Impostor Syndrome: The psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions.
I have a private client who is one of the two “foremost experts in [her] field” in the DC region. She’s smart, beautiful, successful, interesting and is a mother to three young children. She juggles difficult family situations and an important, high-stress job while still managing to smile, laugh at life, and find a work-life balance that allows her to spend time with her kids. Basically, she’s the epitome of the modern woman who is “doing it all," and I think she's amazing (obviously).
A few weeks ago, as we were chatting about her work, she mentioned that she was worried that a colleague would “find out that I don’t know as much as I should about [this topic],” as if she were lacking in her knowledge of this subject in which she is considered an expert. As we continued to discuss this feeling of not being prepared, or of not knowing enough, I was struck by her lack of confidence--she is considered an expert in her field (!)
, yet she still doesn't think she's 100% worthy. I was surprised, but could completely relate to her feelings of inadequacy; throughout my life I have often been afraid that I'll be "found out," that my lack of knowledge or intelligence will be discovered, or that eventually, my "good luck" will end. It seems to me that no matter what their status, many other women feel the same way.
When I first heard of Impostor Syndrome about 10 years ago, I was relieved to finally have a term to describe the way that I—and many women around me—often feel. I have since spoken to a number of successful, powerful, inspiring individuals who feel the same way that I do (and that my student does); "I’m not good enough," "I’m not smart enough," "I’m a fraud and I don’t deserve all that I have (or have achieved)", "I got here from sheer luck and/or hard work."
As I listened to Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk
late last week, it got me thinking about the common incidence of Impostor Syndrome among women. Although she doesn’t mention this syndrome by name in this speech, she does speak about the difference between men and women when it comes to success, and what she's learned from speaking with a number of women in high-power roles.
When female leaders are asked how they got to where they are today, they often attribute their success to a great team, luck, support from their friends and families, and/or hard work. When men are asked the same thing, they often credit themselves or a belief that they deserve it due to their intelligence or abilities. The majority of women tend to shy away from asking for promotions or applying to senior level positions early-on in their careers, as they feel that they need to learn more or get more experience before doing so, while men tend to jump at any chance to climb the ladder, regardless of their years of experience or job readiness.
In my own life, I’ve struggled with similar issues (although not in the same corporate leadership sense). As an artist, I’ve always felt inferior; I feel I was not born with a gift (I know artists who are, and am very aware of the differences between those gifted artists and myself!), but instead, feel that I was born with a love of art and an urge to create. So, I’ve taught myself to be a better artist, I have learned as much as I can, and have worked really hard to achieve and set myself apart despite my inadequacies.
Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I constantly worry that I’ll be asked a question that I can’t answer (even though it actually happens all the time and is totally fine!). I worry that my huge lack of knowledge when it comes to yogic philosophy or anatomy--despite my many hours spent in training on these subjects--will become apparent soon enough, and that eventually, I’ll lose all credibility. Both of these examples from my own life come from a deep-seated worry that is rooted in many years of low self-esteem and feeling like an impostor in many different areas of knowledge, and I believe it will take many more years of svadhyaya
(self-study) to get to the bottom of it.
Whether you, too, struggle with Impostor Syndrome or not, I’m willing to bet that you can relate to this feeling in some way--that you’ve experienced feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and/or moments of wondering whether or not you're equipped to handle all of the responsibility that you've been given in your life. I'm also willing to bet that you've had moments where you feel that you're not worthy, or where you discredit your intelligence, skill, or good life choices for the achievements in your life, and instead attribute them to forces outside of yourself.
So, here’s what I’m wondering; why do women, in particular, struggle with Impostor Syndrome so much? When are we going to give ourselves credit for what we’ve done, what we've achieved, what we've learned? When will we be able to accept that we’ll never know everything we think we "should" know, but that that's okay, because life is a constant learning and growing process? Intellectually and realistically, we know we're not impostors, so why do we feel like an impostor so often?
This week I’m working on taking ownership of my abilities and taking credit for all of my hard work. I'm focusing on believing in myself and in my gifts, and learning to find the beauty in who I am, as I am--and not in my ability to get sh*t done--which is definitely a skill I've mastered ;)
I hope that you'll join me in this pursuit to kick Impostor Syndrome to the curb!
"Your body and mind are meant to be a whole, and to ensure that they are, your whole existence is based on feedback loops. Body listens to mind; mind listens to body. Awareness is the link. Make no mistake: Every cell knows when you are unhappy, anxious or stressed. A cell's awareness is expressed in chemical reactions instead of words. No matter. The message comes through loud and clear."
As anyone who practices yoga knows, we teachers talk a lot
about listening to the body, paying attention to the body, and taking care of the body. In almost every class, I urge my students to pay attention, to notice their energy levels, to notice where they're tight, sore, fatigued, energized. I ask them to check-in with their shoulders (are you crunching them up to your ears?), to their jaws (is it clenched?), to what's happening in the neck (are you putting it in a stressful position?), and I watch as people work to consciously and purposefully relax their bodies.
Here's the thing: everything that you do with your physical body has an impact on your state of being. If you crunch your shoulders up to your ears, your mind receives a message that you're tense. If you clench your jaw, typically the rest of the body follows, closing up, tightening. If you force your body to keep going when it needs rest, it will find a way to make you slow down (eventually). Ultimately, the body is in charge.
Therefore, I believe that the body knows best. The thing is, you actually have to listen to it--and listening to the messages from the body takes some practice, some skill, some attention.
For instance, here's a recent example from my own life: I've basically been told that running = not a good fit for my body, my injuries, my skeleton. And yet, I miss running, especially when the seasons change in the spring and I want to be outside. So I've gone on a few short little jogs lately, hoping that as long as I don't run for too long, and intersperse my running with walking, I'll be okay. But my body doesn't like it. My injured hamstring flares up. My hips start to ache. I can feel everything tightening, trying to protect me, urging me to stop. My body is trying to tell me that if I continue to run, I'll probably injure myself. So, I have a choice--listen or not?
In the past, I didn't listen to these messages. That's why I got severely hurt from running many years ago (and why I discovered yoga--yay!). But this time around, I'd like to think that I've learned to listen, and therefore, I need to stop. I will stop. Because my body truly knows best, and it's telling me NO.
If you learn to listen to your body, you'll start to be amazed at what it tells you. It knows when you're really tired and need to sleep. It will tell you when you've been sitting too long, or when you have bad posture and need to fix it. It will crave the nutrients that you forget to eat, it will tell you when you must slow down (usually by getting sick), and it will tell you when you have energy and can push it a little bit. It's incredible--once you truly start listening.
But listening is only half of the equation. What you do with what your body tells you is what makes a difference. If you're practicing yoga and your body tells you that you need a break (it wants you to come into Child's Pose), you have the choice to do what it wants, or to push through. This is often the hard part, as it usually involves a power struggle with the mind (which often doesn't want to listen to what the body has to say); but despite this inner dispute, I urge you to try and listen to the body. Then see how it rewards you for doing so. Usually, it does.
As a side note, if you want to learn more about the amazing mind-body connection, listen to this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, "Your Body Launguage Shapes Who You Are."
It's definitely worth a listen [aka mind-blowing]!
My challenge to you today: listen to your body, pay attention, and do at least one thing that it tells you to do. See what happens.
Over the weekend, Ben and I had a long discussion about how we define success, and why. As I thought more about this subject, I realized that the way that we personally think about success often dictates many of the decisions that we make in our daily life--whether or not we even realized that we have a personal definition of the word.
For most of us, even if it isn't something that we'd admit, success means "having it all" (although last summer, we learned that usually, we women still can't have it all)--living a glamorous life where we can do anything we want and go anywhere we want, while working a great job, having a family and a perfect relationship with the partner of our dreams, and still having the time to exercise, cook dinner every night, sleep 8-hours, and pursue our passions. Sounds fabulous and successful, right?
Thinking about this made me realize that over the past 5 years or so (and even in the past couple of months!), my personal definition of success has been constantly changing and evolving. For example:My definition of success...
5 Years Ago:
-Important and swanky job in advertising in NYC
-Making enough money to support living in Manhattan and not having to worry about rent or a night out
-Managing lots of other people and being "in charge" at work
-Climbing the ladder
-Being extremely busy and stressed
-Still having time to paint, socialize, exercise, and pursue my other dreams
-Having a life that looks fun and glamorous on Facebook (brutal honesty here)
2 Years Ago:
-"Making it" as a yoga teacher, artist, Studio Director, and blogger
-Pursuing tons of different avenues and finding a way to excel in all of those various pursuits
-Selling lots of paintings
-Getting married and having the "perfect" wedding and "perfect" marriage
-Being extremely busy, only now being busy doing things I love, not things I don't love (working in an office)
-Still having time to socialize, exercise, and pursue my many other dreams
-Having time to relax, unwind, and be with those I love
-Building a life that supports my need to create
-Sharing the power of yoga with others and creating meaningful connections with others
-Making enough to get by, but not more than we/I need
-Eventually, having kids and being a mother who is around a lot but also has a life outside of her children
-Making time for me
Although my definition of success is constantly changing and I'm sure I could break it down into a monthly or even a weekly definition (and each one would be different!), one thing is definitely for sure--my definition has changed a lot
recently (thank you, therapy!), and I have a newfound focus on my intention for how I want to live my life, as opposed to what I want to achieve. [And yes, it sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice.]
I've realized that for me, time is much more important than money, and as I was reminded when I read this article
yesterday (great read!), the more time you have, the less money you need in order to pay for convenience and happiness. When you have more free time, what you do with your time makes you happy enough that you don't need to be constantly buying new things to bring you joy (genius!).
I also have to point out that when we discussed it this past weekend, Ben's male perspective of this subject was very interesting to me. For him, success has always been related to having a "good," impressive job, and being the breadwinner. It means being a professional and carrying yourself as one, because that's what real men should do
. For this reason, he's made choices that he may not have made otherwise, especially if he was solely focused on what he loves spending his time doing, and not what he should
be doing in order to be considered a success.
In a way, I think that no matter what your personal definition of success, we've all been driven by a lot of internal and external shoulds,
and not enough what-ifs.
keep this stable job working for the government, even if it doesn't excite me at all," instead of, "What if
I quit this boring job and take a chance at making it as a freelance writer, or go back to school, or do a yoga teacher training?"
As my personal definition of success changes, I'm going to continue to tweak my lifestyle in order to live a life that I feel is "successful." For now, that continues to mean saying no, weighing everything that I spend my time doing, and protecting the "free" time in my life so that I can spend that time taking care of myself, nurturing my relationships, and answering my creative urges. It's a constant struggle, but I believe that it's one that is very
worth the effort.Your turn:
How do you define success today? How did you define it 5 years ago? How has society's definition of success influenced the choices that you've made in your own life?
It's a topic worth thinking about, as it may help us all get to the root of our shoulds
and open up a new world of what-ifs...
A few weeks ago, my brother sent me an article by Shauna Niequist
(which I shared on SJOTW
), entitled "Stop Instagramming Your Perfect Life."
Ever since reading this article, the topic has really been weighing on my mind, so today, I wanted to delve a little bit deeper.
[If you haven't read the article yet, I highly recommend that you read it
before we go much further...]
Basically, as I mentioned before, the article's premise is that everyone's life looks better (or perfect) on social media, and it's causing a change in how we relate to one another and how we think about our own lives. It's easy to get down on ourselves about how "boring" our life is when we're scrolling through our Newsfeed on the couch on a Friday night, but we often forget that everyone else who is sitting on their couch on a Friday night isn't posting pictures or status updates about that experience. Right?
I think this is becoming a total epidemic. One of my favorite lines from the article is this: The danger of the internet is that it’s very easy to tell partial truths—to show the fabulous meal but not the mess to clean up afterward. To display the smiling couple-shot, but not the fight you had three days ago. To offer up the sparkly milestones but not the spiraling meltdowns. I have to admit that I'm definitely someone who is guilty of doing this at times. As a blogger, it can be tough to decide what we should share, and what we should not. No one wants to read a blog about fights, washing dishes, having breakdowns, getting the stomach flu, folding laundry, or feeling depressed, because, well, it's depressing. It's a hard line to straddle--the line between telling the truth of your daily life and being honest with your readers about what's going on, without becoming the Debbie Downer blog when things are tough.What I want to emphasize today is that I, too, look a whole lot better on the internet than I do in real life. My life looks much more glamorous on the internet than it does day-in and day-out. Sure, I just got back from a fun vacation, but it was the first real (big) trip that Ben and I have ever taken as a couple (just us--in our 8 years together!). And yes, I quit my day-job to pursue teaching yoga and painting, but I still struggle just as much as I ever did with stress, anxiety, perfectionism, and being "enough." Some "workdays" I don't get dressed until 4pm (not so glamorous), I've been known to have nervous breakdowns on Sunday evenings when I get ready for a busy week (not so glamorous), I have bruises all over my hips from bumping into walls and doorways on a regular basis (clumsy yoga instructor = not so glamorous), and I've fallen out of headstand and arm balances many, many times. We're all just human, trying to get by, whether or not our internet personas tell that part of the story. When I first started writing Starr Struck, I made the conscious decision to create a mostly uplifting blog--a place where we could connect over trying to live a more mindful, inspired, joyful daily life--and share our experiences throughout the process. I hope that this blog continues to live up to this intention, and that it doesn't feel insincere (or too full of peak experiences), as that's definitely not the full story. I think that Niequist says it best in the article when she says: And on the days when you peer into the screen of your laptop and all you see are other people’s peak experiences that highlight your lack in that moment, remember that life isn’t about the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s about a million more beautiful and complex things than that, like love and faith and really listening. It’s about using what you’ve been given to craft a life of gratitude and passion and grace.
Remember that the very best things in life can’t be captured in status updates. [LOVE this line.]
I hope that today, you can remember what life is truly about--and that it has nothing to do with what's happening on your Newsfeed.
Words to live by this week:
"It always comes back to just letting go with love. Just put love in it, whatever it is, and if you can't put love in it, don't do it."
How can you put a little more love into everything that you do on a daily basis? I like the idea that if you can't put love in it, it's not worth your time. Such a simple yet important concept.
I'm working on letting go with love while on vacation this week, and let me tell you, it's not that hard to do here in paradise ;)
My husband, Ben, in a restorative yoga pose. Part of his preparation for last week's CrossFit workout (13.4).
First, understand your body, which is the vehicle for your journey towards liberation, maintain it carefully, and then look on it with love and respect."
If there is one thing that yoga has taught me, it's this: you must get to know, respect, and accept your body just as it is, inside and out. Because I'm a huge fan of the quote above and everything that it stands for, I think we should take a moment to break it down and truly think about what it is saying:
1. First, understand your body: How do you begin to understand your body? Listen to it. Do yoga, meditate, take a bath, relax. When you first wake up in the morning or lie down in bed at night, pause to pay attention to how you're feeling. Get up from your desk and walk around, relaxing your shoulders and noticing where you're holding tension or stress in the body. Pay attention and begin to notice the patterns in your body! It's that simple--start paying attention.
2. Maintain it carefully: Take care of your body and do everything that you know you should be doing--not because you should, but because you want to. Exercise, eat nourishing foods, go to the doctor and dentist regularly, get massages, get lots of sleep, drink water (all. day. long.). Treat your body like you have to live in it for 100 years--because you just might get to! It's important to remember that this is the only body we get, and how we treat it will play a big part in how well it functions, now and in the future.
3. Then look on it with love and respect: Love your body just as you love your friends and family. It is a part of you and deserves all of the respect and care that you show for others. You cannot give yourself to the world unless you first give back to yourself, and that includes your body. Don't push it past your edge, don't expect it to keep going nonstop without breaking down, don't put it in unhealthy environments, don't abuse it. Treat it the way you would treat anyone or anything else you love--with complete love, respect, care, and honor.
Your body deserves nothing less. YOU deserve nothing less!
"Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life--think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, and every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success."
-Swami Vivekananda (1803-1902)
Isn't this a beautiful concept? What could we do if we were able to focus all of our energy on just one thing?
Makes you think.
What does success look like, feel like, sound like, taste like to you?
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently,
until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worthy of rescue.
by Martha Postlewaite
If you've been in my class lately, you probably know that I'm loving this poem (I've been reading it out loud a lot
). One of my teacher training mentees
shared it with me last week, and since then, I haven't been able to stop spreading the love, as I think that it's message is just perfect
Inspired by this poem, here are my questions for you today:1.
What are you doing in your daily life to "create a clearing in the dense forest of your life"? How are you creating space so that when your calling (or the "song" of your life) falls into your hands, you'll recognize it? 2.
the "song that is your life"? Have you heard it yet? How can you take steps towards following your passions, in order to begin to share your song with the world?
I love the idea that we don't need to save the whole world or try to achieve anything larger-than-life , but instead, that we should just find our personal gift and work to share that gift with the world. This is such a beautiful thought and it is one that I truly believe in.
Just another one of the many reasons that I'm working to slow down
and create space
in my own life...
I hope you'll join me in this endeavor!
PS. Thanks to Megan for introducing me to this amazing poem!
On Sunday, when walking back from an outside workout at the track (it was a gorgeous day and I was feeling really connected and happy!), I saw all of these high school kids playing touch football in a field, and I smiled at one of them. I kept watching as I walked by, not thinking much of it, and then it struck me--I'm not their age anymore.
It was so weird, it hit me from out of nowhere, and I found myself honestly realizing (maybe for the first time?) that I'm really not a teenager, or a kid, or a young person anymore. Even though I still feel very much like my younger self inside ("I'm still me!"), I know that in the eyes of the kids I was walking past, I probably looked like what I am--an adult. I'm married now, I'm waaaay
closer to thirty than I am to twenty, I have a life in Arlington, VA, and this is my life.
Weird how we often forget these things, isn't it?
Looking at those kids, I thought about my high school self--so worried about my appearance, so concerned with relationships (watching rom-coms with my best friend and wondering if I would ever find "the one"), such a perfectionist, so self-conscious, so worried--and I wanted to tell her that it's all okay. I wanted to tell her that I'm no longer so concerned about what people think of me, that I'm married, I'm happy, that everything worked out (although not the way that she thought it would). Yes, I'm still struggling with many of the same issues that I struggled with back then (learning how to say "no," slowing down, taking care of myself, I know you all could recite them with me...), but I've also made a real life for myself, a life that I actually like (!), as an adult human being. And that feels crazy.
Have you ever had a moment like this? When, out of nowhere, you stop and think about who you are? You define yourself the way that an outsider might define you, and realize that it feels extremely
different than how you feel inside (but also know that you're just you, no matter what stage of life you're in or what you look like on the outside!?). It's very eye-opening.
Life is so filled with rushing from one moment to the next, that often, we forget to stop and realize that we've been through a lot to get where we are today. But, the high schoolers playing football outside on Sunday reminded me that the very fact that we've made it to this moment is in itself
So this week, and today, I'm working on holding onto this realization and paying closer attention to where I am and who I've become. I'm working on recognizing that this is my life, and I am living it--
and that I should try to actually notice what it feels like before it's gone in the blink of an eye.
I hope you'll join me in working on savoring the moment this week.
“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.” ―Eve Ensler
Sometimes, all we need is a gentle reminder to live life to the fullest.What are you doing here?
Something to ponder on this Tuesday...