The path to content success: Crushing self doubt


By Mark Schaefer

By any measure, Antonio Centeno is a success and an inspiration. He has a multi-million-dollar business. A beautiful family. More than a million followers on YouTube.

That’s why it was so surprising to me to learn that at times he feels like a fraud.

crushing self doubt

Antonio Centeno

I met this amazing man while working on my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age. Like many of the stars in the  book, Antonio had to overcome so much to succeed, but by following the four-step path in my book, he made it to the other side and is a business star today through his “Real Men Real Style” franchise.

But he recently created a video which took me by surprise. “Am I a fraud?” he asks. “Am I a scammer?”

Turns out, being featured in my book resurrected his own feelings of insecurity, something that’s also called imposter syndrome. Have you been at a place in your life where you feel unworthy? You wonder what you have to offer the world?

What I discovered is that even the people we look up to feel this way sometimes, too. Watch this short video from Antonio to see what he has to say about conquering these fears:

If you can’t see the video above, click here: Crush Self Doubt.

The beauty of imposter syndrome

Like Antonio, everybody experiences imposter syndrome now and then. The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea of what you’re doing.

Guess what? None of us do. Ask anybody creating content out there and they’ll tell you the truth. They don’t know where their best stuff comes from. They just show and do their thing every day.

Author and business leader Ann Handley has written about this idea a number of times. “Impostor syndrome is a feeling that despite getting accolades, professional recognition, and maybe tons of money, glory, and success, you nonetheless feel like you’re tricking everyone and you’re actually not very good at anything,” she said.

But instead of trying to erase the feeling of self-doubt, Ann embraces it.

Ann Handley

“I saw a chart on Buzzfeed that made me laugh,” she said. “On one side it said ‘What you think you are: A hot crazy fire mess of a person who disappoints important people.’ On the other side, it said ‘Who others think you are: Cool and fine.’

“When I posted this chart on Facebook, a barrage of friends chimed in, many agreeing how they feel strangely out of their depth – whether real or imagined – as a true life struggle.

“And many of those people are incredibly talented, driven, accomplished, and successful. So why do accomplished people sometimes feel like impostors? Probably because at some point … they were.

“Early in my career, I worked as a news reporter in a busy business newsroom; literally though, I was just pretending to be a news reporter because I had no idea what I was doing.”

Crushing self doubt

“Age, time, successes, and failures have greatly diminished my sense of impostor syndrome,” Ann said. “But, every once in a while, the familiar doubt still rises within me. But I’ve come to embrace it as less of a handicap and more of a good thing, for three reasons:

  1. Impostor syndrome is evidence that you’re still growing as a professional and as a person.
  2. Impostor syndrome is evidence that you’re not an arrogant jerk.
  3. Impostor syndrome can be a useful divining rod or guide telling you that the new path you’re taking (in life or career) just might be the wrong one.

“So, impostor syndrome is useful. It’s an asset – a tiny critic that prods me to produce my best work and that keeps me from being an arrogant, insufferable know-it-all.”

It’s easy to assume that industry leaders like Ann had some sort of genius master plan, a straight and secure path that rocketed them to the top. In a haze of fear about our own choices, we assume successful people didn’t face those same insecurities or ever take a step that led them astray. But they did – often.

Time to go to work

My greatest periods of self-doubt came when developing my career as a professional speaker. I’ll never forget my first big speaking gig in front of about 300 senior marketers in Cincinnati. I was terrified. What in the world could I do or say that would be new and provocative?

I paced furiously for an hour before my talk. I had worked hard on this speech and I was prepared, but the nerves (terror, really) would not go away. Finally, I had a realization. This was my job, now. I had asked to do this, I had dreamed of doing this, and I wanted this to be part of my career! Now, it was coming true and it was time to go to work.

Somehow, envisioning this speaking stage as my new workplace made a big difference. I don’t get nervous going to work. Why should I be nervous now? This is my new “office.”

Is self-doubt holding you back on your content path?

If you start creating content, you’ll be better at it six months from now. It will come more easily, you’ll be more comfortable, and your skills will improve. But here’s a guarantee: You’ll never experience that euphoric feeling of progress and growing confidence if you never start.

It’s time to go to work.

Additional reading: Six Steps to Ditching Your Fear and Starting that Big Thing

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration marked as license-free by Unsplash.

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