One of the most significant breakthroughs in my personal growth happened when I admitted to myself that I felt like an impostor.
I’d been practicing law for around two years. My colleagues and clients consistently told me how much they appreciated my work. However, I was constantly plagued by a nagging suspicion that all the praise wouldn’t last. Eventually, I’d make a major mistake, or people would learn something embarrassing about me, and the image they’d formed of me as smart and competent would fall apart. It was as if I was an impostor—a fraud posing as a good lawyer—and sooner or later I’d be found out.
When this anxiety arose, my usual approach would be to deny it and insist to myself that I was the real deal. “No, that’s not true,” I’d tell myself. “I’m brilliant, hardworking, and all-around awesome.” Sometimes, this would temporarily pick up my mood. But invariably, the sinking sense that I wasn’t actually good at what I did, and that eventually my “deception” would be discovered, would return.
My Eventual Surrender
I grew more and more frustrated with my seeming inability to combat my negative thoughts. Finally, in desperation, I decided I’d simply let down my guard and accept that I felt like a fake. I stopped telling myself I shouldn’t feel that way, yelling at the negative voice in my head to shut up, and using all the other strategies I’d devised for protecting myself from the anxiety. “Okay,” I said to myself. “I feel like a fake, and that I’m deceiving people, and I’m afraid people will find out. That’s where I’m at right now.”
For a few minutes, I collapsed into fear and despair. An icy feeling gripped my chest, as if I were breathing below-freezing air. But then, suddenly and inexplicably, I started laughing. I laughed so hard I cried. Eventually, I could no longer keep my balance, and I lay on the floor for about an hour until the laughter died down.
The long-term effects of admitting where I was at were even more remarkable. Though it was hard to understand, I stopped taking seriously the idea that I was a fake and people were going to find me out. The thought still came up occasionally, but all I felt in response was the urge to laugh, as if it were the most hilarious joke I’d ever heard. The need to convince myself I wasn’t an impostor, and the tension and heat that normally arose in my body, were gone.
Why Acceptance Creates Change
This experience happened before I developed an interest in spiritual teachings. When I started exploring books and workshops on spirituality, the reason why accepting how I was feeling created such a transformation began to become clear. Many spiritual teachers speak of the peace we can find by accepting what’s true in the present moment, without resenting it or trying to pretend things are different. Just aligning ourselves with what’s happening right now, it’s often said, can be a source of great healing and empowerment.
In The Power Of Now, Eckhart Tolle explains the importance and power of admitting and accepting what’s really going on inside us:
“When there is no way out, there is still always a way through. So don’t turn away from the pain. Face it. Feel it fully. . . . Keep putting your attention on the pain, keep feeling the grief, the fear, the dread, the loneliness, whatever it is. Stay alert, stay present—present with your whole Being, with every cell of your body. As you do so, you are bringing a light into this darkness. This is the flame of your consciousness.”
In The Heart Of The Soul: Emotional Awareness, spiritual teacher Gary Zukav also gives a concise description of how accepting our emotional state, as painful as it may seem, is the key to transforming it:
“The first step in changing the dynamic that creates an emotion is to experience the emotion. Resisting an emotion prevents you from exploring it. When you accept your emotions, they flow through you like air through a flute. You feel them, which allows you to learn from them. They show you where energy leaves your energy system and how. Your emotions are friends who bring news that you need to know.”
Many people are familiar with the idea of accepting reality as it is right now—particularly through Tolle’s work—and buy into it in theory. But in practice, if they’re in pain right now, it’s hard for them to live with how they’re feeling. The gap between where they are right now and the state of peace and composure they want seems so frighteningly vast that they don’t want to acknowledge it’s there.
What’s more, people tend to worry on some level that, if they stopped resisting what’s true right now, they’d somehow cause their feelings to become permanent. If they accepted that they’re feeling afraid, for instance, they might make themselves stay scared forever. And by acknowledging their negative thoughts, rather than fighting against them, they worry that they may “manifest” difficult events in their lives. Thus, they’re locked in a constant battle against the thoughts and feelings they don’t want to experience.
What we don’t often realize is that our resistance to our emotions, not the emotions themselves, is the cause of much of our misery. In my own case, it was my efforts to deny and push away my feeling of being a “fraud” that created my discomfort and anxiety. It may sound paradoxical, but it was only when I fully allowed the feeling to be there that it started to dissolve and leave me with a deep sense of calm. As it turned out, the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be was far narrower than I’d thought.
The next time you’re troubled by a negative, repetitive thought, I invite you to try this experiment. Rather than trying to counter it with positive affirmations, telling it to shut up or distracting yourself from it with some activity, try simply acknowledging that it’s there. Try on the perspective that how you’re feeling is neither good nor bad—it simply is. Notice how just recognizing and allowing the truth can help you come to terms with, and move beyond, your negative patterns of thinking.
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12 thoughts on “The Power Of Admitting Where You’re At”
I’m amazed at how many people feel like imposters in their own skin. I know I did most of my life and it still occasionally comes up in situations where I’m stretching my abilities or expanding my experience.
“Is this really me doing this? Will these people really listen to or follow me?” – It usually is and they usually will.
The key in my life has been in letting go of external yard sticks for my worth. That’s no easy task but if I’m not judging myself by what I perceive to be others abilities, I’m considerably happier moment to moment. For me, this is only possible when I accept that I’m imperfect, a work in progress, and inherently no different than anyone that’s temporarily walking this particular ball of dirt with me.
That’s right. “They” are all imposters too.
I don’t pretend we’re all equal in every way. Most days I encounter people that are wealthier (monetarily), smarter (subject specifically), or more attractive (physically or socially) than I. Sometimes it’s one thing and sometimes it’s everything at once, but I have to accept that my skills and attributes vary as do yours. In some areas I hold expertise or excel and in others I’m about as bad as you can get (like singing – oh you don’t want to know).
By accepting myself as completely as I can, I eliminate the fear of being found out. Without that fear hanging over my head, I avoid tremendously wasteful activities like worrying about being an imposter. By not wasting time worrying about being an imposter I have more time to do what I do (well or otherwise) and with time and practice I usually get better (except for signing).
What a great post, and so true! I’ve heard this a lot lately, and I’ve really come to realize this, this year as I confront(ed) my fear of failing at driving and writing and editing and all sort of things. Fearing is easier than failing, but in blogging about my fears and accepting them for what they were, I became able to deal with the emotions, which then allowed me to actually act as I wanted in the first place! After reading so much about positive thinking, I felt it was wrong to think anything negative so I was always fighting with myself, which only felt as though I was perpetuating it. Now I acknowledge what I’m feeling and then try to move past the negativity. It’s still difficult, but I *am* seeing positive results!
Stephs last blog post..Getting There
Acknowledging thoughts and feelings that exist inside you is very important, if not a pre-requisite for making change.
But once you have acknowledged the existence of the thought/feeling you still have to realise that you are not fundamentally that thought or feeling. ‘You’ are not an ‘imposter’ and ‘You’ are not ‘not a imposter’.
You are separate from the thoughts and emotions that bother you, even though we often choose to be them. Freedom can be gained when we let ourselves be free.
Jarrod – Warrior Developments last blog post..Overcoming Shyness using Warrior Techniques
You said “If they accepted that they’re feeling afraid, for instance, they might make themselves stay scared forever.” — That was exactly how I felt when I first initiated change. I can most relate to the excruciating pain that comes with deciding to become more authentic.
Great post! Love it! Stumbled!
Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Maps last blog post..How To Calm Down From Unresolved Anger Quickly
So true! I experience a lighter feeling once I’m able to switch on the acceptance button about something I’m thinking or feeling. And, I’m beginning to see those voices inside the head as the Saboteur. It is trying to keep you safe, but in so doing, it halts you in your tracks and keeps Success at arm’s length.
Davinas last blog post..Magic Happens
The malady of negative thinking is one of total hopeless. It was not until I realized that the steps I had to take began with admitting to my innermost self who I was and who I had turned into. The path to getting better (recovery) is not race, but rather degrees of acceptance of people, places and things. This begins with myself and accepting all who I am.
Slims last blog post..V. I Took The Poison Hoping You Would Die
I’ve definitely felt like an imposter before. It was a great springboard at the time to drive me to admit my areas of weakness and take action to remedy them.
Being able to admit that I don’t have all the answers has also made a big difference. Saying “I don’t know” didn’t make people doubt me like it seemed it would. In that way, embracing exactly where (and who) I was definitely brought some peace.
Sara at On Simplicitys last blog post..Quick and Dirty Pantry Clean-up
Very wise advice Peter. Positive change is impossible without first accepting the current state.
PS: Congrats on the baby boy! ;-)
Great Post. Acceptance creates space for change to occur. When we resist, the change becomes a fight.
Anand Dhillons last blog post..Carnival of Self-Mastery – July 15, 2008
Often when you feel like you are an imposter in your own skin, it’s because you are not trusting what you are instinctively feeling. A lot of the time how we work and what we love can come in conflict with each other. Not everyone is meant to spend hours pouring over case depositions like lawyers have to. While accepting a problem is necessary, so is being true to you. The best way to solve a problem is to do it your way. Listen to people’s advice, but only do what works for you. Do you know your instinctive talents?
Yep- used to get this feeling when I had to stand up in front of a bunch of people and do a seminar or lecture! However, it got less with age and a lot of the time I can think to myself “You’ve been asked to speak because you know more about this stuff than anyone else! So get on with it- they won’t even blink if you make a mistake!”
This really works for me- I psych up my confidence by thinking I have something unique to offer the audience.
What an amazing post. I’m glad I swung by to check this article out.