Sometimes it’s hard to come up with an idea because we’ve been working too hard — we’ve drained the well and haven’t refilled it.
Sometimes it’s hard because we haven’t been working enough — our creative brains have gotten out of the habit of sending us new ideas to play with.
And sometimes it’s hard because we lack the confidence. We struggle with impostor syndrome, or we worry that we don’t have what we need to do this idea justice.
We’re going to talk about that third one today.
Impostor syndrome isn’t a bad thing
We use the word “syndrome,” but impostor syndrome doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. In fact, the woman who did the original research on it thinks we should call it “impostor experience,” because nearly everyone wrestles with it sometimes.
Impostor syndrome can be summed up by the painful question,
“Am I good enough to do this important thing?”
It’s the feeling that whatever you learn, whatever you accomplish, you aren’t one of the really successful or knowledgeable people. Any minute now, the Expert Police are going to knock on the door and haul you off for fraud.
It’s intensely uncomfortable, but it isn’t always a bad thing. It can be very productive to keep that question in the back of your mind: “Is what I’m doing really contributing?”
When we look at those afflicted with impostor syndrome, it’s always surprising how damned good they are. They’re often the smartest, the hardest working, the voices that offer genuine value.
That’s not a coincidence.
The gift of self questioning keeps you honest. It keeps you from settling too quickly into “good enough.” It’s particularly useful in times like these, when everything around us is changing so quickly and conventional wisdom won’t cut it. We need to keep our eyes open and our humility in place.
Unless you let it stop you
The great and horrible problem with impostor syndrome is that it stops good people from making their most important contributions.
And it leaves those spaces open for people who don’t ask themselves if their work is making a real contribution, who go straight to “Good enough is good enough.”
‘Good enough’ can be ok, but giving a shit is better.
This isn’t a defense of perfectionism. Perfectionism is often the obsession with trivial details as a way to avoid putting the really important stuff out there.
But this is no time for sloppiness or relying on the same tired advice. We need you to step into your best work. The advice and help that only you can give.
If you’re an expert
If you’re an expert, you’ll need to own it, and that can be tough. Tap your professional support network and see if they can give you a mirror to see yourself more clearly.
If you’ve been doing what you do for some years, if you make a serious study of your topic, if you have put the hours in and you care a lot, you’re probably an expert.
OK, you’re not “the world’s foremost expert.” You don’t have to be. I’ll accept that there are lots of people who know more than you do, if you’ll accept that you actually know your shit and can bring that to others in a way that benefits them.
Here are some ways to approach your work with more confidence so you can share your best gifts:
Assess the evidence
You’re probably in a good position to look closely at the evidence for your area of expertise. In this era of junk science, fake news, and alternative facts, that’s incredibly valuable.
When you argue for a position in your topic, what’s your evidence? Is it credible? Is the source reliable? Is it current? Has it been tested? Are there any credible counter positions that you should at least look at?
Amateurs simply can’t assess the evidence the way you can. They don’t have the background to tell a good marketing story from real research. You can become the BS detector for your audience, and that’s priceless.
Draft your content with all the wimpy stuff, then take it out
As you’re working, whether it’s a blog post or a script for audio or video, go ahead and put in all of your apologies for not being “the world’s foremost expert.”
Then, when you’re doing, go back and take it all out before you record or publish.
I’ll allow you just one: Give yourself a single “that’s how I see it, you may see it differently” statement. Put it at the end.
Make your case forcefully first, then you can acknowledge that your topic is complex and others have different points of view.
Tell them what to do next
One thing an expert can help us with is to narrow the options down and tell us what we should do next.
Everyone is overwhelmed. Everyone is confused. If you can step forward, say what you have to say, then let people know — clearly and succinctly — what they should do next, you are performing a great service.
You are the action translator for your audience. You’ve gone through the information overload and waded through the complexity in order to find the thing that will make the difference — that next action to take. Everything you publish should tell people what to do next.
If you aren’t an expert
It might be that you genuinely are not an expert (yet). But you can still be a helpful voice.
The first thing to figure out is who you could meaningfully help. Beginners are always the biggest part of any market. If you know a little, because you’ve become an enthusiast in your topic, you can teach the beginning steps to someone who hasn’t taken them yet.
There is a beautiful “beginner’s mind” that is terribly hard to get to when you get further down the path. You can see the different approaches, the broad strokes, and the “Gee whiz” things that make your topic exciting.
Invite them to join you
You may have some next steps for your audience to try as well. Since you’ve just taken them, they’re all fresh in your mind, and you know what’s confusing and what’s hard to figure out at the beginning. That’s a valuable place for teaching.
Invite your audience to join you on the novice’s path. Let them learn along with you. Promise them that you will give your enthusiasm and that you will share what you learn. Acknowledge that you’re a student, too.
Voices from this viewpoint are intensely valuable, if they don’t claim an expertise that they haven’t earned yet.
And leading a group of fellow students through your topic will teach you a remarkable depth and breadth that’s hard to get any other way.
What happens if you don’t write this?
All of this is work — both of the “fingers on keyboard” variety and the “personal growth” variety. So why do it?
What happens if you don’t step up? If you don’t answer the questions, don’t write the blog post or record the podcast?
What happens to your future if you keep allowing other people to step into the light, while you sit back and plan?
What happens to your audience if you leave the leadership to people who care less than you do? Who are willing to half-ass it? Who don’t have the conscience and commitment that you have?
Need some help with your confidence
Do you ever wrestle with impostor syndrome? Has it ever kept you from doing something you really wanted to do?
I’m running a writing workshop to help give writers the encouragement and supportive environment they need to develop their creative skills. 🙂 If you want to know more about it, just drop your details below — I won’t be sending tons of emails on it, but I will let you know as I get closer to opening it up.