Boxer confidently walking towards the ring

This Is How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

Many people are plagued by impostor syndrome which has them doubt their accomplishments and be afraid of being exposed as a 'fraud.'

This phenomenon is so common that an estimated 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this in their lives.

If I had to summarize impostor syndrome in different words, here's how I'd put it: reverse-Muhammad Ali syndrome.

​Why impostor syndrome is reverse-Muhammad Ali syndrome

​The late American boxing legend and badass activist definitely did not feel like an impostor. He knew just how good he was and had no problem touting his own horn about it.

When he didn't make a point of bravely opposing the Vietnam War (despite how harshly it impacted his career), he moonlighted as his own best marketer, motivational coach, and cheerleader.

Case in point: Muhammad Ali's poem where he proudly proclaims: "I Am the Greatest."

That's like the antithesis of impostor syndrome!

Now, you might think that it was easy for him to say that, given his accolades and accomplishments.

Well, did you know that he failed the military qualifying test? As a result of his dyslexia, Ali's writing and spelling skills were below standard.

Like a true champ, he didn't let this get to him. Ali is quoted as saying, "I said I was the greatest, not the smartest!"

​Gotta love that comeback and ​sense of humor! It brings us to the next point:

​What does it actually mean to not be an impostor?

​When you're an impostor, there's a mismatch between how you're presenting yourself and your level of expertise/competency. For instance, you're pretending to be a black belt in something when you're actually only a white belt.

In contrast, to not be an impostor, you need to achieve congruence between your level of competency and how you present yourself.

Now, competency actually exists on a scale, from 1 (totally incompetent) to 10 (Jedi-level of awesomeness).

If we use broader categories, we can distinguish between:
- incompetency,
- competency, and
- mastery.

To use a concrete example, when it comes to cooking, I'm probably somewhere between the first two categories (which would be less disconcerting if my significant other was a better cook but I guess we all have our cross to bear...). 

So, clearly not mastery. In contrast, my favorite restaurant in the whole world, La Laterna in Italy (where else? We're talking about food here!) is Jedi-level of awesomeness. (And, yes, that's an objective statement of truth. Fight me!)

​I don't feel like an impostor when it comes to cooking because I don't pretend to be good at it. If anything, I sometimes pretend to be more of a disaster in the kitchen than I really am. he reason I don't pretend to be good at cooking is ​that I don't really care. It's not important to me so there's no need to put on a front. What you see is what you get. 

Now, if I were to seek employment as a cook, I would have to up my game. I would have to strive to improve. ​​​But, here's the thing: unless I wanted to become a world-class cook (dream on, honey!), ​I would only have to aim for competency in the kitchen, not mastery. ​​​

These days, the word mastery gets overused and that might be part of the reason why people are suffering from impostor syndrome. They think they need to be masters of something when, in reality, competence is sufficient.

But, that's not true. Competency and mastery are not the same things. ​True masters are those who often dedicate their lives to their craft (think... Jimi Hendrix and his guitar).

For ​everyday purpose, mastery is generally unnecessary. You don't need to be a master to be successful, have a happy life and be able to help others... competence is sufficient.

Not only that but you can't be a master in many areas. Mastery requires true dedication and obsession, and that's not achievable across the board.

So, if you're feeling like an impostor, decide what level of competency is really required and what you need to achieve it (if you're not already there).

​With that being said, here are 3 reasons for impostor syndrome--and how to overcome them

  • ​Not enough experience: Sometimes, people simply feel like an impostor because well, they are. I don't mean that in a mean way. We all are beginner's at something and being a beginner is great. It's a sign of bravery. If you're not a beginner in something, it might be because you're stuck in your comfort zone.

    ​Today's media and marketing landscape create unrealistic expectations. We're being conditioned to think we're entitled to something right away and ​to looking for shortcuts, instead of getting the necessary experience under our belts.

    But, here's the thing: if your impostor syndrome is based on a lack of experience (perhaps because you're transitioning into a new field where your previous accomplishments don't count as much), then the key is to get more experience.
  • Not enough feedback: Other time, people actually already have sufficient experience to be competent at what they're doing. What's holding them back is not having received enough feedback to internalize that they actually know what they're doing.

    In that case, it's helpful to actively ask for feedback and take that feedback to heart.
  • ​Unrealistic expectations: Impostor syndrome can also be based on unrealistic expectation where we think being competent means that we know everything. If that's the case, it's important to remember the distinction between incompetence, competence, and mastery.

    Even masters might not always have answers to everything. And, remember that in most cases, we're not aiming for mastery, just competency. If you don't know something and need to do research, it's generally perfectly okay to say: "Let me get back to you on this."

​Defeat impostor syndrome like a true champ

​Being competent at what you do doesn't mean you have to be perfect. Perfection does not exist and if it did, it would be boring. 

Our flaws, shortcomings, and eccentricities are charming, too. They make us human and thus, more relatable.

Take it from Muhammad Ali.

Does his dyslexia and his awesome response to it--"I said I was the greatest, not the smartest"--make him more or less lovable?

Personally, I think it's the former.

And, perhaps I'll take a page out of his book the next time I cause a disaster in the kitchen:
"​Dear, I said I was a great teacher... not a great cook!"

​Before you go: let's stay connected!

​I ​think our collective story of leadership is broken and that it's up to us to redefine it. I believe in a world where good people are empowered to make a positive difference and I believe that we're the ones we've been waiting for. 

​If this resonates with you, please sign up below. You'll receive ​a free meditation (to connect more fully with your ​authentic power and leadership) right away and I will also send you my awesome weekly newsletter with helpful resources! 

​I can't wait to be in contact with you!

What is your favorite advice for overcoming impostor syndrome? Leave me a comment in the comment section!

​Related video:

  • Avatar Misa says:

    Our flaws and imperfections make us relatable… Resonates a lot! I started to get out of my shell only recently (speaking days) and it’s scary, yes, but it’s a good mental exercise to go through. I posted my video knowing there are at least four grammar mistakes but after several re-recordings where I couldn’t make it perfect, I hit the good enough button. Thabks for all the inspiration!

    • Avatar Bere says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Misa! And, great job on sharing the video and deciding that it’s good enough! Yay!!! Celebrating that with you.

      I can relate to making grammar and/or pronunciation mistakes in videos… it happens, even more often if we don’t record in our native language. I found this beautiful quote that helped me stop worrying about it: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” ~ Amy Chua

  • Avatar Omar says:

    Great post and video! I think this is something that needs to be better understood, as I agree that marketing has created so many “entitled” individuals, pretending to be something they’re not (“faking it until they make it”).

    Impostor syndrome may actually be useful, as you say.

    If interested, I strongly recommend the books “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”, by Nathaniel Branden, “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane, and/or “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport.

    • Avatar Bere says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Omar! Yes, I so agree with you about the entitlement mentality that marketing has created!

      Thanks for all these great book suggestions! Really helpful to have recommendations for good books on the subject.

  • Avatar Cherry Jeffs says:

    You’re so right. Perfection doesn’t exist – even when you do have mastery. Even people who have gone beyond competence and into mastery suffer from imposter syndrome, I’ve found. Because, as we improve at something, we keep raising the bar!

    • Avatar Bere says:

      Oh, I love that: “Because, as we improve at something, we keep raising the bar.” Such a great insight! Yes, as we learn more about an area, we realize what it is that we don’t know about it.

  • I really like the idea of a reverse imposter syndrome. It’s a neat look at the topic that is takes about a lot.

  • Avatar Julia V says:

    Great Post! Imposter syndrome holds so many back from contributing more.

  • >