Do you sometimes feel like a fraud, and that you're not as ____________ (fill in the blank) as other people think you are? Do you sometimes feel even more fake when others praise you and look up to you?
In this episode I talk about how feeling like an impostor and being unable to feel joy at our achievements could be an indication that our lives are out of alignment with our inner selves.
Share this episode via this episode page.
03:31 - Expectations Not In Line With Reality
06:19 - Choosing Authenticity
12:03 - Feeling Like An Imposter
16:38 - The Real Deal
20:22 - Out Of Alignment
22:21 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
24:12 - Conclusion
- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you? What emotions or thoughts came up in response as you listened?
- What was it that resonated with you in this episode? Why do you think this specific part of the episode resonated with you?
- Can you remember a time or an incident when you felt like an impostor? Others could be praising you or looking up to you, and yet you feel that you didn't deserve it and felt out of place. Take some time to journal about this. Describe the circumstances and what felt fake to you.
- Next, remember an instance in your life when you felt deeply aligned with your inner self even if you did not understand why...
For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.
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EP 15 | HELP, I’M AN IMPOSTOR!
Have you ever felt like you're faking it and that someday someone might see through you and realize that you're not as good as they think you are
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners! Today, I'm going to share about that feeling we sometimes have about being an impostor. You might've heard of the term impostor syndrome. I'm going to read a definition I found on the internet from verywellmind.com and here's what it says.
"Impostor Syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. To put it simply impostor syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony.
You feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud, like you don't belong where you are and that you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone, no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise." End quote.
You will be able to find a lot of different resources online about impostor syndrome and many of the articles that you will find also offer different explanations for it, as well as suggestions for coping or dealing with this feeling of being an impostor.
The approach I'm going to take today to this phenomenon is going to be from the perspective of authenticity and wholeness. So it might be different from what you may have already read about impostor syndrome. And I'm sharing this because in my own experience and observation, while there can be many layers to why we feel like a phony at the very root of the symptoms is often the inability to be simply who we are.
The more we become connected with our true selves. And the more, we are able to be comfortable with ourselves, with all our light and shadow, our gifts and limitation, the more real we feel. And of course the more real we feel, the less fake we feel ourselves to be. So, this process of course, is complex. This journey from feeling like a phony, to feeling real and being real.
It's a complex journey with many parts. But I often find it very helpful to begin by focusing on first principles. And the principle I find that often underlies the feeling of being an impostor is that we are not yet living an integrated life from the inside out.
So today's episode is going to be mostly storytelling. I will share with you some of my experiences of feeling like a fraud. And how that shifted as my interior journey deepened.
[00:03:31] EXPECTATIONS NOT IN LINE WITH REALITY
As I have alluded to before in an earlier episode, The Impossible Race to Be Good Enough, my schooling years were punctuated by the feeling of needing to live up to external expectations. Part of the struggle, I think, is not that there were high expectations of me, but that so many of those expectations were incongruous with who I felt I was deep within me. Yet people I looked up to would tell me I have all this potential, and I would feel the need to try and match what I thought they saw in me.
But which if I were honest, I did not see in myself at all. Looking back now with a confidence that I now have about my own strengths and weaknesses, I can see how some things fit in well with who I was. And some really didn't.
There were competitions I had been selected to compete in which my true self knew was not my gift. In fact, there was well, there was one incident in which I remembered. This was ridiculous.
I don't know why they thought I could do this competition. And, and somehow I persuaded the teacher in charge to get someone else whom I thought was going to be very good at it. And, and that other student, this fellow schoolmate, represented the school and won a national championship. I wish I did that more often, but the truth was that I did not because usually what I felt was this pressure that okay.
They must have chosen me, selected me because they see something in me and I better try and not let them down. So if I managed to do well enough or by some amazing luck win because of some talented teammates, I would just feel relief that I had not ruined things for the others. And that I had escaped being discovered to be the fraud that I felt like I was – the fraud who did not actually fit in.
This feeling of dissonance between who I instinctively felt I was and who others seemed to think I could be continued on into my junior college years. Success was quite narrowly defined as academic brilliance in the setting that I was in.
And if you have listened to my earlier episodes, you may recall me sharing that I've always had this tension between needing to be true to myself and needing to fulfill the expectation of others. Well, when I was in junior college, I had the first experience of this tension coming to a head. I was in a highly competitive program that was meant to produce scholars.
[00:06:19] CHOOSING AUTHENTICITY
And I observed how my fellow classmates and I were analyzed and sorted and referred to different university programs based on what our tutors perceive to be our strengths and our interests. This could have been a great asset for my getting ahead in life, but something in me just felt deeply resistant about going along with this. I felt like I was in the process of being manufactured to fit a measure of success which was not authentic to who I was. It somehow did not fit who I was.
And I became deeply aware that if I did not get off this train that I was on, I was about to commit not only to a course of study for the next three to four years of my undergraduate student life, but, if I did take up a scholarship, I was committing to a career trajectory in the first six years of my working life. So I was barely 18 years old and I could be making a decision that would define my next 10 years.
What do I base that decision on? I felt that in order to answer that question, I needed to ask deeper questions of myself, about my life, who I was and what I wanted to live for. These were not questions that the education system I grew up in asked, but these questions were etched into my heart. And I knew that I would be miserable if I did not make a stand when I finally had this chance to make a choice.
All through primary school and secondary school and junior college, it was pretty much a set path and there were very limited choices that I could make about the kind of subjects I wanted to study. But after my A levels going into university, that to me was the first time I would have a chance to choose a program of study; there was finally going to be a wider range of options.
And I really wanted to try and see what else was out there. And, so when I was 18, I decided to choose my freedom. Even though I was told by several people that it was not the best or most practical choice. I chose my freedom by deciding not to apply for any scholarship. I chose to apply to lesser known universities compared to the universities that I was expected to apply to. I chose those universities where I would be able to pay lower fees in part, because I was tired of the expectations that accompany being in a brand name school, or, feeling the burden of needing to excel because I've invested or I've caused my parents to invest a lot in something.
I had this privilege of choice because my family's circumstances gave me this opportunity. But knowing that I had that privilege of choice made me feel even more strongly that I needed to choose right. And for me, a choice could not truly be right if it was not authentic. I wanted to spend my freshman year experiencing a variety of different subjects, which I had never explored before.
So for me, maybe it's a temperament thing, but instinctively I have always been drawn to learning from experience. I wanted to have first-hand experience of different subjects before I committed to a major.
So in my freshman year I took a range of subjects. I took philosophy, psychology, anthropology, art history management, and I ended up choosing to double major in psychology and philosophy because these subjects helped me dig deeper into the questions that I cared the most about, which was about life, human nature, human behavior, relationships, and what to me were the most important queries into the nature of knowledge and reality.
These disciplines also taught me how to observe attentively, what was around me and to reflect deeply not for the sake of acing exams, but for the pursuit of understanding what really mattered to me. And for me, what really mattered was learning about people, relationships and what helps both people and relationships to flourish.
That was a point in my life where I did something really authentic. And that was an anomaly for me. Okay. So it was one of those breaking points where I felt I absolutely had to honor what was real to me. And it felt great in the sense that I felt like I made a courageous decision. I stood by it. It felt good.
And I was able even to explain to people who questioned me about this seemingly impractical choice. But then shortly after that, I got lost again because after three or four years of study, what should I do after graduation? Should I find a job? Get married, start a family, pursue graduate studies? The flip side of not being locked into a predetermined career path was having the burden of choice and risk attached to it.
[00:12:03] FEELING LIKE AN IMPOSTOR
And so at this juncture of my life, I did not have the opportunity of having someone guide and teach me how to tune into the wisdom of my heart as I moved forward. I consulted mentors that I had. I spoke to people both in my personal life and the professors that I knew about this dilemma, but looking back now, I realize that the advice that I got, as well-meaning and prudent as they were did not teach me how to listen to what I would call the inner wisdom within me. These were all voices that taught me how to evaluate my decision based on external measures of success on what the world will consider as achievement.
So, because I didn't have any understanding of how to make a decision from the inside out at this time in my life, I defaulted back into making the decision that would please the most important people in my life, which is also the decision that seemed the most practical. Although that decision was made 20 years ago now, I still remember how it felt. My heart was not in it, but I tried to make the best of it.
The decision that I ended up making was to just go full on ahead and get a PhD first. Looking back now it was during those years in graduate school that I experienced how the feeling of being an impostor may not have anything to do with a lack of competence, but a lack of interior alignment with my purpose.
So I was attaining good results academically. But I began to notice how different I was from my fellow graduate students who were so passionate and convicted about what they were studying, that they could spend an entire day reading on the subject and still want to talk about it over drinks at the pub at the end of the day.
I on the other hand was doing the minimal amount of work I could to continue to get on in my studies. And I would spend the rest of my time reading books completely unrelated to my course of study. Right? So at home, my bookshelf was filled with books on theology and spirituality, which I could not get enough of.
I was relieved to continue to do well in my studies, but a part of me felt more and more guilty for doing well because I did not deserve, welI, I felt I did not deserve the grades that I was getting because my heart clearly lay elsewhere.
There's a saying in academia that you either publish or perish. So I dutifully submitted papers to conferences and journals and looked for opportunities to present and publish. I had the opportunity once to present a paper at a national education conference in Canada. And the presentation went very well, and the audience was very engaged and asked lots of questions.
In fact, lots of great questions after my presentation. Several people asked if this was the topic of my doctoral dissertation and they expressed that they will be interested to read my dissertation when I finish. I remember sitting there thinking, "Wow, these strangers are more interested in my paper than I am.
They are more excited about me completing my dissertation than I am." In fact, that feeling was something that was very familiar to me in my graduate school years. Like, for example, I have, I have a wonderful PhD supervisor who also always seemed more excited about my dissertation than I was. So there I was, after this particular conference presentation, my paper had been well-received and I was thinking, why do I still feel like such a fraud?
Why do I feel like I didn't belong there? And why did I not feel joy at my accomplishment? It was a thought that followed me on my train ride home, and I didn't have an answer then. I remember feeling trapped, in.. Kind of like trapped in an unhappy relationship, but I felt that I had already committed so much time and so much energy to it that I really should see it through.
[00:16:38] THE REAL DEAL
Now I'm going to fast forward from that moment of feeling trapped and unhappy and feeling like a fraud even though I had just been applauded and praised to about seven to eight years later, when I had an experience, that almost seems like the opposite of the story that I just shared with you. So seven to eight years after that conference, I was back in Singapore.
I had taken leave of absence for my doctoral studies, and I was full-time ministry in a local parish in Singapore. And then there was one day when I had just finished a long conversation with someone I did not know personally, but our conversation had been deep. Because this other person has sought me out for a pastoral conversation.
She shared her troubles and we had prayed together. I had shared my insights and given words of encouragement and talked about the reality or the messy reality of being in relationship with God. That conversation had been long. I think it was several hours long. So I had spent a lot of energy. In it. And both of us had opened our hearts.
And at the end of it, as I saw a new tentative hope reflected in her face, I felt an indescribable joy. In that moment, I felt like I was born to do this. I felt like I belonged. I felt deeply connected, not just to the person I was having the conversation with, but with the whole universe. And I remember distinctly thinking that even if I did not have a normal social life anymore, but I could have this kind of connection with people, my life would feel like it still had deep meaning. In that moment, I felt the exact opposite of being an impostor.
Even though there was no applause, there were no pats on the back for me. There was nothing that was telling me that I was doing a good job from a external validation, but my entire being, my whole person felt so connected. So real, so concrete and so grounded. That moment did not last very long, but it was significant because it imprinted my heart.
The reason it did not last very long was because even when I was in full-time ministry, I was doing a whole range of things. I still hadn't figured out then what, you know, my particular gift or mission was. So I just did a whole bunch of things. But something deep inside me told me that this experience I had – this feeling of groundedness, connectedness -
this is how it feels like when I'm living the life I was created to live. Something inside me told me that this is what authenticity feels like. So after that experience, I began to take notice when I felt this kind of deep connection and alignment again. And I started observing what the circumstances were when I experienced this feeling of connection and alignment.
Over a matter of years, as I continued my healing journey, I began to become more free to choose to live in alignment with my core self. And over time, bit by bit, I became clearer about how to more permanently live from that place of groundedness. I became more real.
[00:20:22] OUT OF ALIGNMENT
I know that I am not alone in my experiences of feeling like an impostor. I have had the privilege of having conversations with others who struggle with feeling like an impostor in some way or the other. And I noticed something interesting about these experiences that are shared with me: and that is that there can be an area in which others assess us as competent, even though we feel we are not.
And so therefore we feel like impostors for somehow doing well in spite of our own perceived lack of ability. Yet on the flip side, that can be another area or activity in which we feel deeply confident and competent, even when we lack formal acknowledgement or external validation. It always seems to be that when we are acting in alignment with our core selves, even when we are not fully conscious of it, we don't feel like impostors. In fact, we never feel like impostors.
But when we are out of alignment with our inner selves, we could be doing very well by objective standards and still feel like phonies. So it turns out that just as physical pain is the way that our brain and our body communicate to us that something is not quite right in our physical body.
So the feeling we sometimes have that we are impostors or fake also seems to serve a similar purpose. It could be our inner selves' way of asking us to check the alignment between how we are spending our lives and what is in the core of our being. So, if you identify with this feeling of being fake or being an impostor, I wish to say to you: Be encouraged! Your inner self is doing its work and trying to guide you towards greater authenticity and wholeness. Keep listening and you will find your way home.
[00:22:21] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
So let's turn now to today's praxis prompts. One: Listen – as you listened to today's episode, what struck you, did something resonate particularly strongly with you?
Two: Ponder – what was it that resonated with you in this episode? Why do you think this specific part of the episode resonated with you?
Three: Act – can you remember a time or an incident when you felt like an impostor, others could be praising you or looking up to you, and yet you feel that you didn't deserve it and felt out of place.
Take some time to journal about this. Describe the circumstances and what felt fake to you.
Next, remember an instance in your life when you felt deeply aligned with your inner self even if you did not understand why. This would be an instance when you felt filled with purpose and confidence, even if there was nobody around you who affirmed you or understood you. What were you doing or saying? Try and name the feelings and thoughts that you had?
How did your body feel when you were aligned with your inner self? Start taking notice when you experience these emotional, intellectual, and physical signs of alignment. Again, journal down what you were doing. Over time, this will give you a map of clues to what could be the unique gift your life is meant to be for the world.
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!