Struggling with the imposter syndrome

There is one area of my life that I know I have done fairly well in, and that is the ability to build up a list of exceptional accolades. From the several qualifications I have with accredited universities, a good corporate career and recently, being named one of the most promising and trusted corporate master of ceremonies (MC) in Lesotho. Being a nerd with a sense of style and a flair for the dramatic has helped me brand myself and grow into the person I am today. On a regular basis, you will see me oozing with confidence and insurmountable energy. Did I mention my charming and friendly smile?

Oh yes, my smile is everything! Authentic, friendly and handsome. Who wouldn’t want to be in such company?

Picture by MSU Clout

I have successfully managed to position myself as a go-getter, determined, focused and fiercely enthusiastic young adult who is not afraid of putting in the hours to achieve his goals. From packaging ice at 22:30pm in the evenings, to marking scripts after a long semester of part lecturing. Let’s not forget about showing up at the office bright and early, with a bounce of optimism in my step, to writing blog posts that make you feel like it’s okay to make mistakes, own them and learn from them. I’ve also been that guy who dreams of being published in an academic journal, relentlessly pursues the dream and achieves it, walks onto the stage like a “pro” to host an event after sleepless nights engaging in the body of knowledge. Yes, literature review is a MUST!

Picture of my dissertation

In an ideal world, I would say that I am a super hero, possessed with infinite powers, a jack of all trades, mastering them all and with great ease. Never fearing, never tiring, never quitting! Who wouldn’t want to be Superman? Well, I’d be a fraud if I owned up to any of these titles because I am not Superman or a master of all trades. Much like everyone, I an an ordinary guy, who struggles with the imposter syndrome.

For years, I have battled with self doubt and second guessing some of the opportunities that came my way. I carried this struggle with the the imposter syndrome affecting me in my corporate job into my early thirties, where I often question if I am a competent people manager, ready to step up to the next level of leadership? Sadly, this still continuous to affect other prominent areas of my young adult life such as building a business empire or a strong online presence. Am I good enough? Am I deserving?

In her blog post titled “Yes, the imposter syndrome is real’, Abigail Adams defines the imposter syndrome as a state of mind where an individual second guesses their abilities, achievements, skills or talents. He or she negatively speaks down on him/herself, stating reasons why they are underserving of specific opportunities. Oftentimes, the individual has feelings of inadequacy and being a fraudster, likely to be exposed.

My struggle with the imposter syndrome shows up many times and for purposes of this blog post, I will discuss three incidents where it should up.

The first incident was being selected to be part of the 2019 Mandela Washington fellowship. Although I had a proven track, I could not shake off the belief that there were more deserving candidates than me. Initially on the waiting list, I could not reconcile how or why I eventually made it to the final list, when those I deemed more deserving did not, ridiculous!

The second incident was when I was invited to speak at a financial wellness webinar hosted by a friend based in Kenya Nairobi in June 2020. Despite being a guest speaker amongst other industry giants listed for the webinar, I struggled coming to terms with why I was selected to as one of the speakers. Weeks prior to the webinar, I suffered from anxiety attacks, questioning whether I knew enough despite all the work I’ve done in this field. I was worried about the diverse audience across the African continent, wondering if I would make sense? Would I be relatable? Would I be relevant?

Last, but not least is my struggle each time I have to host an event or speak in public. The uncomfortable feeling of a dry throat and restless stomach hits me ALL the time. It is always surprising when people tell me I am a born natural when I have a different experience each time. I wish they could see me hiding in dark corners outside the venue grasping for air, panicking and ferociously trying to remember my opening lines. This in my view is an unpleasant scene to witness, but some people who have seen me on stage will say this is a lie.

THUD 2019

So how do I cope with my imposter syndrome?

Well, I start by listening to empowering music from my “get up and do it” playlist. I play these songs from the moment I get out of bed, which helps me get my head in the game and feeling like a champion. Secondly, I try to have conversations with myself (sometimes feels like I’m crazy) in the shower, while getting ready and in the car to psyche myself up. In these monologues, I remind myself of my brilliance, of all the accolades I have achieved and why I am the best person for the job. It sometimes feels like a lie and takes a lot of convincing, but I envision a successful event, where the venue is full of people cheering me on, rooting for me to do well and succeed. Sometimes I envision standing ovations, a room full clapping after I’m done which really gets my spirits up.

Lastly, I acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt which allows me to be vulnerable and wallow in self-pity. I then chose to end the pity party and wallowing to focus my energy on preparing extremely well. I do thorough research, practice, and show up with a BIG I smile (my genuinely authentic smile). I reflect on my accolades, remembering what I’ve done well and I focus on that.

This has helped (and continues to do so) me keep my imposter syndrome in check. I intentionally show up and get things done even when I’m afraid or feeling insecure about myself. I post my YouTube videos even when I’m afraid of being criticised and accept invites to speak at webinars that I’ve never imagined possible.

Like Lisa Nichols says “let us own our brilliance, while owning our imperfections and live in constant duality”. I am choosing to live in duality, where my brilliance and imposter syndrome (imperfections) co-exist. The only difference in my case, however, is that my brilliance will always come out at the top and I am intentional about this. I’m choosing to be authentic, a nerd with a sense of style, a handsome smile who is struggling with the imposter syndrome, but owning his brilliance. I challenge you to own your brilliance!

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