Episode 104

Advice for Confronting Imposter Syndrome

Is self-doubt keeping you from doing the awesome work you’re meant to do? In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett and Marcus Couch talk about confronting imposter syndrome and turning your negative thoughts into positive momentum.

Imposter syndrome is a sense that you don’t know enough to consider yourself an authority in your subject area. Marcus likens it to “stage fright” and recalls having thoughts of, “Why am I the expert? What makes me so qualified” when he first began his WordPress Plugins A to Z, WordPress Weekly with Jeff Chandler, and Membership Coach podcasts. He and Chris have both learned through doing online courses, podcasts, and blogs that uniqueness defines expertise, and failure is where valuable experience is gained.

Just because someone else is already doing what you want to do doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. Any knowledge or experience you have right now is greater than countless other people who will benefit from what you know. And because your failures and subsequent solutions are different from anyone else’s, they’re valuable. Even if you’ve learned most of what you know through observation and working with others who are active in your area of interest, your sharing of their knowledge is completely credible.

So how can you tell if you have imposter syndrome? It can manifest as delays, excuses, or self-sabotage whenever you begin a new business, course, podcast, or blog. You may freeze up in making content because content is the core of your endeavor. You may become obsessed with your competition and start thinking you should copy what they’re doing. Of course, that’s the last thing you should do, because it’s your own authenticity that’s required here. Being yourself and doing things your way keeps you from being an imposter. And it’s that quality of open, honest disclosure that will resonate with your audience. The very thing you fear most is the key to your success.

There are several ways to get perspective on your capabilities. Visit other forums in your subject area and match what you know against what they’re discussing. You’ll probably be surprised how many of their questions you can answer with confidence. You don’t need to be advanced yourself to start teaching at a beginner level. Just take action to boost your creative mindset.

In short, once you decide to dump your feelings of inadequacy and move forward you’re on your way to confronting imposter syndrome. Just knowing about it allows you to spot it and disarm it. We’re biologically engineered to feel fear, question our abilities, and internalize our failures, but you can choose to learn, adjust, and move forward. The more you do, the better you’ll get.

Post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined today with special guest Marcus Couch. How are you doing, Marcus?

Marcus: I’m very well, Chris. Thank you for having me today.

Chris: Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on the show. Today we’re going to go deep, and we’re going to talk about a topic that confronts a lot of people who are building membership sites, online courses, or just stepping out as entrepreneurs in general. That’s called impostor syndrome. A lot of people are in denial about that, that it exists or maybe that they’re experiencing it, but there are some tell-tale signs of impostor syndrome. Maybe we can start there. Marcus, in your experience with yourself or with other people or anything like that, what are some signs that somebody may be experiencing impostor syndrome and may not be aware of it?

Marcus: Well, impostor syndrome is really just a degree of self-doubt that you have, that you doubt that you can do something. For example, I have two podcasts, and when I started these podcasts in the WordPress community for me, I thought to myself, “Why am I the expert? What makes me so qualified to talk to other people within the community about WordPress plugins, about themes, about different things?” It was just kind of this stage fright that you get, that you convince yourself that you’re not good enough. As human beings, I guess that’s kind of the default that we all have, that we think that maybe we’re not the ones.

Maybe that it should be somebody else and that’s just not true because, believe it or not, if you have any experience whatsoever, believe me, there are 1,000 people behind you that don’t have that experience even if you’ve got just a day of experience. That’s the basis of impostor syndrome, is that degree of self-doubt, of thinking that you’re not the one, that somebody else should be doing it and not you. I’ll give you a classic example. I know someone who is in the restaurant business and they failed a couple of times at restaurants.

However, when I approached them and said, “You know, you should really put together a program about starting up a restaurant, getting all the rest of the equipment, some of the procedures that you need to do.” They’re immediate response was, “Well, I’ve failed at this a couple of times.” My point was, “That’s exactly why you need to do this because you need to highlight and stress some of these things that you did even on the failure side, and if it did fail, what did you do to make sure that it didn’t happen again or that the second time, it wasn’t to the same degree?” That’s the basis, I guess, of impostor syndrome.

Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, failure is valuable. I’ve heard a lot of venture capitalists, if they’re looking at an entrepreneur, they actually care way more about the failures they’ve already had, you know? As opposed to what are their successes or even what’s the business idea. If these people have been through failures, experience, a lot of experience in life actually comes from things not working out; not just when things go well. That’s awesome.

Marcus: Yeah. It’s interesting. Actually, one of the things that when I’m hiring outsourcers or freelancers, I asked them to describe their failures and if somebody says, “I’ve never had any” then I don’t want them.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, because they’re perfect, right?

Marcus: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris: Yeah. That’s a really good point. Being open and honest about failures and simply having been in the fire and experiencing those things is so valuable from an experience perspective. A framework somebody gave me once about getting over impostor syndrome had to do with just looking at a scale of 1 to 10. Like you said, you only have to be like one day or even one step ahead of somebody to be able to …

Marcus: Right.

Chris: … provide value, so you may not be a 10, but if you’re a 4, there may be a million 3s or 2s out there that can be benefit from your experience. I think it’s important to get outside that mindset of, “I have to be the best in the world before I can help somebody.”

Marcus: You just have to best in the moment. You have to be the best at the content that you’re creating. Now I gave you a great example, okay? I started a site called membershipcoach.com where I’m training other people on how to do membership sites. I based that upon my own experience dealing with clients, yet I never ran my own membership site for myself. Even with that, there were some nuances involved in mistakes, delays, that kind of thing. The one thing that I think I learned from is … Well, first let me back up a second. I’m not the only one out there that’s doing the same kind of training, like in terms of how to start and run your own successful membership site. However, I’m the only one in my position that’s ever done it. I’m the only one that’s got the prominence in the WordPress community that’s ever done it.

I’m the only that has multi, almost billion dollar clients that’s done it. There are other people out there that are just online marketing experts or maybe they’ve serviced a couple of clients before, not to the degree that I have, not to the talent level that I have, so though you may not be the first to do something, your entry into it is going to be completely different than anybody else. When I present something, let’s just say I’m going over iThemes Exchange or some sort of thing, I have the ability to go just call Cory Miller from iThemes, the CEO, and say, “I need somebody from your team to demonstrate that.” Maybe somebody else wouldn’t have that kind of power. Those are the kinds of things that you need to think about, whereas if you’re doubting yourself, if you think, “Oh, somebody else is already doing it, somebody else is already teaching that particular course” that may be true, but this is the first time that you’ve taught the course.

Chris: Yeah, everybody is unique and can bring something unique to the table. Also, like you mentioned, a lot of your experience may come from observing or helping others in something. It may not have been your success, but you help somebody make success or you are simply a fly on the wall and for whatever reason you’ve been obsessed or interested in the particular topic that your experience, while you don’t demonstrate it, comes from having just absorbed and researched and seeing patterns and trends, and what works and what doesn’t at the time.

Marcus: That’s right.

Chris: That can be supremely valuable. It’s not always like all based on your experience. In fact, your experience can be much more exponential if you leverage the experience of others.

Marcus: Right. One of those things too is if you think about it, “Okay, so there are these other training programs. Have they made the mistakes that I’ve made?”

Chris: Right.

Marcus: “Have they encountered the client mistakes that I’ve made? Have they gone through the mud” so to speak, “to do that?” Now there’s one course in particular that I’m teaching in my Membership Coach school where the only way that I know about those things is because I lost a client around it and I figured out what those mistakes were, and kind of reverse-engineered it and went back to square one. You can even teach things based on mistakes that you’ve made too.

Chris: Yeah, turning lemons into lemonade, I mean, super valuable. Super valuable.

Marcus: Yeah. What else is it going to be worth? Right? It’s just regret. Otherwise, if you turn it into something positive, at least you’ve got a silver lining around that cloud.

Chris: Yeah. You could vent and be frustrated and disappointed and depressed over it, or you could turn it into some marketable thing, so that’s awesome.

Marcus: Right.

Chris: Let’s talk a little bit about how people behave when they’re experiencing impostor syndrome. This happens to me. This happens to me the very first time I did a podcast episode. The first time I started a new business. When I publish a blog post. It happens all the time. I’m open and admit to the fact that it happens. I’m sure it’s still happening sometimes in my subconscious where I’m not aware of it, but I am, because I’ve been through the fire, a little reticent and accepting of it. One of the things I notice in myself and others, when people experience impostor syndrome, is they start sabotaging the project. It’s delaying the launch, it’s making excuses. It’s just diverting getting it done or whatever, but what would you say? How does it manifest itself?

Marcus: Like you said, delays in projects. Holding off on actually getting it done. Not even starting, to begin with. I noticed a lot of people that I’ve started to talk to, one of the things with the Membership Coach program that I do is the first thing out of the gate, before you even get access to the site, is that you have to schedule one call with me, because I want to assess people as to where they’re at, what their mental state is at the time, how much fire they’ve got in their belly to make sure that it can get done. If I see that they’re ready for advanced level stuff, I’ll unlock those courses ahead of time for them so that they can just get started right away.

I think one of the biggest signs of impostor syndrome is when you freeze up in making content, because content is … Some people say content is king. I always say content is the kingdom. That is everything for you. It is not just some hierarchy thing. It’s everything. It’s absolutely everything that you do, is content based because if there’s no content, then there’s absolutely no reason to even be on your site to begin with, okay? When you start to see those kinds of delays or those hesitations or you end up surfing YouTube or whatever, or you spend too much time focused on the competition and you start to become obsessed with what they’re doing and maybe you start to think, “Oh, I maybe should just copy what they’re doing and do the same thing instead of developing my own curriculum,” those are the first kind of signs of impostor syndrome.

Chris: I get that. That’s like, by trying to imitate somebody else, you’re not being you, which we talked about as one of the most unique things you can bring to a crowded market, is you and your experience. Yeah, it’s a clear way to sabotage it. Of trying to be like somebody else, not getting it done, not being open and honest about admitting like, “Hey, I have this knowledge because I failed.” You have to publicly admit failure or you have to talk about how you messed up or how somebody else messed up, which you may not want to do.

Marcus: Right, right.

Chris: That kind of authenticity is not being an impostor.

Marcus: There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve done wrong or that you’re having a hard time in something. A couple of weeks back, I think three weeks ago, I was on WordPress Weekly and discussed some of the hard times that I was having. Believe it or not I got more feedback and more resonance about opening up myself and talking about my own failures and my own shortcomings than I ever did talking about anything WordPress related. There’s something to be said for that, and it’s very freeing to be able to admit those things. If you’re having a hard time, here’s what I do if I think I’m an impostor. I go to Yahoo Answers. I go to things like the advanced WordPress forums, on Facebook. I go to those types of things.

I start to look at some of the questions and go, “Yep. I know that one. I know that one. I know that one. I know that one. I must be an expert. I’m really not an impostor.” That’s a quick like, five minute fix that you can understand where you are in this whole role. If you don’t think that you’re advanced, fine. Teach the intermediate stuff and the beginner stuff. By the time you get through with those two courses, then you’re ready for the advanced.

Chris: That’s a really good point. By going to the places to validate, “Oh, I actually do know something” because especially if you’re continuously trying to improve and you’re a 4 or a 5, you’re probably studying and looking at things happening on at the 6, 7, 10 level. It’s almost like people forget, but I help people who are at 4, 3 and 2. Sometimes you need to remind yourself of the journey. I think a lot of people too get caught in entrepreneurial hustle and just life gets busy and you forget how far you’ve come.

Marcus: Right.

Chris: You know? That could be for bad reasons like just you’re operating under battle fatigue, low grade stress, you’re just trying to survive the day or you just forgot.

Marcus: Often, when people start this, when they start doing online courses and that kind of thing, they’re at a stage in their life where they may be still holding down a full time job. Sometimes you’ve lost your job or lost clients or something like that, and you’re trying to desperately cling to something that will give you residual income. You do start to self-doubt yourself, not around the project that you’re working on, but around the other things that are in your life that are going on. That snowballs itself and manifests into this icky kind of gray cloud that hovers over you. Impostor syndrome is like a backpack full of bricks. You only have to carry that stuff as long as you want to. The moment that you decide you’re going to just heave–ho and get rid of it and move forward without those burdens, it’s so freeing and it makes the content so much better.

Chris: Absolutely. I heard a great metaphor from a friend once who said, “Just because you’re on a train, it doesn’t mean you need to carry the luggage.”

Marcus: That’s right. Yeah. Exactly.

Chris: Another situation I see a lot with people and impostor syndrome is like the situation you mentioned. It’s become popular in pop culture or especially in the startup entrepreneur scene, that people are trying to quit their day job, they’re trying to start this side business, whether it’s an online course and membership site or whatever it is, but ultimately when you do that, a lot of people are driven from wanting to exit the day job because they don’t like it or they’re tired of it or they can’t be themselves at the job. Then you create this dream online course. It’s all in your niche. You’re being you. You’re having fun, so ultimately, you have to cross that bridge and go on the record in the public, and launch the real you, which I can imagine can be really challenging if you’re living that double life. It’s exhausting to live two lives at once.

Marcus: Yeah.

Chris: I’ve definitely seen that one before.

Marcus: In my case three because I’ve got to be the WordPress guy, I’ve got to be the membership guy, I’ve got to be the guy who services membership clients. Those don’t often overlap.

Chris: Right.

Marcus: You have to almost have three kind of work and drive mentalities based on what hat you happen to be wearing at the time. Now for me, I’ll tell you. The one thing that I do all the time that helps me get into that mode is if I want to squeeze myself into Membership Coach mode, the first thing that I do is I create a piece of content. That’s about that. That could even be something I’m sending kind of from the heart email to my subscribers. That gets you in that mindset to where, “Okay, I’m telling other people on my list how to the best membership site administrator.” How the avoid specific mistakes. What to do in specific situations or even just talking about new things that you’ve discovered that you don’t think that the list knows about.

That funnels you into the mindset that you can continue working on that thing and really almost make yourself bulletproof from yourself, from the self-doubt and the self-destruction. I would say that’s a really good technique if you want to … It’s almost like the preparatory phase in yoga. You know, you’ve got to get your breathing done first before you can start to do all the moves. That’s what I use. It could work for other people. I hope it does, if people are stuck in a rut. Just tunnel yourself into that mindset before you just boom, heartbreak and, “I’m done doing the client work now and now I’ve got to go into doing this.” Ease yourself a little transitionary period.

Chris: I like that. It’s almost like coming out of the mind and into the art.

Marcus: Exactly.

Chris: It reminds of, I make a book recommendation here. There’s a great book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He talks a lot about the resistance and this impostor syndrome is a manifestation of the resistance. All is just a part of creating art and being your most true authentic self.

Marcus: Another thing is this. If you really think that you’re impostor, go google yourself for that topic. Does anybody out there say that you suck? Does anybody out there say that you’re unqualified? I don’t see any references to that. Google doesn’t say it. The only person saying it is right in here.

Chris: If you do find some haters out there, I actually recognize that as a form of success or it’s a milestone. Like, “Okay, I’m big enough. I have some haters or some crazy people that are saying stuff or stealing my product or sharing my log-ins or whatever.” That’s actually a sign of success. Yeah, a lot of it is in our heads. As human beings we’re designed to survive in the wild. We’re designed to have fear, to be scared, to keep the low profile, watch out for the saber-tooth tiger. That’s a very different world we live in today and with these tools that allows us to connect all over the world, to create content, to share that worldwide with our community. It’s just a different world. Our biology is still trying to connect up, so this emotional response is natural, but it’s not necessarily in alignment with the world of today. It’s not as dangerous or as risky in most cases as our biology is designed to predicate.

Marcus: Another point in which impostor syndrome comes about, you may not have impostor syndrome while you’re creating all of your content, but once you launch and you realize, “I’ve only got three people on my site. I’ve only got two people” whatever happens to be … You make two or three quick sales in month and then all of a sudden it goes by with another month and you don’t see anybody. Then you start to think, “It’s me. It’s me. My course sucks. It’s me. I’m not doing something right.” When that’s not it at all. It could just be you’ve got a bad message on your landing page or you need to just adjust your pricing a little bit more.

For me, I always raise the price instead of going the other way. “Oh, maybe I’m not showing that it’s worth enough value. Maybe I need to go a little bit higher in my pricing and see what’s going on.” Or maybe go the other direction on certain things. Maybe I need to trim down and have an introductory or a trial package that people can at least try it out before buying. There are certain stages where that gets triggered. If you recognize that and understand that at no point should you ever have impostor syndrome, you should just learn from delays or mistakes or anything that happens to you that gets your mindset in that bad state, and just adjust. Learn, adjust and document what you did so that the next time that something like that happens, you can adjust with the same procedures.

Chris: Yeah. Another variation of that, like a screen writing professor would tell you to slit a vein and let the blood go on the page. You really got to let it out, so maybe if you’re having … It’s not a marketing problem. Maybe you’re not putting enough of you in the product. Maybe you need to add live office hours. If you’re not doing video, start doing video so people can hear you talk or hear your voice in audio. Yeah, maybe they just need more you. You’re keeping it a secret. You’re scared to get out there in front.

Marcus: Right. For me, I’ve been a podcaster, an audio podcaster for 10 years. The times that I’m on video is probably 30 minutes, I think, grand total. Not a lot. Not a whole heck of a lot. That’s something that I’m going to change and get out of my shell a little bit. I’m a little apprehensive even about that. It’s like, “Are people going to think the same way about me, hearing my voice versus actually seeing me talk and seeing me enunciating and things?” I had a little bit of a curve in that sense, but then again, I look at it as, I’ve got a heart, I’ve got passion. I’ve got a lot of compassion for the subject, for the community, for the resources that are involved and why not? What do I have to lose?

I’ve seen videos on YouTube that absolutely suck for production quality. They get 2 million views. Why can’t something that I do have the same results? There’s no sense in that, so slowly I’m starting to come out of my shell in that sense. I don’t think it’s an impostor thing. I think it’s just internal nervousness maybe, but that can lead to impostor syndrome if you let it.

Chris: Absolutely. Yeah. The opportunities for video or some life streaming, that’s the new thing, like Facebook Live or YouTube Live or whatever. When you bring that to a membership or a course or learning environment, that’s a whole another level. Like, “I’m going live.” It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to redo this video lesson” or, “I’m going to chop it and make it look all fancy and take out all my ums and ahs.” Going live, you have to get ready for that and be ready for that. My experience, when I’ve done webinars and things like that, when I first started doing it, I used to be much more nervous. I think it came from impostor syndrome, but over time, just after doing it, you just have to … That’s another strategy I would recommend, is like, do it once and it just keeps getting better because it’s never as bad as you think. Once you have that history, it’s not such a mental exercise of what it might be like.

Marcus: Right. And recognize and self-congratulate yourself on those incremental successes that you get. If you had a good feeling about the webinar that you just did and you see it translate into more sign ups and to more people opting into your list, write that success down and remember it the next time that you’re starting to get those sick feelings in your head about being an impostor. Is that really it’s just process and maybe you’re just afraid of the process. Maybe it’s that you might even be afraid of the people. You just might be afraid of, “You know, I want to be a perfectionist. I want this audio to sound absolutely flawless. I want this PowerPoint to move perfectly and animate absolutely everything that I wanted to within this course.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, it’s good stuff. Well, excellent. Marcus, tells us a little bit more just about where you are, where people can find you on the web and what’s going on in your world.

Marcus: Sure. You can find me every week, twice a week, with two different podcasts. Once is WordPress Plugins A to Z. I record that every Monday. Then every Wednesday night we do WordPress Weekly with Jeff Chandler and I. That’s the official community podcast of the WordPress community. It’s over at wptavern.com. I also do the Membership Coach podcast. You can find everything that I do over there over at membershipcoach.com.

Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, I first came across you, Marcus, on WordPress Weekly. I don’t know how long ago, so it’s great to connect with you in person. Thank you for coming on the show. Let’s do this again some time.

Marcus: Absolutely. Happy to do so.

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