Success, Failure and the Imposter Syndrome
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan
It is easy to get caught by a negative, critical story about ourselves. I imagine that most everyone does this, at times. I’ve noticed in my own life I can easily tell the story of my life as a failure – all of the things I’ve wanted to accomplish that I have not, all of my weaknesses and shortcomings; as well as my long list of regrets. At the same time, I can just as easily tell a story of my life as a series of great successes and satisfactions – all that I have accomplished, as well as my family, my relationships and my work.
The “inner critic” seems to be the human condition. Perhaps it serves a positive role of keeping us out of danger by being on guard and suspect, or helping us strive to greater accomplishments. And, for many people, it is just a bad habit, a constant running of negative energy that tends to limit and constrict presence, effectiveness and joy.
A problem with running the energy of our inner critic is that our body doesn’t distinguish between real pain and imagined pain. When we feel bad about ourselves and judge ourselves, we can create conditions of stress and anxiety. The tendency is to constrict and limit our ability to function openly and fully. The inner critic can limit our ability to meet people fully and to find creative solutions in our lives and in the world.
The inner critic can sometimes lead to feelings of not deserving the successes we have achieved. The Imposter Syndrome refers to a condition in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments, and carry fear about being discovered as not deserving of their role or position. Apparently this is a very common phenomenon in many walks of life – business leaders, graduate students and performers. In my coaching practice, and in my own experience, it appears that a large percentage of people have experienced these feelings in a variety of forms. I’ve heard that there is some evidence that the more successful people in business become, the more they harbor these feelings of being imposters.
The antidote isn’t to ignore our pain and difficulties. As a human being, life will bring us plenty of pain. The key is to become aware of the stories we tell ourselves, about failure and about success, and to label these as stories and to enjoy the stories, to not take them too seriously or get too attached to them. In this way we can appreciate our pain and failures, and appreciate our joy and successes.
How do you do this? One way is to practice being aware of your body and breath. Meditation and mindfulness practice. Also, pay attention to the stories that the inner critic tells, and label them as stories. You may try journaling – tell the story of your life from the perspective of failure. Then, tell the story of your life as overcoming difficulty, from the perspective of success. Then try telling your story as a journey – a journey of discovery, of challenge, of developing more awareness and more compassion.