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On Feeling Like an Imposter and Doing Things That Scare Us

Have you ever felt like an imposter while everyone around you had it all together? If so, this post is for you.

When I was a kid, I remember thinking that adults had it all together. I mean, they were adults, obviously they knew what they were doing. Right? Then, when I was technically an “adult”, I remember thinking okay, maybe younger adults don’t really have it together, but clearly older ones do. I was sure I’d feel like a “real” adult once I had a career, or was married, or had a mortgage. And in the meantime, I’d just fake it until it didn’t feel like I was faking it anymore. But then time went on and I realized – wait. Is EVERYONE just faking it? Does anyone actually ever truly feel like an “adult” or an “expert” or like they have it all together?

I felt the same way when I was in school to become a dietitian. Established dietitians, I thought, must completely have it all together/figured out/know everything. Right? Then I became a dietitian, and I thought, it must be those older dietitians who have it all figured out and are 100% confident and set in their skills, because while I feel like I’m good at this, I certainly don’t feel like I know everything or am perfect at it, and sometimes I find myself in situations that really challenge me.

The same goes with blogging – it’s easy to feel like those who have bigger blogs/larger followings have it all figured out, are 100% confident and completely on the ball and know exactly what they are doing all the time. Maybe some of you have even looked at my blog, or at my AnneTheRD nutrition private practice website, and thought the same thing about me.

I’m here to tell you today that just because you sometimes feel like you are faking it doesn’t mean that you are not good at what you do, or that taking scary leaps isn’t worthwhile (and important). Chances are those people who you look up to who seem like experts also had their own scary leaps to take – and may still occasionally feel like imposters, too.

I don’t believe it’s that I particularly lack in confidence compared to anyone else – I would actually consider myself a pretty confident person, in that I do take risks and push myself, even though I know it will be uncomfortable and scary. And I have confidence that even if I don’t know what I’m doing all the time, I’ll be able to figure it out, or at least learn as I go, and/or from my mistakes. I generally feel that I do my work well and that I’m worth listening to/hiring, and I have found a rhythm and niche with my work that I know I’m good at.

And yet… I still wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an expert, and I always find myself kind of weirded out when others do.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with my friend Heather about how we have realized that there’s probably no point in life where you really, truly feel like you 100% have it figured out, or are an expert. It would be easy to let that feeling take over and not try anything new or not take a leap just because it’s scary and it seems like someone else is already doing it better.

Heather wrote a great post recently about how she is a chronic under-preparer. It’s not the under-preparing part of the post that I really resonated with (although I’ve definitely been there, I tend to do well with the “prepare adequately but also leave some space to wing it because if I prepare too much I’ll just go crazy, and I do best if I need to improvise a little and think on my feet” approach), but rather the part about how nerve-wracking it feels when waiting for something new to begin that is a little outside of your comfort zone.

MY OTHER RECIPES


In the post, she talks about waiting for her first Girls on the Run practice to start (I remember feeling the exact same way when I was coaching GOTR, and I wasn’t even head coach), and explains how she started asking herself things like:

Why did I add this to my calendar? Why do I feel SO uncomfortable? Why did I put myself in this position/think I could do this?

And then, of course, the practice started and she was fine.

I really resonated with that thought process – it’s one I’ve definitely had with myself every time I sign on for something new – especially something like giving a presentation or being in front of/in charge of a group. I know that I am a good teacher and presenter, and yet I still have the same thought process right before the first time it starts.

Why did I think I could teach this class/course? What if I look stupid? What if I stumble over my words or don’t know the answer to a question? Why did I add another thing to my to do list? It would have been so much easier to say no and stay home in sweatpants… etc etc

My point here is that if you’ve been letting thoughts like this hold you back, this completely random post is just a reminder that EVERYONE feels like an imposter at least some of the time. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do but you are scared to do it because you feel like all those people who are doing it already are “experts” and you couldn’t possibly be like them – do it anyway. I guarantee you those people have felt just the same as you do right now, and I’m sure they feel like they still have a ton to learn, too – there’s always more to learn.

As Heather said, even if you are scared or feel unprepared – just show up and try. This can apply to anything, whether a work-related event, the start of a hard class, a first date, or even the starting line of a race (or the first steps out the door of your first training run). I bet you’ll quickly find that you are better prepared and more able than you realize if you just give yourself a chance – and life is too easy if we never do anything that scares us.

xo

p.s. When I read Heather’s post last week, I remember thinking: “I love her posts like this. I wish I could write something like that.” And then I reminded myself: of course I can, and I should. So I did, and I thought it might help inspire some of you to do something outside of your comfort zones, too.

Comments

  1. 1

    What timing you have!! I did something this past weekend that was miles outside my comfort zone and I questioned doing it multiple times while I was preparing for it. And it ended up being one of the most fun, most positive, most empowering things I’ve ever done, and I am SO GLAD I did it. One of my favorite trainers said to me during this process: “you either win, or you learn” and he could not have been more correct. Regardless of the outcome, it’s never a mistake to push your own limits and learn something new about yourself.

  2. 3

    I love this post and I DO think it’s so good to hear it from someone else/ have someone else TELL us sometimes. I consider myself very early in my business/blog and I have looked up to you and many other popular individuals in this niche for several years. I OFTEN feel like an imposter, but then I like reminding myself that everyone starts somewhere. Another question I like to ask myself sometimes, especially when I’m feeling discouraged or like I don’t know what I’m doing, “Why NOT me?” I like to remind myself that if others can, than so can I and it always reminds me that I am worth it for the time, energy and investment I have put into something. Thanks for such a great posts! And I love seeing a post like this from you! :)

  3. 5

    Thank you for this post! Exactly what I needed to read today.

  4. 7

    Raising my hand – feels like an impostor a lot and have to say I loved this post. It’s nice to be reminded that everyone, no matter the amount of knowledge and confidence they have, can feel like an impostor.

    There was a great line from the show NCIS – Nobody shows the B side, we only see people’s A side. Meaning people always seem put together and have everything going for them because that’s the good side they want to show but everyone has a B side the side that may not be as great so they hide it. You never truly know what is going on in someone’s life when you are on the outside looking in.

    • 8

      That is SO true about the B side – I love that way of putting it. I feel like it’s especially true now with all the super curated social media stuff – no one is posting their hot mess photos, right?

  5. 9

    THIS IS AWESOME! I can apply this notion of thinking others have it together in so many areas – being an RD, being a newleywed (coming up on one year!), being a blogger for fun. For so long, I didn’t want to try because I feared failure. That no one would want to read what I had to say or share. But over time, I believe I have proven that fear wrong. Aside from that, I just love the outlet, the creative space. Regarding my practice as an RD, I always learn something new! Nutrition is ever-evolving, so I think there’s still much to understand. I thought the same thing as a kid – adults had it all figured out. In spring 2014 while working in my first RD job, I would stop at a local coffee shop. I actually had a funny conversation with the owner about this very topic. That we all fake-it-’til-we-make-it at some point or often. It doesn’t mean we are incapable or uneducated. It’s just that there’s so much we don’t know until we experience it for ourselves. Thank you for a great post, as always!

  6. 12

    Yap. Preach! None of us have our shit together, 100% of the time. (And how boring would that be? ;)) Love you, love that we get chances to support and help each other out (through all the big changes), and I love that you took a leap and wrote this, even if it felt different or weird to you initially. I’m also glad that at least one of us is a preparer, haha.

    • 13

      So grateful we live nearby and that I get to see you so often. Thank you for always being a great friend, supporter, and source of inspiration to me in many different channels of life! xo

    • 14

      And lol on the preparer comment… I’ve totally been there with the “oh crap, I probably should have read up on this first” thing some days. Happens to all of us!

  7. 15

    Such a wonderful and timely – though is it ever not?; self-doubt is something I bet most of us experience more often than we’d like to admit – reminder. Thank you, Anne. The truth is, those feelings have been holding me back from way too many opportunities, experiences and even just simple things like writing certain blog posts. You are right, though, that even the people who look like they had it all together, experience these feelings. My mum told me even my dad, renowned in what he does and having given many presentations, still gets really nervous before each of those.

    • 16

      It’s so easy to believe we’re the only ones that feel a certain way – remembering that others likely feel the same way too and are just faking it a bit always helps. You are not alone – keep putting yourself out there!

  8. 17

    I’m an astronomer. Imposter syndrome is a huge issue for women in science, and can scare a lot of women away from successful careers in one of the places where they are needed most. I hope some people will read this and try again (or try anyway). Most likely you’re not the imposter that you think you are!

    • 18

      That’s awesome, Melissa – we need more women in science! I was terrified of all the science classes I knew I’d have to take to become a dietitian… of course the classes were hard, but I just took it one day at a time and it all worked out. A good reminder that we shouldn’t avoid things just because we are scared of them – and in fact, we may find we are actually good at them when we just try!

  9. 19
    Katie Shottes says:

    Tearing up reading this while on a break! This could not have come at a better time. As a 23 year old, I constantly say how I’m just pretending to be an adult. Life is feeling a little overwhelming right now and this was just what I needed to read, so thank you. For this and all your posts – you’re awesome!

    • 20

      Thank you, Katie! Hang in there – I’m 35 and about to have a child and I still feel like I’m pretending to be an adult – and likely will always feel that way. :) We can do this!

  10. 21

    One of my favorite posts of yours! Thank you for writing it.

  11. 23

    Love this, I was just talking with the hubs about being young and thinking that our parents had it all together, now we are parents and are flying by the seat of our pants and realizing they were too. Thanks for sharing.

    • 24

      Right?! There’s definitely that moment where you realize “oh, wow. All those people I thought were so put together when I was a kid probably were just figuring it out as they went, too…” :)

  12. 25

    Omg this is me/grad school (/RD to be) life 100%!! Feel it all the time! (And I love posts like this! Keep them coming 🙂)

  13. 27

    I love this!! Keep all of this in mind with regards to motherhood as well :)

    I just put a disclaimer that I am NOT a mother myself, but I teach preschool and work with tons of families of young children in the DC area and I observe many new and experienced mothers (more so than fathers, generally) comparing and wondering how other mothers have everything together. Just like what you said, I think everyone is just trying to the best they can for their children that they love so much :)

    • 28

      I’m DEFINITELY going to apply this to motherhood – as more and more of my friends have had kids I have realized that everyone is just figuring it out as they go, and doing the best they can. I have had a lot of friends who said when the baby arrived they were like, “um, is an adult going to come and take care of this baby?! oh wait… that’s me…” Ha! One of my other good friends has a “World’s OK-est Mom” mug that I love – no point aiming for perfection because that’s impossible, right?! And even if someone else seems like they’ve got it all together… behind the scenes they likely don’t.

      • 29

        HAH! LOVE that mug. I think I need one that says “World’s OK-est teacher”…a good reminder that perfection isn’t realistic :)

        A friend of mine shared a very similar story when she brought home her baby for the first time. She was telling me that her baby was crying and crying and she had no idea what to do, but finally just was like, “Welp, it’s just me and you kid, so we’ve got to work this out together!” I’ve always remembered that. You’re going to be a wonderful mom! :)

        • 30

          I’ll have to remember that quote, too – just roll up your sleeves, do something about it, and hope it works out, right?! :)

  14. 31

    Anne – this is totally resonating with me right now. I am in the process of applying to graduate school for nutrition and dietetics! I am over-the-moon excited, but I have also been struggling with lots of doubt and fear. What if I’m not a strong enough applicant? What if I don’t get in? What if someone else is more qualified? Life truly does begin outside of our comfort zones & I could not be any happier to pursue something that challenges me, but also gets me SO excited! Thanks for posting this! :)

    • 32

      I definitely remember asking myself all those questions! You can do this – way to go taking a leap and following your dreams, even if it’s not the easiest/most comfortable thing to do! It will all be worth it :)

  15. 33

    Awesome post! I also think that the moment we start thinking we are total experts, that’s when we are really in trouble, because the passion fades. There is no longer any drive to keep going because you feel you’ve peaked. So I think this imposter syndrome thing is actually a good sign that you’re exactly where you need to be and should keep on pushing yourself to get better and better.

    • 34

      That’s a really good way to look at it! You’re right – we should never stop learning, and perhaps imposter syndrome is actually helpful in keeping us engaged/moving forward!

  16. 35

    :) Thanks for writing this for us to read. I just opened my laptop to prepare for my first ever fermentation workshop this weekend and was thinking, “why the hell did I say I could do this? I can’t do this.” But you’re right, I can. And even though I don’t know everything and won’t be able to answer every question, I still have a ton of knowledge to share.

  17. 37

    One of my favorite (former) coworkers, a sixth grade teacher, would always ask his class how many people struggled with a certain assignment. When they’d raise their hands, he’d say, “See? You’re in good company.” That’s how I feel reading your post and the comments. I’m in good company. I’m in my second year of grad school to be a speech-language pathologist, and I spend my days feeling like an imposter. I’m in my internship right now in an elementary school, and I know those kids think I’m an adult with my act together, but I’m sitting there wondering how I came to be in charge of so many humans! Thanks for reminding us that we’re all human and that we all have doubts and fears.

    • 38

      Keep working hard, Ashley! You’re going to do great things. :) And I love that quote from your former coworker – what a great way to encourage kids to be vulnerable in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling judged!

  18. 39

    Oh yes, I can totally relate! I keep waiting for the moment when I’m like “ok, this is it, I’ve now got it all figured out” but at 31 I am starting to think that never happens! I read the book How to Be Everything and this quote stuck out, “If you were actually an imposter, you wouldn’t get imposter syndrome. Philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” If you occasionally doubt yourself, take it as a sign that you’re one of the good ones.” I try to remind myself to this each time I feel I’m not good enough.

  19. 41

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!!! I can remember feeling this in one way or another for my entire life. I find that when it’s really getting to me, it helps to be around people who care about me, that I can be really be myself around, flaws and all! It gets me out of my head and gives me a bit of a reality check.

  20. 43
    Roadrunner says:

    Very thoughtful, Anne, thanks for sharing!

  21. 45

    Love this article! As I approach retirement my biggest regret is the way I thought earlier in my career. I believed everyone above me was so much smarter, more accomplished, had it all together, was more qualified etc. but as I have climbed the corporate ladder I have learned that those at the top are no smarter, do not work harder, do not have it all together, make mistakes etc. and that those inaccurate thoughts earlier in my career which were wrong delayed my career growth as I did not apply for positions I should have and was well if not over-qualified for. I try to tell my grown, women children today to not let their thoughts hold them back…they got this!!

    • 46

      Such a good lesson to learn – I’m glad that you are passing it on to others because you are definitely not the only person who has felt like that and let it hold them back!

  22. 47

    Yes, this!!!
    I often catch myself in that mode of “Not good enough”, etc. Then I tell myself what if everyone feels this way and they just do it anyway? We never grow from staying in PJs on the couch and not taking the big risk. (though PJ time is sometimes required). :) We only grow out of those risks, those crazy Am I ready to do this moments where we have to jump head first and maybe wing it a little bit.

    Thank you for this post Anne.

    • 48

      So true. I think recognizing that it’s okay to feel that way – and then to go ahead and do it anyway – is the key. Everyone has those thoughts at some point – we just need to make sure they don’t stop us from taking action when it really matters!

  23. 49

    I am graduating with my PhD in May and this post was JUST WHAT I NEEDED. Thank you. I will be re-reading this post weekly until I graduate.

  24. 51

    I just wanted to say that I loved this post and that you are my favorite blogger. I think you are such a good example in many ways. Your blog always leaves me feeling positive and never makes me feel less than. Thanks for sharing with us. :)

  25. 53

    I love this! Wish I read this before we chatted today so I could tell you about a phrase that popped up in Blog Brulee – “expert enough.” Remembering that there may be some people who are more expert than you, but you’re expert enough.

  26. 55

    This is such an important point! I feel like “imposter syndrome” is being discussed more and more in my field, a woman in science! I was so relieved the first time I read about this because I had thought I was the only one!! I’m about to have a big dose of that this year and am trying to mentally prepare myself to anticipate it and overcome it :D Knowing it’s there, it’s real, and it affects a lot of people is half the battle!

  27. 57
    Jeanne Chambers says:

    Anne, good post! We all feel this way, even us old, experienced folks! ;) Remember these thoughts as you enter parenthood – because the daily challenges that you’ll face in the coming years with your little one will continually make you feel like an imposter. No sooner will you FINALLY figure out something that works when suddenly munchkin will move onto a different phase and you’ll once again be clueless! You’ve got this :)

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