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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pietrzak

How to Outwit Imposter Syndrome

I read a Facebook comment yesterday that went something like, “It amazes me, all these coaches who get up on stage preaching discipline, who are horribly out of shape.”

My first reaction was, “amen”, but I am fortunate to have good genes and love exercise, and have never struggled with fitness or health, even at 40.

I did fall off the discipline train in many other ways in 2021, and like much of Facebook, I see now that the comment is unfair. Nobody has life figured out, and coaches are no exception.

Falling off the discipline train

Just two years ago my morning routine looked like this:

· Rise at 6:00 AM

· Light exercise

· Meditate for ten minutes

· Drink lemon water and sip my bulletproof coffee

· Read something edifying

· Journal, then start working by 8:00

Then my wife and I had a baby.

Now I rise whenever my daughter decides to, anywhere between 5:00 and 7:00—early, but not consistent. Morning serenity has given way to chaos. Diaper, clothes, toys, breakfast, chatter, laughter or screaming (depending on the day), boots, coat, daycare.

I’m someone who craves discipline and as a new parent I’ve struggled to give it to myself (although 2022 is off to a much better start).

This might not be a problem if I were back in the 9-5 racket, with a timecard to punch. As my own boss, and as a coach, it’s becoming a serious threat to both my spiritual and professional growth.

“How can I coach all these people if I can’t discipline myself?” I’ve asked myself.

How can I lead others if I can’t lead myself?

Ah, hello imposter syndrome. It may be the buzzword du jour, but I haven’t found a more apt description for what many coaches face. It’s the idea that, “if I don’t have my life together in all areas, how can I purport to lead others?”

In a social media world, we’ve made an unspoken agreement to showcase our flawless lives. Like Instagram’s profits, that’s driven by ego. We all know that our lives will never approach perfection. We know that those who seem to have impeccable lives online will eventually be found to be an abusive spouse, or a lousy drunk, or financially bankrupt.

We all have skeletons in the closet and most of us expend inordinate energy and take great care to keep them locked up in there.

Wouldn’t we all feel so much lighter if we hid nothing? Our ego would die of exposure if left naked to the elements for long enough.

Put it all on the table

Rapper Childish Gambino (a man who is unapologetically alive) wrote some lines that make my argument for me. He sings about the time he was 12, and on the bus back from summer camp, and had just professed his love to a girl who then turned around and mocked him with her friends.

“I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody,” he says. “So I learned to cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows; I told them.”

Practicing this kind of radical openness must feel like taking a two-ton weight off your shoulders—no more need to hide.

The cure for imposter syndrome is to stop being an imposter. Take off the mask before the Scooby gang forces you to do it. Gladly reveal your limitations to the world! You probably won’t get fired, and you probably won’t lose clients. In fact, you’ll develop a reputation as a courageous, vulnerable, very human being. We all gravitate to that.

Struggling with self-doubt? Coaching can help you rebuild your confidence. Book a free 1-hour coaching deep dive with me.

Skateboarding into a thriving business

Dr. Jon Marashi was a young dentist in Los Angeles whose business was mediocre. He was also an avid skateboarder. When he introduced this stereotypically adolescent hobby into his practice, riding from room to room on his board, and posting pics and videos on social media of his sick kickflips, his business skyrocketed. Now he is one of the most successful dentists anywhere, and is clearly having the time of his life. Why? Because he stopped trying to maintain a firewall between his work and his real self.

Being vulnerable doesn’t weaken you, it makes you invulnerable. Nobody can use your weaknesses or quirks against you if you already have them on display. Being vulnerable is terribly attractive. Telling people about your flaws and limitations helps people see that you’re real, and people want to be around people who are real. Nobody believes your curated online persona anyway.

I struggle to relate to someone who has the picture-perfect wife and kids in matching outfits, flaunts the wildly successful 18-figure business, neon sports car, and luxurious hair. This is not a believable person, it’s only a portrait of someone who might also suffer from week-long bouts of Netflix binges or who kicks puppies, but hides that from the world.

I’ll go first

So, allow me to go first with my list of flaws and failings.

I struggle with money. Every day I get better with saving & investing, but when I have money, I like to spend it. I’m not making as much money as my potential should allow for.

I don’t exercise nearly as much as I’d like. I’ll lift weights and bike 2 or 3 times a week, but it’s a far cry from my 5-days-a-week goal.

I drink too much, though I am coming ever closer to a decision to quit. I was close, once, but when the pandemic hit I wasn’t worried about toilet paper shortages, but whether we had enough alcohol to ride it out, and I snapped back into drinking 1 or 2 glasses of boxed wine nightly.

I burn inordinate amounts of time playing computer games—easily 10 hours a week. I suspect this is an escape from traumas and tasks I’d rather not face, and I struggle to break the cycle.

I’m angry too often—sometimes at the multitude of people taking hard drugs and acting crazy in my neighbourhood, and at the politicians who seem to be doing virtually nothing to manage this crisis. I’m angry with people who litter and vandalize, anti-masker and anti-vaxxers, with people who use leaf blowers at 7:00 AM on Saturdays and too often I get annoyed with my wife for not refilling the diaper basket or the water jug.

Chasing perfect is counterproductive

“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.” —Salvador Dali

Admitting flaws is seen as a terribly risky professional move—more so for a coach— and especially for those who have carefully built a godlike persona. I don’t have the interest or the energy to make-believe like this. I am imperfect, even deeply flawed. Perfection is a myth, and I’m OK with that.

A great sports coach is not one who is the best player in the game. He or she may not have even played before. A money coach does not need to be wealthier than her coachee. A personal trainer does not need to be fitter than his client. Clients are not transformed by osmosis and coaches do not coach by rubbing off on their clients.

The same is true for any profession or field: you can do serve at the highest levels despite your flaws. Great Work happens when two people come together and learn from each other. I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me, and this is enough.

Struggling with self-doubt? Coaching can help you rebuild your confidence. Book a free 1-hour coaching deep dive with me.

Photo by carlos baeza from Pexels

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