The Imposter Complex, and the Lies It Would Have Us Believe

imposter-complex-sqThey say it’s a virtue: optimizing your life, following the 5-step formula, focusing on quick wins. Hacking your life, your productivity and your business.

Last week, I stood up and said enough is enough:

Hacking your way to success is a sure way to fail.

And you stood up like an army, and roared your agreement.

(Or, more appropriately to this social age, you tweeted it en masse!)

That’s awesome.

There’s only one problem.

When the next day came, and you were offered a 5-step plan, a 7-day email course, or a 12-module method that promised to solve your problems … did you click?

I did.

And I’ll bet some of you did, too.

But why? Why do we still look for the fast, easy solutions, when we know that at our core, we crave depth, craftsmanship, prestige and mastery?

Well, I have a theory.

It’s because of our old friend, the Imposter Complex.

The Imposter Complex, Revisited

Ah, the Imposter Complex.

The belief that you still don’t know enough, aren’t experienced enough, or are otherwise just not competent enough … despite all the evidence to the contrary

On a psychological level, the Imposter Complex (or, as its more properly known, the Imposter Syndrome) is almost certainly related to the expert’s twin curses:

  • The curse of knowledge (that you don’t know how much you know), and
  • The curse of expertise (that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner)

But is that really all there is to it?

I had always thought so. But then I read this line in Tara Gentile’s new book, Quiet Power Strategy:

If you find that Imposter Complex is forcing you to constantly chase the latest-greatest formulas and discount following your own way forward, take inventory of your Onlyness.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, a lightbulb coming on. “So … if the desire to follow the latest and great formulas is a direct result of the Imposter Complex … then the hack-first mentality is actually symptomatic of a deeper set of lies.”

Self-Leadership, The Imposter’s Foil

But what are those lies?

To answer that question, we need to dive deeper into what the Imposter Complex is – and what it isn’t. In the Quiet Power Strategy book, the Imposter Complex is given really just a very brief reference. Blink, and you might miss it.

But in that very brief mention, it’s clearly positioned as the perfect character foil to the hero of the “story”:

Self-Leadership.

“Self-leadership,” says Gentile, “is the key to creating a framework that has you relying more on yourself than on gurus or can’t-lose formulas. Self-leadership isn’t about being more productive, it’s about being more effective. You don’t have to do or produce more. Instead, you need to make what you’re doing or producing really count.”

In other words, self-leadership is the engine that drives craftsmanship and excellence.

It’s not about finding the fastest shortcut to success; it’s about making intentional choices. To not just do things the way that everyone else is doing them, but instead to lean on discernment:

[U]sing what you perceive in the environment around you to choose action or direction that’s grounded in who you are, what you want, and the experience you’re creating for customers.

Did you catch that?

It’s about creating an experience and staying grounded in who you are.

The exact two things that the Imposter Complex keep us from doing. Imposter Complex keeps us quiet when we need to speak up. It pushes us to play small – to not launch that product, to not post that article, to not send that email.

Thus, the first lie of the Imposter Complex is revealed:

It asks “Who am I?” instead of allowing us to stand confidently in “Who I am.”

The Danger of Problem Fixation

Perhaps most importantly though, the Imposter Complex by its very definition keeps us fixated on our weaknesses.

Think about it.

When you are feeling insecure, like an imposter, you are defining yourself by what you lack.

  • “Not smart enough.”
  • “Not experienced enough.”
  • “Not good enough.”

Statements such as these lead us to deny our strengths, and keeps us focused solely on our deficiencies. And even more insidious, the obvious “solution” to the syndrome is to overcome these weaknesses.

  • To become smarter.
  • To gain more experience.
  • To just somehow be “better.” Whatever that means.

See, when we accept Imposter Complex as a given – as a default state that we have to deal with and overcome – we stop working to leverage what is working for us, and pour all of our energy into changing what’s not working.

It seems so simple; so straightforward. It’s what we’re taught to do.

If you don’t know something, go learn it. If you can’t do something, practice will make perfect. If you fail, try, try again. If you fall off a horse, get right back up.

And that’s the second lie: that we are trying to fix our problems, when in fact the Imposter Complex is keeping us transfixed by them, too.

And that lie is what leads us to a hack-first mentality.

Hard Things Are Hard

See, the hard things are, by their very nature, hard for us to do.

We don’t like it when things are hard, and so we turn to formulas and tactics and hacks to make it  easier.

But it’s rooted in the third falsehood: the belief that we need to be good at the things we’re not.

See, every moment spent trying to hack something you’re not good at is time not spent mastering something you are good at.

Every time you operate outside of your sweet spot, you miss the opportunity to serve someone inside your sweet spot.

It’s not that learning new things is bad; no! And in fact, Gentile says that directly:

It’s not that getting stuff done and learning new methods are bad. That’s what’s so dangerous about this problem. Yet if you haven’t stopped and focused on what you’re trying to create and how you’d really like to connect with your customers, you will lose out on the opportunity to do something truly beautiful, wise or prosperous. (my emphasis added)

When we act as though everything is our our job, our task, our responsibility, we start acting outside of our best and highest value.

And then, we rightly feel like imposters.

The Path of Hardship Versus that of Ease

I feel strongly about this, because I see it all the time.

I constantly encounter business owners who want to build leverage into their business model by offering group programs – group coaching, courses, workshops, and the like.

All around them, they see multi-million dollar video courses, multi-month coaching programs, multi-media membership sites, and more.

And it makes them feel like imposters, because they feel like in order to compete, they need to do the same. They need to give more value, create more content, have higher production values, and on and on and on.

But that’s not what people want from us, and our businesses.

Our very best customers don’t want us because of the things we can’t do. They want us for the things we can do.

They would rather that we empower others to backfill our weaknesses with their strengths, rather than trying to find the fast and easy ways to get ourselves “up to speed.”

As Gentile says,

The key to finding more ease in your business is to make product development, marketing, business models, sales processes, and growth all grounded in your unique makeup and what it brings to your business. Your skills, passions, point of view, quirks, and modus operandi form the basis for developing a unique business strategy that, by its very nature, will incorporate more ease into your business.

Ease.

Not hardship, not challenge, not pain, not toil.

Ease.

Because ultimately, that’s the biggest lie that the Imposter Complex tells us:

That it’s supposed to hurt.

And so we resist. We push back. We look for hacks and tactics and formulas because deep down, we know the truth:

When we’re acting in self-leadership, in pursuit of mastery, it won’t always be easy. But it will leave you feeling at ease.

Disclosure: Tara Gentile, creator of the Quiet Power Strategy program and author of the book by the same name is my colleague, coach, client and friend.

I greatly respect her work, and wrote this article because I believe in her work – not because I received any compensation or other consideration for doing so. I did receive an advance copy of author of the book, but would gladly have paid for it because of the immense value I received.

And finally, if you choose to purchase your own copy through any of the links on this page, I’ll receive a few cents in affiliate commissions from Amazon.