Impostors Syndrome: My Very Personal Story

In 2014 I successfully beat my third bout with depression.

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 stop reading, let me assure you this 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. B

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.

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.

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?