then at the end and when they watched them have the skills and tools and they’re like, “I’m so sorry. I cannot believe I approached it that way. I see how much you change, I see how much you are happier.”
It really is revolutionary to see the change, but they don’t know you in any different context so they can’t imagine that there has been a problem and so.
Jenn: Yeah, exactly. In the book, you talk a little bit about the value of what you call both and language to help us overcome impostor syndrome. Can you provide a little bit of clarification into both and language and what that looks like in people?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s the concept that we don’t want to dichotomize things like either things are good or they’re bad, they’re either right or they’re wrong. You know, so you can make a mistake and still learn something from it and something positive can come out from it.
So really being able to recognize that there is more than just one potential way of looking at something and to really enrich the concept by contextualizing what may be going on and really being able to dig into what is the both and of the situation rather than the either or because we’re perfectionistic many of us we can get very much like there’s one right way there.
I messed up, I’m never going to get another chance, we can get into these really dichotomous ideas and it’s really important to move away from that type of thinking. And it keeps us there and moving to this more, both and, maybe both and, and. Really being able to see there’s more richness to a situation than we often let us ourselves see.
Jenn: I think that’s a really important way for us to also start overcoming what you’ve called automatic negative thoughts. I know you call them ANTs in the book which I also really appreciated.
I think that’s a really helpful way to start approaching those because instead of you automatically deflecting to the person who’s going on yet another vacation after their third promotion this year that you saw on Instagram, instead of you going, “Well, why not me? That’s not fair.”
And your head immediately going there, you can go, “Wow, that’s really great for them. And I should think about if I should switch jobs to something that gives me that many promotions.”
Lisa: Yes, exactly. And that language comes from cognitive behavioral therapy, the automatic negative thoughts and the ANTs. And I think it’s really important for us to recognize that sometimes when we’re triggered, we have these automatic negative thoughts that reinforce the impostor syndrome and our job is to and it’s one of my favorite quotes by Amit Ray which is, our job is to be observer of those thoughts.
And so our job is to really be able to observe those thoughts and be like, is that actually accurate? And if it’s not accurate, what am I going to do about it to counter it? Because countering it allows you to make other behavioral choices.
If you have a different way of framing a particular experience, it makes you want to choose something different behaviorally potentially that’s more positive for you.
Like you were suggesting with the Instagram photo, it’s better to be like, “Well, why am I thinking that, why am I feeling so much animosity toward this person? Is it because I haven’t had a vacation in a while? Why haven’t I had a vacation in a while? What’s going on with me that I don’t?”
So you want to do that work so you can actually choose to go on vacation or to choose to make better choices about how you manage your time at work or whatever it is that may be getting in the way from feeling a sense of joy for yourself.
Jenn: So with the discussion of automatic negative thoughts, I feel like I already know the answer to this but how difficult can it be to overcome them? Something tells me you’re going to say, it really depends on the person.
Lisa: The psychologist in me.
Jenn: How difficult can it be to actually start to overcome automatic negative thoughts?
Lisa: I think at first it’s really difficult. I think especially because these automatic negative thoughts have become like our friends. We felt like these little naughty friends are like our best friend and they tell us the truth.
They tell us how wrong we are and how much we screw up and how bad we were at that particular talk. And we’ve come to trust them more than we trust any positive response or counter thought. And so at first, when we start to counter these, it feels fake, it feels like I’m just blowing smoke at myself and this is a waste of time.
Why should I tell myself all this fluff, I won’t work as hard and we have to really combat those automatic, it’s actually another automatic negative thought called inability to disconfirm. It’s when you can’t disconfirm the automatic negative thought ‘cause you’ve found another automatic negative thought.
So I think it’s really important to really know that it takes practice and it takes time and I often say to my clients that oftentimes we think that brutality is got us where we are today, we’re hard on ourselves, we’re tough, we take no prisoners.
Like that that’s what gets us and actually when I see the most change it’s because there is kindness, there is empathy, there is compassion going on both in a therapeutic relationship but also for yourself.
That’s when I see growth, that’s when I see change, that’s when I see things really occur, not when people are being brutal to themselves or someone’s being brutal to them.
Jenn: That’s like the dichotomy of working out absolutely every single day or twice a day to get in better shape instead of working out four days a week, moderate to intense and then resting three days so that you can actually let yourself recover and heal.
Lisa: Yeah, yep. Yeah, and really appreciating that really learning how to change these things and making yourself softer and kinder to yourself is not going to make you any less powerful, efficacious.
And actually what I’ve seen in my work is that my clients demand more of others in terms of bosses, what they want for themselves, they get more money. They end up like really making good, better choices about the places that they will and won’t work. That actually things enrich when they are kinder to themselves, it doesn’t get worse.
Jenn: Yeah, ‘cause you thought you actually figure out what speaks to you and what you are passionate and your purpose are about. And when you actually have the confidence to go after those, it’s almost like you feel limitless, you know?
Lisa: Yeah, they do. And I think that’s my favorite moment when I can see a client go from feeling like insecure and I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to be here, everyone thinks I’m, to feeling like limitless. Like the possibilities are endless and that’s like the joy is just for me is like that’s my favorite moments.
Jenn: This is a non-sequitur but it must be really fun to be a coach.
Lisa: It is, yeah, I mean I love it. I mean, for me it’s like this joy to really when I meet a client and I hear what they’re struggling with and I can envision the future. And that’s like that’s my process.
I’m envisioning the future for them and then when they get there, there’s just something about like helping someone transform into a vision they couldn’t even see at that time.
And they’re just like in a place where they are just super happy and have power in their own skin, know how to do these things for themselves, it’s just very special for me.
Jenn: That’s really cool. So you’re basically like people’s mental health Pinterest board.
Lisa: Kind of, it is my favorite part.
Jenn: Alright, I want to get back to the questions ‘cause I still have a bunch of them for you but clearly I could talk to you about all of this. If it’s too difficult, I know in the book that you mentioned that there are ways to either work around our triggers and some of them are workplace-based, some of them are home-based.
If it’s too hard for us to avoid the triggers that are leading to these automatic negative thoughts, how can we rework our triggers that we can’t avoid to give us the courage and the confidence that we were just talking about instead of feeling like we’re getting torn down and beaten up every day.
Lisa: Yeah, and I think some of the triggers are impossible to avoid. Like if it’s a boss, you can’t like stop going to work. You have to still go to work.
I think what’s helpful when we talk about this in the book is like starting to identify the triggers and writing them down and knowing these are my triggers when my boss does this or when if it’s as a boss, it will say, it’s a boss. When my boss says this to me, when he does this, so you have a sense of it?
So then when it occurs, you’re like, “Okay, I’m here, I’m at the trigger.” Or sometimes what happens is with clients sometimes they notice it afterwards. Oh, I noticed I almost fell into the loop and then I went back to recognizing this is the trigger, this is what happened. And then they sort of then can then make a different choice about the behavior.
That is such a key piece about the trigger is like, if typically we engage in self sabotage or overwork. The first part of the loop is that in terms of the cycle. Disrupting that part can be very helpful so how am I going to actually, instead of overworking, how am I going to manage my time? What time am I going to allocate to this?
And how am I going to make sure I only spend the time that I’m allocating on this even though this person is saying, “This better be perfect or else.” How do I just spend what I need to spend on this in a way that I assigned?
If you engage in self sabotage, it’s like, typically for people with impostor syndrome, self-sabotage is a long period of procrastination followed by short, intense burst of overwork ‘cause they’re going to get the job done. It’s just it’s going to happen in a really intense period. And so for you instead, it would be do it in task management.
Okay, so when am I going? And I’m going to need to allocate these many hours to it, how am I going to start working on this today? Even if I just start touching it today and I don’t get into it too deeply but how am I going to stretch this out over a period? So I don’t get caught up in cycles of like short cycles of overwork.
The other place to interrupt it in the cycle is when you get a compliment. So when someone says you did a great job after going through this torturous trigger and then overworking ourselves, sabotage, you’ve chosen other behaviors, maybe you haven’t but maybe you got to the point where you’re getting a compliment.
And instead of saying like, no, it was so-and-so, make eye contact and be like, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that, I’m really honored that you would take the time out to say something to me.”
Because a compliment is relational and we’re losing that relational moment when someone tells us like we did a good job rather than like getting caught up in feeling like it’s better to be humble, like I hear a lot, a lot, I don’t want to be braggadocios. Accepting compliments is not that.
And so I think really it’s important in those moments to accept the compliment and then potentially write it down, go write it down and make it part of your strengths, Make it part of the assessment of what are the things that you do well that people recognize so that you can work to recognize that yourself.
Jenn: It’s really important to remember too that like accepting a compliment is part of relationship building and your social skills are, it’s a muscle. You need to work them.
And if you’re not working on your external social skills, you’re only going to damage the relationship you have with yourself because you’re not really going to have many genuine interactions overall. You’re just going to be downplaying everything great. No matter where it’s coming from.
Lisa: Yeah, and people often feel very disconnected to someone that they give a compliment to. And they’re like, “Oh no, no, no, no, you missed, I actually made a mistake.” It feels not great. It doesn’t feel like, oh, I connected with that person across this moment which I thought they did really well.
It feels like, oh, well maybe I did miss something. Or I guess I misstepped. So to really think about as a relational moment especially because we are often hiding so much of our struggles with others, that part of it is about a lot of connecting and relationship building for us.
Jenn: That’s an incredibly good way of looking at it. I had a question about what we do when we’re constantly second guessing our decisions.
And part of overcoming impostor syndrome really is second guessing everything that is coming to you almost inherently because sometimes it’s so deeply ingrained in you that you don’t know any other way to think other than kicking yourself while you’re down.
So how can we navigate through continually second-guessing our decisions and eventually break free from that cycle?
Lisa: Yeah, I mean, I think that second guessing is often what underlies it is this fear that you’re going to make the wrong decision or you’re going to do the wrong thing. And I think we have to start to look at things as that there are many right ways.
It’s like when we were talking about the both ands before, there are multiple ways to do something right, there are multiple ways to deal with a particular project. And we just got to pick one and we’ll see what happens. And I think what and really knowing that nothing can be perfect.
There will be errors, there will be mistakes but our job is to actually take the mistake and gently learn from it, like get something that will help grow us not punish ourselves and learn from it but actually gently learn from it.
And so really learning to... I was talking about this earlier with a colleague, part of us ‘cause we’re perfectionistic, we’ve learned to be the good girl, the good boy. And we’re just really good at being good. And sometimes you just got to be bad, like sometimes you just got to be the bad girl, bad boy, you’re going to make mistakes and it’s okay.
And like learning how to do that and do that in a way that is like syntonic and connected to who you are is okay, we are not perfect. We are not flawless, none of us are. And don’t aim for that aim for being, little good, little bad like and really allowing ourselves to screw up, to mess up, to do things wrong and be like, I accept that, it’s just my humanity.
Today I did a post today on my Instagram on perfectionism. And there was a huge typo in it in the beginning and I was like-
Jenn: You could say you do that on purpose.
Lisa: I was like I’m working on my perfectionism right now ‘cause a piece of me, I got triggered and the piece of me was like, I got to take it down, I got to fix it and then put it back. And I was like, it’s too late, too many people have seen it, let it go.
And like if people get the point, that’s what matters and people know I’m not illiterate. And even if I was, they should be kind to me. So like, you know.
Jenn: And if anybody ends up correcting you and sending you a DM, all you have to say is thank you for caring that much about the work I’m doing.
Lisa: You know what I’m always tempted to do, I’m always tempted to respond. You should really reflect on why you reached out to me on that and what you might want to work on because-
Jenn: Send them down the rabbit hole.
Lisa: I’ve gotten some nasty because people who have impostor syndrome who have perfectionism and I’ve gotten some nasty.
When you’re on social, you get some nasty things about like, how dare I ever be an author and make these kinds of mistakes grammatically. And so I’ve gotten some rough stuff but I remind myself about like the people are in process, you know?
Jenn: Yeah, exactly.
Lisa: They’re working on their stuff.
Jenn: Yup, and people who are having a hard time working through their stuff are going to give other people a hard time who are also working through their stuff. So it’s a tale as old as time.
Jenn: Curious about, we’ve got a lot of folks who are starting new jobs or new positions tuning in, how do you deal with impostor syndrome when you’re starting the next chapter of your career?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s a big one. Like you were saying earlier, that’s one of the big trigger moments of starting a new position because inherently we want to prove ourselves. And so the number one thing I would say is, don’t go prove yourself, just go do the job.
And I think moving away from this idea that I got to prove that I belong, they made the right hire, that I deserve to be here, get away from all of those notions. All of those notions are completely unhealthy for you.
Instead of be like, I’m going to go do my job and I’m going to go do a conscientious and good job like I was do and that’s all I’m going to do. Not to prove myself to anyone because I already have, that’s why I’m here.
And I think the other piece, somebody I worked with in one of my groups did this and I thought it was like ingenious. And they did like this 30, 60, 90 day, like the 90 day, the big famous like starting book. I forget what is it called? It’s probably right behind me.
Jenn: I know what you’re talking about-
Lisa: “The First 90 Days,” it is right behind me. “The First 90 Days” So they did this plan where they were like, okay, these are my triggers at a new job. This is what I used to do and this is what I’m going to do.
So for example, they were like, I leave my Slack on all weekend. So I answer every single Slack message that comes across all weekend long. I’m not going to do that anymore, come five o’clock on Friday, I shut my Slack off, I deal with it Monday morning. I happen to often volunteer for everything. When I first start a job, anyone needs me.
I’m like, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” I’m not going to do that until I figure out my workload. And so I’m going to wait to the 90 days before I volunteer for anything outside of my role. And so she had this entire list of all these things she was going to do. And she was like, it holds me accountable.
And she’s like, she also had an accountability partner holding her accountable but it held her accountable to not engaging in particular impostor syndrome related behaviors that get the cycle started.
Because once you set a certain precedent at a new job, you then have a hard time backing off of it. If you’re working 60 hours a week, when you go to 40 people are like, what happened to you?
Jenn: Where’d you go, you’re not online on Saturday? What happened?
Lisa: Yeah, I needed to. You set up expectations that are hard to walk back. You can walk them back and you should be able to walk them back. But like it can set up expectations that feel harder to walk back but if you set up good behaviors and boundaries from the beginning it makes it easier not to have to over-function.
Jenn: So when it comes to walking things back, a lot of it has to do with the fact that you’re working 60 plus hours a week is overwhelmingly unsustainable, right? And we’ve all been working a ton from home because of the pandemic. Like I’ve worked a massive amount of hours because where else am I going to go.
So many people with impostor syndrome are burned out but we also don’t feel like and we say, we ‘cause like, I’ve certainly got it in many facets of my life but we don’t feel like we’ve earned the right to downtime. So how do we actually quiet that voice that might say that self-care is really for only people who deserve it or have earned it?
Lisa: Yeah, and self-care it’s not a privilege, it’s a right. And I think it’s really important to see it as foundational. One of the things that happens, I think for people with impostor syndrome is oftentimes they’re at the bottom of the priority list.
Everyone else gets their attention and their responsiveness, their time, their energy, everything and they’re at the bottom. And part of recovering from impostor syndrome means taking good care of yourself. It means embedding self-care structurally into your weeks. Not like when I have time, I’ll do it.
No, your exercise is embedded, your meditation’s embedded, everything’s embedded into your weekend schedule, just like a meeting would be. And you don’t miss that meeting just like you wouldn’t miss the meeting with your boss.
And so it’s really about a commitment to yourself and a commitment to caring for yourself which we don’t, we do a horrible job of when we struggle with impostor syndrome, which is why we are often sitting in chronic burnout and not even noticing it.
Jenn: It’s interesting when you think of that, like you wouldn’t miss a meeting with your boss but effectively you’re the boss of your own life. Why would you skip a meeting with yourself? And it makes me curious if enrolling your accountability partners or having somebody to be an accountability partner who’s really like gently holding you to taking care of yourself is a soft intro for folks to self-care.
Lisa: Yeah, and oftentimes we say that if you’re going to do these things in the beginning and you’ve not been great at holding to it, you need an accountability partner to hold you accountable especially in the beginning to do it.
But make sure it’s somebody that you will be responsive to and listen to and not blow off or make excuses to and they let you make excuses but you really have to be somebody that will be firm with you and be like insistent that you need to either, if you miss a meeting, you reschedule it.
You really don’t start blowing off your self-care. And so it’s really very critically important to really take it seriously and not consider it like a luxury, it is no luxury.
Jenn: So one of the things you talked about in the book and I feel like it has a lot to do with this and having the accountability partners and everything is a big step of overcoming impostor syndrome is what you call building your dream team.
And I likened it to the fact that if you were a boxer, there’s one of you in the ring against somebody else but you’ve got a lot of other people in your corner. Like you shouldn’t be doing any of this alone.
You’ve encouraged that building your dream team would include folks like coaches and licensed mental health professionals, people who can really dig down into that why and help with that psychological flexibility and changing your mindset. When it comes to coaches and I know you’re a coach so I want to tread lightly with this question.
Do you tend to recommend that these coaches be licensed or can we just enroll people that we know care deeply about us and respect us and vice versa to be our coaches and mentors through this process?
Lisa: Yeah, I mean I think both is possible. So in the book I talk about the dream team. And while we talk about the therapist and the coach, they’re not part of what we call the eventual dream team but there are people that are essential.
So if you feel like there are, for example, there are early childhood issues that resulted in this that feel like hard to work with somebody else or hard to really deal with or hard to find. Then you need to see somebody, right?
You need to see a therapist to help you process that. if you feel like there are work issues that feel strategic and feel hard to like manage and then want to think about bringing in a coach but you want to bring them in for strategic purposes that lay people can’t handle or that’s not their job, they don’t want that job.
But there are other roles that people can serve on that dream team for example, you need somebody who’s a mentor, a healthy mentor. And we talk about dysfunctional mentors in the book that we often get drawn to when we have impostor syndrome but a healthy mentor, someone who sees you, is a mentor but also sees you as an equal and respects you and can show their vulnerability too.
It’s also important to have what we call an impostor expert. And one of the ways that you may develop an impostor expert in your life besides a therapist or coach is somebody who does the book with you. Somebody who you do the book.
So they have the same language, you can operate through the same language and lens and they get it. It’s important to have a grounder, somebody when you make a mistake, they help you put your feet back on the ground and be like, okay, here’s some perspective on what just happened. Somebody who has a good long-term vision. It’s good to have a strategic visioner.
So there are all these different roles that you can have around you, people that you want to have around you that are important to be able to overcome this with.
And I think this is the part of the book that even though it seems really simple, people struggle with and we talk about like, you might not have everyone that fits every role but the idea is that you’re aspiring to fill the roles and that you’re working on building relationships so you can figure out, oh, who fits that role?
You don’t go, “Oh, I don’t have that well, tough.” You have to work on building these relationships around you because oftentimes we have done so much of this alone. And while we have been incredibly successful, it is not boded well for our own wellbeing and that’s important why we need community around us to manage it.
Jenn: I have to say that you just speak about this in such a passionate and you’ve light up when you talk about it. Well, I’m going to say you wrote a phenomenal book. This is a shameless plug for it. I thought it was really exceptional.
And I know you’re a coach and you’ve done TED Talks about this and you have so much content out there but how did you actually get interested in the topic of impostor syndrome?
Lisa: Well, I experienced it myself. So that’s probably why I’m so passionate about it.
Lisa: Yeah, and so my TED Talk is actually about me experiencing it. Well, about a very deep dark moment in which I experienced it. And so it was a moment where I was working for a very toxic boss and being treated very, very badly by him and struggling because of my impostor syndrome to leave the situation.
So I felt stuck, I felt like I had no options even though I had a PhD from an Ivy League university, none of that was calculating, none of it. I just felt like I was stuck, I was going to just be there until who knows. And there had been an issue about my pay and he had said he would straighten it out.
He did not do that and then something happened that changed my life which is I was in a meeting of all women who were all women, senior leaders in the team. And there was music playing in the room and one of the women asked, what is that music that’s playing? And he said music to soothe the savage breast.
And in that one moment, I just woke up and I was like, I didn’t overcome my imposture syndrome in that one moment but I was like, I am now letting this guy perpetrate against me and like letting him like take advantage of me in a way that I can’t tolerate anymore.
And I went into my office, I called my husband. I said, “I’m going to quit this job.” And he said, “Quit it.” He had been like trying to get me to quit for months. And that Monday I walked in and I quit on the spot. No two weeks notice, no nothing, I did something that I never advised any clients to do but I did it ‘cause I just had had it.
And I was done hurting myself in this way. And I left and he threatened my career. He said I would never work in education again, I would never do anything, he would make sure of it. It was very frightening, it was all your worst fears, but none of that ever happened.
And within a couple of weeks, I had a job making more in three days than I was making a full week. And I then started my practice and started to pursue the things I love. When I see somebody struggling with impostor syndrome, I see myself and I wish I had people around me who are doing that for me, like helping me out and helping me but I want them to have the freedom that I have today.
That I know what it’s like to live it and I know what it’s like to not live it. And it’s much better not to live it. Like I still achieved all these amazing things with it. But without it, I have much more wings to fly and so.
Jenn: That’s amazing and incredibly uplifting. And it makes me wish that you didn’t have to go through those experiences to have that moment. But it’s like they say the grass is greener on the other side, sometimes it just has different brown spots and sometimes you just need a whole new lawn. So you just ripped up the whole thing, that is phenomenal.
Lisa: Yeah, I did but not without consequence but I did and that’s what I needed to do for myself but I think that’s why I’m passionate about it because even though that happened probably like 15 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday and I never want to ever forget it because I think it helps me really connect to the struggle in a way that other people may not.
Jenn: And I think that having that vulnerability now and in your work and with your clients is something that, it just speaks to the fact that it is a condition that you can air condition, that you can overcome.
It’s something that your mind is a lot stronger than you even believe it can be. And it’s just something that you need, it’s something that like everything. You just need to work on, you can get there and you can do it.
Lisa: Yeah, and that’s why we built the book the way we did is ‘cause we were like, there’s a lot of books talking about what it is and I want to build a book that helps people to show them how to get out of it because when I was there, I didn’t know how to get out of it.
I didn’t know what to do, I just felt frozen in it. And I wanted people to know you’ve got, you can have, and the skills are like research backed.
I didn’t make them up their research backed but I wanted people to have a methodology about how to do this because and we’ve worked with the book in different, like we’ve done some masterclasses with a book and been able to reduce their impostor syndrome scores by like 30% in 12 weeks.
So it can be done very, very quickly. And that’s what I love is that you may have been living with this your whole life but it can change if you really commit to, it takes work though. I always say the book is like being shot out of a cannon. It’s work, it’s not a weekend read, it’s not something you can peruse through, you got to do the work.
Jenn: Yeah, I can wholly attest to this that I looked at it and I was like, at it’s like skimming seems incredibly simplistic, this seems super actionable and then I got into it and I was like wow, this is heavy but I am ready to take it on and it has been phenomenal. So a huge thank you for doing all of this work.
Lisa: Oh, you’re so welcome, I’m happy to hear that.
Jenn: I do want to ask, I know that you have mentioned yourself folks with impostor syndrome have fears of failure but like you said you were very afraid of what was going to happen on the other side.
But you went out and you made something even more exceptional than what your previous career track would have necessarily indicated. Folks with impostor syndrome really tend to do well at what they’re trying to do.
Is it something that, can you do something like recall your past achievements or past performance to help put what you would consider like a future fear into perspective? Is that something that would be a helpful exercise to do?
Lisa: Yeah, I think it would be a helpful exercise to do. I think also too though, one of the things I don’t know if I could have ever…My husband says something that I say in a TED Talk but he says something like when you work as hard for yourself as you do for others, you’re going to be unstoppable.
And he told me that like a good jillion times before I left that job. And I could not even comprehend it. I was like, what is he talking about? I mean, I got it conceptually but I could not get it practically. And I think one of the things that reminds me of is that I don’t know if I could have dreamed the life that I created for myself with that impostor syndrome.
I didn’t have those dreams in my head. I had a very limited perspective of what I was going to do. Even with a PhD from an Ivy league university, I had a very limited idea and it was letting it go that let me dream, let me believe I could make mistakes which I made a lot of them as I grew my company and just really feel like I can bounce back and be like…
My husband always says this, “You got skills and find if we need to find job, find a job.” Like he always reminds us that we have the ability to do that and I think it really like gave me wings to do things I didn’t even, I couldn’t have even imagined.
Jenn: And it’s so important to have somebody that is that remarkable in your corner as well.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely.
Jenn: What do we do if we relapse, we’ve made it through, everything’s going great, something triggers us and we feel like we slipped right back down the hill. Does that mean that we’re doomed to be impostors forever? Or is this just a hiccup on the road to success?
Lisa: I still have those moments, like 15 years later, I can fall back into something and in a high profile moment and like I can fall back and have a trigger moment where I behave in that way. But because I have created all, I have all the skills that I talk about in the book.
I know how to employ them and I have people around me who will be like, “Lisa, I think you falling.” They see it, they know what it’s like. My husband will be like, “How long have you been working on that presentation then stop it.”
You know what’s happening here. And so I think I have people around me who know and check me and then also I know what skills to employ once I’ve been checked. And so I think it’s really important to do the things so that when you lapse and you will lapse, you will fall back.
I fall back all the time, is that you’re not going to get scared by it. You’re going to be like, “Okay, time to employ the tools, what tools I need to employ? What’s happening here?” And to really not relapse so in the book we talked about relapse.
So relapse is when you fall back into old impostor syndrome, like behaviors and just go, “Well, I guess this is going to be my life. I can never get over this, it just going to be like that.” And you give up the skills. The key is to hold onto the skills and to go back to use them, even if you fall.
Jenn: So in terms of using skills and not being afraid to fall, any advice for seniors that are about to graduate and embark on the next step?
Lisa: Yeah, I mean, I think that if you’re thinking. I think going out there and I think going out there is very fearful. I remember when I was graduating from college, I was terrified of going out into the real world. And I think one of the things you have to realize is that it’s iterative.
You’re going to do something in your first job and maybe the thing you do and may not be. Something I did after college, I worked in a retail store. It’s not what my career ended up being but it was an important learning moment.
I learned a lot from the experience in a lot of ways, I went to graduate school, don’t set yourself up for these expectations that you have to kill it. And I think that will allow you to take more risks and play with more things and do with more things you love. And I think, not feel like you have to just get it right the first time, there’s many, going to be many, many times.
Jenn: God, I wish I had that advice like a decade ago.
Lisa: I wish I had it myself.
Jenn: As somebody who worked as an assistant, who worked in retail, who worked in retail and went to grad school the same time and saw folks from my undergrad, making hundreds of thousands of dollars being consultants and me going cool, this sucks.
And now I’m doing way better ‘cause I took the time to sit back and figure out who I was and what I really wanted to do and who I wanted to become.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s another thing I would suggest, like get career testing, if you’re on campus and you have a career center go to the career center, they often don’t tell you this but they have career testing there and it’s often free and it can be so helpful.
I wish I had it, I could have skipped so many bumps along the road if somebody has sat down with me and said, “This is your MBTI type and this is a strong type, and this is...” And had gone over it.
This is what we’re learning about who you are and what you’d be a good fit for, good Lord get some career testing if you don’t know what you want to do. Like I would have saved myself a lot of pain.
Jenn: Also do StrengthsFinder if you have the option, I think I actually have on my, yep, it’s right here. I was going to say I have it on my bookshelf, I loved it. I thought it was incredibly eye-opening and that was actually one of the reasons why I quit a full-time job and went to grad school full-time.
So, yeah, StrengthsFinder is a great book too. Alright, so last but definitely not least is folks are tuning in, they found the information to be valuable, they want to start overcoming impostor syndrome. What is the first step that they take? How do they start?
Lisa: So I’m going to say get the book. Get the book, think about maybe just creating a book club around it, like find people to do it with.
I think lot people do it alone and then to get a lot out of it and do it have a phenomenal experience but I think if you do it with others, you hold yourself accountable because there’s a couple hard parts in the book that make you want to stop.
And so if you have an accountability partner, if they don’t stop, you won’t stop. Chapter four is a doozy so like just do the book together, work on the skills, commit to wanting to be over this.
If you commit to that and you make a promise to yourself that this is, this is it for me I am not living with this anymore. You’ll get over it, it’s not going to be too hard but you have to commit to yourself to do skills and do the things and it can be a thing of the past.
Jenn: Amazing, thank you. This has been like the best hour of my at least so far. So thanks you Lisa, I cannot thank you enough. My face hurts from smiling. I say a lot of times that I can’t believe I get to do this as part of my job but wow, I can’t believe I get to do this as part of my job.
Lisa: It’s a cool job, I wish I could some of that.
Jenn: You are so thank you so much. I seriously cannot thank you enough. This has been phenomenal.
Lisa: You are so welcome.
Jenn: So thank you so much for joining me and to everybody who’s tuning in, thank you so much. This actually concludes our session.
“Own Your Greatness” you can order from Amazon, you can order from the publisher or you can order it directly from Lisa’s website but thank you so much for tuning in. And until next time, be nice to one another but most importantly, please be nice to yourself. Lisa, thank you again and have a great night.
Lisa: You are so welcome, Jenn.
Jenn: Thanks for tuning in to Mindful Things! Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.
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The McLean Hospital podcast Mindful Things is intended to provide general information and to help listeners learn about mental health, educational opportunities, and research initiatives. This podcast is not an attempt to practice medicine or to provide specific medical advice.
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