Friday, October 1, 2010
Bob Mayer Talking About Imposter Syndrome
A while back I was skimming the emails from the PAN loop, and I came across one written by NY Times Best Selling author, Bob Mayer. I was blown away by it. The man was speaking directly to me. So, I asked him if I could reprint his words, and not only did he graciously agree, but he also offered to pop in and answer questions. So ask him anything - pick his brain while we have him today. Just remember he is on Pacific time, so he's asleep right now. Shh! Don't wake him just yet. Surprise him with a bunch of questions to go with his coffee. Here are his words of wisdom.
Publishing has always been unstable. My first book came out in 1991 and it
was all gloom and doom then. Actually, I think it's the most exciting time
to be a writer that I've seen. But, as always, one has to stay current in
Regarding being hard on ourselves, the one word that constantly comes up in
my Warrior Writer workshops is people feeling like a fraud. This is an
excerpt from the book with the same name:
*How To Deal With Feeling Like A Fraud.*
Writers aren’t the only creative people who experience these feelings of
being a fraud or concerned the world will find out they are an imposter.
“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m
not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” Michelle Pfeiffer
“Sometimes I wake up before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do
this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me. I’m fat. I’m ugly . . .” Kate
First, it’s important to realize everyone has doubts. What’s debilitating is
if you feel like you are the only one. You’re not. Studies of people who are
identified as feeling like frauds range in percentage, but the overall
number is high. In fact, studies show that many of the most successful
people feel it the most. The higher up the ladder one goes, the greater the
fear is of ‘being found out’.
Doubts can be good: they can inspire you to become better. If you combine
your doubt with your passion, it can motivate you to great success. Studies
have shown that women who score high in the area of feeling like a fraud
tend to compete harder to compensate for their doubts. Interestingly, men
who scored high on feeling like a fraud, tend to avoid areas where they feel
vulnerable to avoid looking bad.
There is a thing called The Imposter Syndrome. Many people have great
difficulty internalizing their accomplishments. All those things they’ve
achieved: degrees, promotions, publication, best-seller lists, etc. are
thrown out. Instead, people look to external things like luck and contacts
that had little to do with their own efforts as the reason for the successes
they have achieved. Inside themselves, many people feel like they are
‘fooling’ everyone. What’s particularly hard about that is the more success
a person achieves, the greater the fear of being found a fraud becomes.
Some ways to gauge how much of The Imposter Syndrome you have: The more you
agree with the following statements, the higher your IS:
I can give the impression I am more competent than I really am.
I often compare myself to those around me and consider them more intelligent
than I am.
I get discouraged if I’m not the ‘best’ in an endeavor.
I hate being evaluated by others.
If someone gives me praise for something I’ve accomplished, it makes me fear
that I won’t live up to his or her expectations in the future.
I’ve achieved my current position via luck and/or being in the right place
at the right time.
When I think back to the past, incidents where I made mistakes or failed
come more readily to mind than times when I was successful.
When I finish a manuscript, I usually feel like I could have done so much
When someone complements me, I feel uncomfortable.
I’m afraid others will find out my lack of knowledge/expertise.
When I start a new manuscript, I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish it, even
though I’ve already finished X number of manuscripts.
If I’ve been successful at something, I often doubt I can do it again
If my agent tells me I’m going to get an offer on a book, I don’t tell
anyone until the contract is actually in hand.
Women tend to agree more with IS statements than men. They also tend to
believe that intelligence is a fixed trait that cannot be improved over
time. Women who feel like imposters tend to seek favorable comparisons with
Men who feel like imposters tend to avoid comparisons with their peers.
Often, they work hard so other people won’t think them incapable or dumb.
Overall, people who feel like imposters are constantly judging their success
against the achievements of others rather than viewing what they do as an
end in itself. For writers, this can be very dangerous, because there will
always be someone who is doing ‘it better’ or ‘is more successful’.
A technique to fight feeling like a fraud is to use a version of my HALO
(High Altitude Low Opening Parachuting) concept on yourself. Basically, the
HALO approach starts from way outside yourself, diving in until you can see
things clearly. Step outside and view things as if you are a stranger to
yourself.. Look at your resume. Look at what you’ve accomplished in life.
Ask yourself what kind of person would have achieved these things? Could a
fraud have done this? When I query a conference to teach or apply to lead
workshops or do keynotes, I have to send my bio. Sometimes I stop and read
it and ask myself: what would I think of this person, if I didn’t know them,
but just read this?
Focus on positive feedback. However, don’t ignore negative feedback. The key
is not to let the negative overwhelm you. I don’t look at Amazon reviews or
rankings any more. First, you have to realize that only a certain segment of
the population posts reviews on Amazons. It’s not a true sample of the
population. Also, the motives for posting reviews often have nothing to do
with your book.
Another interesting angle to feeling like a fraud: A study found that when
people with high Imposter Syndrome scores were asked to predict how they
would do on an upcoming test, they tended to predict they would do poorly
when around others. However, privately, they predicted they would do as well
as those who had low Imposter Syndrome scores. What this means is some
people adopt self-deprecation as a social strategy and are actually more
confident than they let on. They lower other people’s expectations and also
appear humble. I believe, though, that doing so, can also subconsciously
lower your own expectations and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the flip side of feeling like a fraud, some people tend to over-rate
their abilities. A self-serving delusion is almost necessary in this world
to just get out of bed in the morning at times. But take it too far and it
can destroy you.
The bottom line on dealing with the ‘feeling like a fraud’ is to internalize
more of your accomplishments. Remember the TO DO/DONE list? Occasionally
stop and take a look at what you’ve achieved.
In the military, we always joked that everyone had a “Look At Where I’ve
Been And What I’ve Done” wall in their home, covered with photos, plaques,
flags, etc. Those walls serve a purpose, though. (In our A-Team room, we had
to wire down all the knives, hatchets, edged weapons that were usually on
the plaques because people might start using them after a few beers.)
I have all my published books in my office on the top of two bookcases, all
lined up. The row is over three feet wide. I look at it sometimes to fight
the feeling that I can’t write another book, that I can’t get published
You have to believe in yourself. If you’re unpublished, walk into the
bookstores and don’t let all those published authors overwhelm you. Use them
to motivate you. Tell yourself you belong there. I always look and say:
“Hey, these people got published, why can’t I?”
List your accomplishments. They can range from a picture of your family,
degrees achieved, awards won, whatever. Put them where you write. Use them
to remind yourself that you are not a fraud. YOU ARE REAL.
Bob's Bio - NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has over 40 books published. He has over three million books in print and is in demand as a team-building, life-change, and leadership speaker and consultant. Bob graduated from West Point and served in the military as a Special Forces A-Team leader and a teacher at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School. His latest books are Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author and Chasing The Ghost. He teaches novel writing and improving the author via his Warrior-Writer program. He is the Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing. He lives on an island off Seattle. For more information see www.bobmayer.org or www.WhoDaresWinsPublishing.com