This has been a week of difficult conversations. For one reason or another, I spent a lot of time talking to the women in my life about how they are feeling, their dreams and their latest frustration. Two things kept coming up in these conversations: insecurity and comparison.
Whether it was the professional conversation about the interview for the job that one felt poorly qualified to do (while her resume would indicate quite the opposite), the romantic heart-to-heart about the fear of leaving an unhappy relationship and never finding someone else that would love her, or the vent about how one has built so many “personas” (one for work, one for family, one for friends…) that she doesn’t feel authentic anymore, the topic of imposter syndrome kept coming up in these conversations.
These exchanges are so common that it’s easy to believe that we are destined to feel this way. That there is nothing we can do, but manage this feeling so that it doesn’t make too much damage.
We are not born feeling like we are less.
As children, we are “worse” than everyone at everything, but we do it nonetheless. Because it’s fun. Because we want to. Because it feels good. Because we are genuinely passionate about it. And for thousands of other reasons.
That’s because we aren’t conditioned to be ashamed of ourselves yet. At that stage of our development, we are not comparing our every effort to the people who we admire and sometimes envy.
We haven’t learned how to feel inadequate.
All that matters is that we are learning and enjoying ourselves.
So why does that change?
It changes because we are indoctrinated into a zero-sum game. Someone’s beauty takes away from ours. Someone’s intelligence means we are a little more stupid. The other person’s success automatically makes us less successful.
It changes because as we grow up, we are taught that something isn’t worth doing unless we are better than others at it.
We are told that unless we get a bigger paycheck than our friend to do something, that what we do is of lower value.
How can we take it back?
Naval Ravikant (entrepreneur and investor) summarises this well: Status is a zero-sum game. Value-creation is a positive-sum game.
Until you stop trying to climb the social ladder to feel better about yourself because you are more popular, more intelligent, or more beautiful than others, you will not be able to become a person that is truly confident. Someone that will have the courage to seize the opportunities to do great things.
If your identity is determined by your position in relation to others, you will always be unhappy. Either because you feel like you deserve to be placed at a higher place, or because you are afraid of being undeserving of your spot.
If you have <1000 followers on Instagram and you feel like a fraud making a live talking about a product that you really love, are you doing it because you genuinely believe that sharing that information is valuable, or are do you want to do it because you are emulating someone else’s actions wanting to achieve that status of thousands of followers?
If you are feeling like a failure for having put out a podcast that only 10 people listened to, are you too focused on the numbers and forgetting that you have created something that 10 other people saw value on?
If you are anxious about your first day at a new job because you are afraid that people will eventually realise that you are not as great at that one thing that they said they needed, are you not trusting your ability or are you just afraid of being humiliated because you might make a mistake that will make you look or sound stupid in front of others?
It’s only when you focus on the value that you create, instead of obsessing over the comparison of your value to the perceived value of others, that you will stop feeling like an imposter.
Someone’s worth does not take away from your own.
If you are trying to maintain an image of perfection, every failure chips away at that image. But guess what? Nobody is perfect. We all have shortcomings.
It’s only when you see your shortcomings as an opportunity to grow and learn that you can feel confident and at peace with who you are and where you are at.
Authenticity over time becomes confidence.
Confidence over time becomes courage.
How can you believe in yourself, if you are not being yourself?
- Stop comparing: When you find yourself looking at someone else and thinking “she is prettier”, “she is smarter” or any comparative adjective, STOP. Take a moment and reframe.
- Be specific about the subject of your admiration: Being smart is too abstract. There are too many types or intelligence. What about “she has a very interesting outlook on this topic”?. Being hot or fit is too high level. What about “this person can run 10km 5 times per week”. Go a layer deeper. Find what is about that person that you admire and figure out if that is something you want to work on yourself.
- Work on it: If it’s important to you, learn it, dedicate time to achieve it. Make a plan and do it your own way.
- Can’t work on it? Then make peace with it. There are things we either cannot change or are not prepared to make the sacrifices or put in the effort to achieve. I am not going to have a 6 pack because I like pizza too much. I am not willing to change my life into bulking and cutting seasons to achieve that goal. Therefore, learn how to look at those qualities with admiration and not compare yourself to it (or use 100 filters to make you look like something you are not). What good is it to look the part on your Bumble photos but to live in the fear that people are continuously disappointed at meeting you?
- Stop playing zero-sum status games. Someone’s value doesn’t take away from your own. Focus on the value you create.