When we look throughout history, we can see that time and time again, wherever there is oppression, one of the key things that happens is that people internalize that oppression, and begin to distrust their own voice, their stories, their history, and the truth they have to speak. They wonder if they really measure up against this invisible standard. That is the cause of imposter thoughts – not anything wrong with YOU.
I’ve talked ad nauseum about dismantling imposter thoughts, including a few previous podcast episodes that I’ll drop in the show notes, and I’m not going to stop talking about it, because it stops so many thoughtful and impactful people from getting visible and building thought leadership – especially on a platform like LinkedIn.
But the most effective and long lasting way to build trust and community as an expertise-based small business was to … well … share your expertise publicly, imperfectly, loudly, and proudly! In this podcast episode, I’m going to talk about a few specific flavors of how imposter thoughts can show up as you build your thought leadership brand, along with actionable reframes you can practice to have a different thought and serve your people in a deeper way.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I develop a new offer, that’s dropping on June 7th. It’s a slow study. It’s a go-at-your-own-pace deep dive into your own foundational personal brand message. It’s an interactive love letter to yourself and your deeper why. It contains the questions and exercises I go through with my 1:1 clients to establish clarity in their unique thought leadership brand message, so you too can stand out as you stand up for their mission. Get on the waitlist here, I’ll send you the first episode of this audio course ahead of time, for free.
Highlights from the podcast episode:
In this episode, we discuss:
[03:21] Dr. Valerie Young’s 5 “types” of imposter syndrome
[04:15] Overcoming perfectionism as a thought leader
[08:59] You don’t have to be a natural genius on LinkedIn
[11:27] Expertise doesn’t mean knowing everything
[14:10] There’s no “I” in thought leader (lol)
[17:47] Is this about doing “enough” or being “enough”?
Dr. Valerie Young Reveals 5 Types of Imposter Phenomenon
Dr. Valerie Young is a go-to expert on Imposter Phenomenon, and the co-founder of Impostor Syndrome Institute. She also has a great book called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, and in that book, she talks about these five different types or flavors of how imposter thoughts may come up. They include:
- The Perfectionist
- Natural Genius
- The Expert
- Rugged Individualist
More than one of these might show up for you in the moment, depending on what’s going on. But knowing that this Part, or this energy is coming up in the moment can help you come up with ways to approach it.
Overcoming Perfectionism as a Thought Leader
The most common one is Perfectionist. The thinking here, when showing up on LinkedIn especially is, “Every single post must be exemplary. I have to show up as this ideal, perfect expression of myself as a leader, 100% of the time.”
This is different from a healthy and normal drive to want to do a good job because you know you’re representing something bigger than you, whether it’s a mission, a company, your colleagues. That’s all fine and well. But when you find yourself feeling like you must get the A+, deliver the flawless LinkedIn Live, or won’t post anything until you have the perfect post, or the right amount of batched content ready to go so you can stay consistent – that’s a setup for not only disappointment, but ongoing, cyclical imposter thoughts because it’s a self fulfilling prophecy that you’re not “fill in the blank” enough. Smart enough, prolific enough, perfect enough.
But listen – Perfect is impossible, unrealistic, and actually unhelpful. It’s not relatable. People want to see our human side. That’s what attracts them to us: our humanity. Not our typo-free LinkedIn post that has just the right emojis and the right selfie. Right? It’s about how we make them feel and our ability to change hearts and minds. That does not require perfection.
Perfectionism can be a bigger barrier than you think, because it literally stops you from moving ahead with your work. Perfectionism and procrastination are like, evil cousins. We spend way more time than makes sense, reviewing, tweaking a word here or there until it’s absolutely “PERFECT.” Which of course, is an unattainable goal. What does perfect even look like? Our idea of perfect can change moment to moment.
Two researchers Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander coined a pattern that might seem familiar to you – I know it was for me. It’s called the imposter cycle. We work on a thought leadership task – maybe it’s batching content or finally updating our LinkedIn profile to read as a RESOURCE instead of a resume.
So, we get stuck in this hyper-preparedness mode. We keep working on it until the words lose their meaning, the morning has bled away into the evening, and we’re still working on the same task.
Let’s say we get it done, share it with the world, and it does well. People engage. Folks reach out and tell us they loved what we had to share.
What may happen, is that instead of internalizing it as a success or a job well done thanks to our own competence, we falsely convince ourselves the success was due to something outside of our skills and abilities. Oh, the algorithm just happened to show it to a lot of people. Oh, a lot of people were online at that moment so of course it did well. That’s the imposter cycle.
So of course, the imposter feelings continue cyclically, because it’s a self fulfilling prophecy that you’re not good enough, just as you are.
Yikes! When I find this happening, I like to use these reframes.
- Not everything requires 100% perfection. It’s okay to work in drafts. Showing up with love and positive intention is enough, because the reader, the ideal client, the beloved human being I am trying to reach does not need me to be perfect, they need me to be ME. That’s all I can give to them, and that is enough.
- ALSO – showing up trying to reach perfectionism negatively impacts others. I don’t need or expect my clients to be perfect? I don’t need my mentees to be perfect. Or my spouse, or my dog. I adore them for who they are, for showing up, and doing their best.
- And finally, done is ALWAYS better than perfect, especially because everything is a test. Once we put something out there, we can find out how people are relating to it, and tweak from there. If it never leaves your head, you never know how to improve it and turn it into what it’s meant to be.
You don’t have to be a Natural Genius on LinkedIn
Next, is the “Natural Genius”. The difference between a natural genius and a perfectionist, is that the natural genius judges themselves on ease. And look, I’m all about ease and building an easeful business. But that doesn’t mean we should expect ourselves to know how to do something without being taught. Or to get it right on the first try.
How this shows up for people working on building their thought leadership on LinkedIn can be: “Well, if I were really meant to be visible, it wouldn’t be this hard to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page. Or if I were really competent, I would have tons of engagement on my posts already instead of crickets.”
And if something is not effortless and easy for you, the imposter thoughts can activate.
But here’s the thing: success always, always, always takes time. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Something I like to do is find these go-to, super respected guides in their niche, and try to find their FIRST couple of YouTube videos. You have to really search and scroll backward sometimes, but it can be worth it. And sometimes creators will just throw it out, which I love. Marques Brownlee is a famous tech reviewer, and last year he posted a screenshot from his first YouTube video 13 years ago. Like, you can immediately see the progression and how far he has come in every way.
I went back to look at the comments and someone said, “I’d love to see you explain to your past self why this video has 4 million views in 2022.” and Marques says, “You couldn’t possibly explain it, he’d never believe it.” Right?
If we didn’t try, and practice, and struggle, and flail, we’d never bloom. We’d never grow. It would be impossible.
So, Natural Genius. What if you could tell yourself, you are fully capable of growing into the leader you are becoming? It’s already happening – you just have to keep moving forward.
Expertise doesn’t mean knowing everything
So, what about the Expert?
If you identify as the expert, your primary issue is needing to have all the knowledge and skill to truly feel competent or you feel like an imposter. This one comes up with a vengeance in this work of thought leadership, but although we are positioning ourselves as trusted voices and practiced guides in our space, that still doesn’t mean we have to know everything.
This may look like: Not fully showing up with your spicy point of view in content, because you worry someone may call you out and you won’t have the knowledge or expertise to back up why you think that. Or maybe in your LinkedIn profile, you downplay your expertise – even though you HAVE THE RECEIPTS – because you feel like you’re not really “there” yet.
OR – maybe you just did something really amazing like get published in Business Insider, or got this fabulous award …. and yet, you hesitate to share it publicly because someone, somewhere, this evil faceless person, may show up and start questioning 1) if you really measure up and 2) your ego and lack of humility. What will people say?
Listen, I’m not shaming anyone for this. This is a natural response to living in a culture where we’re forced to jump through hoops to prove our expertise, credibility, and trustworthiness, when others are given the golden keys by virtue of showing up male, pale, and stale. OK? That’s a whole different podcast episode though.
Just know it’s really impossible to know everything there is to know, AND you don’t actually need to know everything. Instead, you can build up a strong community of strategic partners and business besties so you know who to go to, to answer a question if you’re unsure.
Some reframes here could be: I can be comfortable figuring things out as I go. There are many paths to becoming an expert, and lived experience is just as important as degrees. Even when I don’t know something, I can still be confident. And, there is no end to knowledge building. I am comfortable not having all the answers, because I’ll do what it takes to find them when the right questions are asked.
There’s no “I” in Thought Leader
The fourth one is Rugged Individualist. The distinction for the rugged individualist is: If I were really competent, I could do everything myself. The only achievements that count are the ones I reached totally on my own. If I was part of a team, it diminishes the achievement. If someone compliments you, your go-to is “oh, I had tons of help” – as if that downplays your own abilities.
This reminds me of the individualist idea that we’re supposed to make it on our own, without help, while pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. This attachment to individualism can make us forget the fact that we are all in this together. It keeps us disconnected from our squad, our village, and makes us think we have to lean on others, we’re not enough, on our own. i
Again, it’s really impossible to know everything there is to know, AND you don’t actually need to know everything. True competence is knowing how to identify the resources needed to get the job done and move the goalpost forward, with help from others.
For example, I help my clients build their thought leadership and top-of-mind trust on LinkedIn. Do I know everything about LinkedIn and their forever changing algorithm? No, I definitely don’t. I actually just finished up my first LinkedIn Content Sprint – which was sooo amazing by the way and I got to live out my dreams of being a creative writing teacher. But the Slack channel was popping off of course with lots of excitement and questions about something adjacent to LinkedIn, like podcast guesting for example. And sometimes, I found myself without a go-to, practiced answer for some questions. But guess what – it’s all good because I have a community of branding experts who are all about a spirit of abundance so when I have a question, I know where to go and bring it back to the group – which if you think about it, is really a value add for the folks that I serve.
What if you could reframe your thinking from “I’ll never be able to do a good job without help to” “OMG, how awesome that I get to bring the depth of knowledge and expertise that lives in my community ecosystem to my clients, and everybody wins as a result. Take yourself out of the equation, and focus on the work objectively.
If this is a big one for you, I would love to challenge you to do a LinkedIn post where you shoutout and amplify like 3-4 BIG AIR QUOTE competitors, knowing there’s no such thing as a competitor – there is only collaborators and co-conspirators, and just like shout them out to your people. See what happens. Do that a few more times, and see if this rugged individualism piece starts to fade.
Build a strong campfire circle around you, so know where to go when you need help, or need to refer out, and or build a collaboration team. Ask for what you need. There’s no I in thought leader. OK? I know that’s cheesy AF, and I apologize. But truly, you don’t have to do this work alone.
Is this about doing “enough” or being “enough”?
Okay friends, we’ve arrived at the last one. And that is Superwoman, or superman, or superperson.
The distinction here is this person has to be juggling a bunch of things at once to feel competent. From the perspective of building thought leadership and authority on LinkedIn, this can show up as biting off more than they should be chewing, committing to posting every single day when they don’t have the energetic capacity, saying yes to all the invitations to coffee chats – all while managing a full client roster. Always adding more to your plate to “be enough.”
This can also show up in repeated scope creep from the clients you do serve. Boundaries are beautiful, and yet, I know they’re easier said than implemented – especially for our super-people.
Ask yourself, “If I say no to this request, will that create space for a more aligned yes that will actually move the needle for my brand or business?”
So what do you think? Can you see yourself using these reframes? Can you think of a new reframe that works better for you? Or, is there a different distinction or flavor of imposter thought that has come up for you while working on your visibility and authority-building? I would love to know!
I think the commonality here is that the reframes are about changing our personal definition of competence for ourselves. Chances are, we hold ourselves to much higher standards than we do our peers, or our competitors in the space, or our loved ones.
If you see a business bestie or work wife share something on LinkedIn with a lil typo or a lil incomplete thought – you don’t lose any respect for her. There she is again, being a lovely human being. Doing her thing, and doing it well. Can you give yourself that same grace?
The sooner we can right-size our standards for ourselves, the sooner our inner chaperone – however they show up – will begin to ease their grip on us.
You know, James Clear in Atomic Habits says “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” And I would add, it’s a vote for the world you wish to build.
So each new thought you create makes a difference. It’s a big deal and ripples out in ways we can’t immediately see. Remember that, friends.
Resources from this episode:
Catch up on these previous episodes of The Campfire Circle about imposter thoughts:
- Episode 8: Using Narrative Therapy to Reframe ‘Imposter Syndrome’
- Episode 17: Practicing Inclusion on Purpose with Ruchika Tulshyan
- Episode 25: Four Barriers to Visibility on LinkedIn (and How to Overcome them)
- Episode 32: Beat Imposter Thoughts and Content Blocks With a High Five File
Connect with me:
LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya