A simple solution if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome

imposter syndrome

Is it just my imagination or is the topic of imposter syndrome being discussed everywhere these days?

Perhaps it’s the stress and insecurity of these COVID days or the new pressure to perform on so many social media channels, but there has been a lot of content on this topic lately.

Imposter syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be. It usually means you feel less worthy in social and public situations. Perhaps you may feel paralyzed to show up in an authentic and meaningful way.

The other day, I experienced an individual with the most severe case of imposter syndrome imaginable. I was able to help him and perhaps this advice will help you, too.

Imposter syndrome paralysis

I have a place on my site where anybody can sign up for an hour of my time. It doesn’t cost much and I provide this as a way to help people from around the world work through a dizzying array of business problems. It’s actually a lot of fun for me — an intellectual challenge!

Recently, I encountered a young man who was absolutely paralyzed by self-doubt. He dreams of being a marketing consultant and spends endless hours reading books and listening to podcasts from the greatest marketing minds. He could rattle off the main ideas from almost any marketing book written in the last ten years.

But he has crippling self-doubt. He could not bring himself to even make a suggestion on a marketing idea in his company because he thought he just didn’t know enough. After all this reading? This was not a problem with his knowledge. This was an issue of self-confidence … and quite an extreme one.

Malcolm to the rescue

This was one of the hardest consulting sessions I’ve ever had. It was tipping out of my realm of expertise … but then I had a breakthrough suggestion. I told him the story of Malcolm Gladwell.

I am a huge Gladwell fan. If you read my books, you’ll probably detect a little Malcolm in there.

But here’s the thing. Malcolm is revered as one of the greatest thinkers and storytellers of our time, but neither the ideas he presents nor the research in his books, is necessarily his own. Gladwell’s brilliance comes from his ability to take other people’s stories and research and weave them into a compelling and entertaining narrative.

I do the same thing. A key idea message in “Marketing Rebellion” is that two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. But that wasn’t my idea. I didn’t sponsor this study. I was sharing a decade’s worth of research from McKinsey to support my story.

Could we apply this strategy of standing on the shoulders of others to help overcome imposter syndrome? If you don’t have confidence in your own abilities, could you capitalize on the expertise and abilities of others?

The connection to authority

This young man was so well-read! He could easily quote Seth Godin, Jay Baer, and even me on almost any marketing topic. I said to him, “If you don’t have confidence in your own ideas, could you offer the ideas of others?

“For example, if you see a customer situation and it reminds you of a solution that Jay Baer offered in a book, could you pass along Jay’s advice to the customer? If you don’t trust yourself right now, you can trust Jay. I think that over time, people wouldn’t care where the advice is coming from, they only know that you are smart, helpful, and a voice of authority for them.”

His sullen look on the Zoom screen brightened for the first time. He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I could do that!”

Suggesting that he quote others instead of offering original advice took the pressure completely off his shoulders. He could establish authority on the backs of his marketing heroes.

This post is a little off the well-worn marketing path I usually travel, but maybe it will help you get through a presentation or business situation when you’re feeling a little insecure. Let me know how you gain confidence when you’re feeling insecure.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and 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.

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