Impostors Syndrome: My Very Personal Story

The following blog post was originally an email.

impostor

In fact, it was The Waldow Weekly WhazzupDATE #3 – a weekly email I sent to my subscribers every Wednesday where I share content that is very personal – mostly about my journey process of rediscovering my passion. It is very raw. Very transparent. Very real.

This blog post? Very raw. Very transparent. Very real. I received so many replies to that email that I felt it was worth sharing it with a broader community. Hopefully what you read below will resonate with you.

Want in? Subscribe now (at the bottom of this post) The Waldow Weekly WhazzupDATE delivered to your inbox. Note: You’ll also get an email when there are fresh blog posts!

In 2014 I successfully beat my third bout with depression (told you it was about to get personal!). I have not shared my stories of depression with many people other than my wife – who has stuck by my side through all three – my family, and a few close friends. It was not until recently, after the Robin Williams suicide, I began to share a bit more about my personal struggles.

To be clear, it’s not that I’m embarrassed about my depression; more that I think it’s a very (very) personal issue. If you know me, you know I’m an open book. Sometimes too open. Ha! I’m an oversharer. Thanks to social media, I now have an outlet – for good or for bad – to (over)share.

Before you delete this email, let me assure you this update is not really about depression, but what I’m about to share can lead to depression. If fact, I’m convinced now that my depression was caused – in part – by this.

This? This thing? It’s called Impostors Syndrome.

According to Wikipedia (accurate 99.2% of the time), Impostors Syndrome is:

a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Deep, huh?

What I’ve come to learn – thanks to family, friends, my wife, and my (many) hours of therapy, is that Impostors Syndrome is VERY common. I don’t have actual data or numbers to support how common it is, but suffice to say, there is a pretty good chance that you – yes YOU – also suffer from some degree of Impostors Syndrome.

Over the past decade, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of email marketing blog posts and articles. I’ve keynoted and spoken at countless events – both live and virtual – pontificating the pros of email marketing. I ran a successful email marketing consultancy for two years. Heck, I even co-authored a 300+ page book about email marketing!

I don’t share any of this to brag (or even to humblebrag). I don’t share any of this to pat myself on the back. Nope. Instead, I share this with you to say never once in my near 10-year career in email marketing did I ever feel 100% confident in what I was doing or saying. Never. Not once. I always had self-doubt. I always had a bit of “I’m a phony” feeling.

The same thing happened when I was an 8th grade American History teacher – when I suffered my first bout of depression. Coincidence? I think not.

Now, I do think some degree of self-doubt makes us strive to be better. I have never nor will I ever be someone who is complacent. I will also look for ways to “do things better” – to be smarter, more efficient, better at my craft.

However, I’m less worried these days about what others think.

That does not mean I don’t value feedback. Far from it. I thrive on honest, valuable feedback – the kind I received several years ago from my former boss and still good friend Chris Penn. But, I am less likely to expend time, effort, and energy on worrying about that which I cannot control. I know I’ll also look to be better. I know I’ll always strive to come closer to perfection (though I’ll continue to remind myself there is no such thing as perfection) – even my 2-year old knows that. Ha!

Listen. I don’t have the magic formula to beat Impostors Syndrome. I don’t offer a $97 course guaranteeing a cure. You can search the Googles to find some great (as well as some not-so-great) articles about curing Impostors Syndrome.

What I do know – check that – what I do think is the “cure” for Impostors Syndrome takes practices, it takes focus, it takes a shift in your mindset. It also takes a bit of “I don’t give a crap what others think” attitude.

I also think it takes finding – and then doing – something you are truly passionate about. I’ll share this with you – my dear Waldow Weekly WhazzupDATE crew – in an upcoming email, but suffice to say, I’ve rediscovered my passion. Announcement of what’s next coming soon!

So, what’s your take on Impostors Syndrome? Have you or do you currently suffer from it’s effects? Please share by hitting reply now. All emails will be confidential – between you and I – unless you tell me otherwise.

Oh, and one last thing … apparently, Guy Kawasaki doesn’t even know what Impostors Syndrome is (fast-forward to 17:50 in). Yeah. He said that. Tweet it!

P.S. Dang. Lots of links in this update, huh? Ha!

9/16/14 UPDATE: I’d love to hear your story of Impostors Syndrome. If you have written about Impostors Syndrome or plan to in the future thanks to this post (DO IT!), and would like to share, please contact me (leave a comment below, tweet me, email me, whatever), and I’ll link up your post here.

Chris Penn: The Simplest Way to Fight Imposter Syndrome
Steve Woodruff: On Being a Fraud
Rob Zaleski : The Imposter is the man BEHIND the man in the mirror
Jessica Lawlor: Are You Letting Impostor Syndrome Hold You Back From Your Goals?

36 comments
chrislee
chrislee

Definitely can relate. As Jay said, I think it's part of working in technology in general. Things change so fast that it's impossible to keep up with everything.

I remember working in a different field managing people many years ago. From the start for several years I felt the same thing. At that time I was young & doing pretty well so I kept getting promoted out of my comfort zone. I remember referring to it as always "hanging on by my fingertips." I switched careers to move to Kauai and paddle outrigger canoe (that was a good time) & dropped to a much smaller staff and a single department. After a year and a half, I went back to my old company in a role similar to what I had previously had and I remember actually feeling comfortable. It was like my self concept caught up. 

Since moving into technology, there's always new stuff. Platforms we work with are always expanding features. Marketing changes constantly. Technology changes constantly. People in a limited role might be able to avoid impostor syndrome but it's definitely tough when you're a business owner, marketer, implementer, etc., etc!

secretsushi
secretsushi

Great timing DJ. A much needed post for me at the moment. Well, at most moments.

PeterShankman
PeterShankman

You fucking nailed it, buddy. Welcome to my ocean. Come on in, the water's warm.

jackinessity
jackinessity

@djwaldow Love this. Love this. So proud of you. I suffered from Imposter Syndrome so terribly in my first career that I deliberately left it for a corporate job that had nothing whatsoever to do with my past. That first career: College Professor, at age 25. Barely older than my students and still enrolled in grad school when I first took the stand in front of over 100 students a semester, I spent 4 long years trying to convince myself that I knew what I was talking about and deserved to be where I was. It didn't work so well. Not only was I completely unprepared in terms of pedagogy (having never actually studied HOW to teach, somehow, in my 8+ years of college...) but I was teaching classes in writing and composition and logic and grammar, when I had never formally studied any of those. My degree was in modern (Translation: Renaissance to Reformation-ish) LIterature, Literary Theory, and the 18th century British Novel; somehow I had been hired to teach about nonfiction writing and rhetoric. I crammed furiously before each lesson, often finishing assigned readings in the textbook just ahead of my students, and yet had to stand up and teach lessons to 4 classes in rotation a day. I'm much more confident now, but it's taken 10 years of life experience for me to even begin to appreciate my skill set.

AS for depression, here's a tiny paragraph from the unpublished draft manuscript of my book, _Indelibly Misfitted:_

"So, about depression. First off, let me say this nicely: It's not your fault. 


Ok, good. Now let me say it my way. About depression: IT'S NOT YOUR FUCKING FAULT.


Great. Good. Now this is what you need to know: GET. HELP."

That's about how I feel about that :) I could say more, but I have about 100 paintings that I am most definitely procrastinating on getting framed for my 1st Art Show, OMG.

But I'll end with this: Kudos, DJ. You are a super good dude.

JasonFalls
JasonFalls

Yet another thing we have in common. I routinely worry that I've got no clue what I'm talking about. 

JayBaer
JayBaer

Great post DJ. Thanks for bringing this important issue to light, and for having the courage to talk about it publicly. I will say that I believe this to be more common in a super fast moving industry like online marketing, where NOBODY is ever 100% confident, because things simply move too quickly to have total mastery. I discovered a long time ago that anyone that believe they have everything figured out in online marketing either clearly does not have everything figured out, or is a liar. But now you've got me thinking they maybe were just doing some mental ju jitsu to fight their imposter's syndrome. dammit, DJ. Now you've got me rethinking everything. 

Yukari Peerless
Yukari Peerless

I had no idea and thank you for sharing. Sharing something personal is scary, and I admire your courage (went through something similar recently, not depression but I also wrote about it...) I've been enjoying our email convo in the last few weeks and I've learned you're the man with a huge heart.  You're wildly talented and crazy smart. The world needs more people like you. 

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@chrislee Good to know we are not alone, huh? I do agree with Jay's take for sure. Interesting. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. Have you blogged about it anywhere? Would love to read / share!

Latest blog post: Jon Steiert on Ingredients

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@SteveWoodruff Spot on, Steve. And this --> "I wonder if some of our experience of IS comes down to working in a mis-matched role. In other words, we really are outside the primary zone of our competencies, and we can’t measure up to what we know we should because – well, we can’t." EXACTLY. EXACTLY. EXACTLY.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@JasonFalls Crazy how common it is, huh Falls? Would LOVE for you to share you story, if you'd be willing to. As the update above says, I'm going to feature them on this blog. Let me know man. Love ya. You are one of my favorite "full of shit" guys. Ha!

jackinessity
jackinessity

@JasonFalls ha... don't hide, mister, I have YOU in my collection on medium called "More Than Blue" and you're not the only one. I'm just sincerely pleased that more and more people are speaking out, folks like Amber Naslund and Chris Brogan, to name a couple of brave ones: https://medium.com/more-than-blue/

prtini
prtini

@djwaldow Loved the post, DJ. As always, I appreciate your honesty and candor.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

Appreciate that @JayBaer. I totally agree with this: "more common in a super fast moving industry like online marketing, where NOBODY is ever 100% confident, because things simply move too quickly to have total mastery." TOTALLY. Dammit DJ. Ha! Good for the brain to "rethink everything." Have you ever "suffered" from Impostors Syndrome? If so, would love for you to tell your story ... I'll add to the post above, like I did with @Christopher Penn.