Quiet, please – there’s a fedora on stage!
Self-doubt, anxiety, fear of failure and feeling a fraud are not exactly ‘must-have’ qualities for a professional speaker. Particularly, one as bigheaded as me, who wants to inform, entertain, inspire and motivate. I’ve been treading the boards and been in the spotlight for over thirty years yet symptoms of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ remain.
Even though I thank my lucky stars that I’ve lived and worked so long, the symptoms have become more severe every year. This article explains how I quieten and, sometimes, silence the voice in my head that says ‘you can’t’; ‘you shouldn’t’, ‘you’re useless’. ‘you’re a fake’, ‘you’ll be ridiculed’ and, my fave, ‘no-one is interested in you or what you have to say’.
I’m sure that everyone suffers from time to time with self-doubt and anxiety so, hopefully, you may be able to try one or more of the ways I deal with ‘Imposter Syndrome’,
I have a wonderfully happy and fulfilled life with my friends and family, living in sunny Scarborough and spending a lot of time each year in London and Malta. I know that I wouldn’t be so happy or be so able to cope with what business and life throw at me, without these three ‘silencers’.
Silencer One – It’s NORMAL and is easily accepted – my heroes suffer from It too
My schoolfriend, Christian Burgess, a fine actor who should have been James Bond, became Vice-Principal at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and told me that many of our greatest actors suffer the most with ‘nerves’ before a performance – self-doubt, anxiety and fear of failure.
If my favourite actors, dancers, writers, musicians, entertainers and sportspeople suffer from imposter syndrome it really can’t be that big a deal. It only becomes a problem if I forget that it goes with the territory. Being professional means managing these ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘fright or flight’ feelings.
I want to deliver keynotes, talks and my one-man show to influence and inspire people to be more enterprising. I want leaders to give people happy, fulfilled and enterprising, working lives not make life a misery through ‘performance management’. I want to earn a living from writing which means going on stage. I want to continue campaigning, such as #PayIn30Days, to make life better for micro-business owners everywhere. So, giving up what I do to avoid Imposter Syndrome is not an option.
No Big Deal
Part of doing what I do, being professional, means accepting it and managing it. Whereas years ago I used to panic about not sleeping the night before a major gig, television is the worst, I now accept I’m not going to sleep the night before. I look to enjoy the sleepless night with a good book and music. I now, invariably, do get some sleep and treat that as a bonus.
I used to worry about appearing on stage or on camera perspiring and this made me sweat even more. Wearing a fedora in hot rooms and studios doesn’t help. I now always wear exactly what I love wearing and carry a spare shirt to change into at the last minute, but now I rarely have to use it.
Most of all I remember how lucky I am to be doing something I’ve learned how to do and that, when I prepare well and do it well, I can make a difference. I’m lucky to be earning a living in the way I want to.
Millions are living in poverty in the UK and hundreds of thousands are homeless. One in three children is growing up poor and increasingly reliant on food banks. 5.5 million micro-business owners on average are earning 20% less than 10 years ago – debt is spiralling. The credit scoring regime makes it more difficult for them to borrow at low cost, when, for example, they have to wait an average 72 days for payment of their invoices.
Four people I know, all very hard-working, positive, award-winning, role model entrepreneurs highly respected in their business communities, have recently declared insolvency or become bankrupt. Most people, trying to make ends meet, through earning their living, are in a tougher place than I’ve ever known – my riches to rags story remains a lucky and happy one.
Five of my friends never got within 10 years of my age and I run half marathons and marathons in their memory for charity each year. It’s inspiring to run with so many people each year with disabilities and terminal illnesses, all raising money to help others.
I can’t believe how lucky I am and to worry about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ seems selfish and feeble.
Silencer Two – It’s WOO-WOO and you don’t need to pay for ‘treatment’
American research claims that seven out of ten people in the world suffer from Imposter Syndrome. There are many multi-billion dollar industries that are built on similar research findings, giving the problem a scary name and then selling the ‘mindset’ solution.
In my opinion, the first person, late in life, to discover he could make millions out of books and talks solving our mindset problems was Napoleon Hill. Hill published ‘The Laws of Success’ in 1928 and then struck gold with his continuous bestseller ‘Think and Grow Rich’ in 1937. A new motivational film on ‘Think and Grow Rich’ was privately screened in cinemas throughout the UK last summer and the MLM industry will ensure Hill’s star remains in the ascendancy.
What Napoleon Hill did was re-package successful books by those in the New Thought Movement in America. He would have seen what Wallace Wattles achieved with the ‘Science of Getting Rich’ (1903) and his writing on creative visualisation. Another probable influence on Hill was William Atkinson with his successful publications in 1908 on thought vibration and the Law of Attraction.
There is a long line of author/speakers from America that have re-packaged and labelled ‘scientific’ impediments to confidence, wealth and success and then presented the cures and secrets in their books, talks and seminars. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ fits into this labelling of an impediment to success and the selling of a cure or secret formula.
Mostly these cures/secrets will centre around the power of positive thinking, the law of attraction, the rewards from gratitude and the requirement to only associate with other successful, positive people. In my opinion, the most influential lineage of re-packagers getting rich out of writing and talking about how you get rich, are Wattles, Atkinson, Hill, Schuller, Peale, Trump, Rohn, Robbins, Byrne (The Secret) and Winfrey.
What these positive thinking gurus do, and they totally believe in what they do, is sell what magicians and sceptics may call ‘woo-woo’. ‘Woo-woo’ is what James Randi called the psychic phenomenons they sell. Randi’s one million dollar challenge has never been won.
The challenge is Randi will give a million dollars to anyone who can show, under scientific conditions that attraction through brain force fields or the dead can be conversed with or businesses grown, wealth accrued, serious illness cured, organs removed, objects moved, hot coals walked upon and spoons bent – all by the power of the mind.
For example, entertainers, hucksters, medicine and holy men have been walking on hot coals for thousands of years. There’s a way of preparing the coals and a simple technique for walking on them. It still requires courage but not a $3,000 dollar weekend seminar to learn how to do it.
As a Sioux Indian Chief once told me “The secret of a successful rain dance is timing”.
What these writer/speaker mindset gurus have done is created an almost insatiable demand, primarily in the USA and UK, for professional help and self-help. No one questions whether the ‘power of positive thinking’ or ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is actually a thing! Imposter Syndrome’ is a fabulous new income source for psychotherapists, coaches, trainers, counsellors, writers and speakers.
Hands up – I’ve been an imposter! I learned all the law of attraction mantras and spoke to 15,000 at the Birmingham NEC and a packed Wembley Arena on what can be achieved through positivity. I count myself lucky that after I resigned as Chief Executive of Amway UK in 1986, to start my own business I’ve largely avoided ‘woo-woo’. I don’t blame anyone for believing in woo-woo or earning a living from being an expert in it. If you’re employed in certain organisations you’ll have a very short career if you don’t speak woo-woo every day.
All I’m saying is that it helps me to silence self-doubt by treating imposter syndrome as ‘woo-woo’ and not a scary sounding, debilitating condition of the mind.
Most people in the world cope with living their lives, making ends meet and progressing their careers without reading self-help books. In the USA and UK, self-help books are normal. Self-help is the most thriving sector of publishing. Despite my comments above on ‘woo-woo’, I’m a fan and contributor to the self-help industry.
I’ve been able to entertain, inform and, sometimes, inspire with what you can achieve through passion, virtue, integrity, authenticity, professionalism, persistence, promotion, teamwork, hard work, enterprising skills, partnership and ‘small is beautiful’.
Since 1986, when I stopped spouting Hill, Trump, Robbins et al, I’ve found that every psychological challenge has been described and dealt with by the Ancient Greeks. The Stoics, in particular, always have some fabulous advice I can turn to. We can only control our own thoughts and actions. Imposter Syndrome is caused by me worrying about what I can’t control – what others may think about me.
My two career ambitions from the age of 11 to 19 were either to become a professional sportsman (cricket, table tennis or tennis – football and rugby I loved but was only OK at) or an actor. In both cases, before I went to University, I’d decided that I wasn’t good enough to pursue either career. If I’d understood Stoic philosophy then, I wouldn’t have given up so easily.
Because of my clumsiness and lack of spatial awareness, now called dyspraxia, I thought that my limited shot-making as an opening bat at cricket, my best sport, and ‘poor’ movement, particularly, in dance precluded me from becoming a professional cricketer or be accepted at drama school. I opted to do a degree in my favourite academic subject, English Literature.
I’d reacted to criticism, criticism which I couldn’t control, in the wrong way. Despite the fact that I was very hard to get out, scoring a stack of runs and succeeding in lead roles on stage. I should have continued practising hard for one of these potential careers rather than taking the easier option. No regrets though, I’ve loved everything I’ve done in sport and drama since but self-doubt and fear of failure must be silenced by your thoughts and actions to achieve your potential.
Today, I know that it’s best to concentrate only on what I can control. I can only control my thoughts and actions, not others’ thoughts, actions, opinions and criticisms. I’ve learned this both from experience but also from reading books, featuring Stoic philosophy. I find these helpful in silencing Imposter Syndrome and ensuring a happy, fulfilled life. If you’d like to try it too then I suggest searching for books by Albert Ellis or Derren Brown.
Albert Ellis was voted the second most influential psychologist of all time but he wasn’t popular with psychotherapists because he believed that anyone could cure themselves of such conditions as lack of self-confidence, self-doubt and anxiety by practising some simple exercises at home. Not a good look for fee earning therapists. As I say in my talks, the Albert Ellis mantra is that Musturbation, not Masturbation, is not good for you.
To quote Ellis ” There are three things that hold us back. I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy”. ‘How to make yourself happy – control your anxiety’ and “Feeling Better, Getting Better and Staying better” would be my top reads to silence Imposter Syndrome.
Derren Brown has been heavily influenced by Stoic philosophy, James Randi and Penn & Teller’s scepticism and calling out of ‘Woo-woo’, I can almost guarantee that if you read his “HAPPY – Why, more or less, everything is fine” it will quell the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome.
Silencer Three – Find a friendly face and welcome a friendly word
The Stoics believed in living a virtuous life. Today, most research into happiness suggests that achieving success through gaining wealth and power is less likely to bring fulfilment than time with and being useful to friends, family and those less fortunate than you. It’s more about what you give to others than what you receive. If you’re going to live a virtuous and giving life there is little time to worry about your own shortcomings.
I’m lucky to have been married to Eileen for 42 years and to have had the same business partner, Clare, for 34 years. At home and at work I’m lucky to have partnerships which keep both parties going through ups and downs, thick and thin. I have friends that have known me since the day I was born and school and college friends that have seen me, warts and all, in the many different roles we adopt through a lifetime. I can’t pretend to be someone else with people that know me inside out. That’s a joyous thing.
Helping each other
We help each other. We tell each other what they do well and what they’re gifted at. We smile and laugh a lot. Above all, we enjoy each others company.
In the early years of our business, whenever I was doing a major, keynote talk, Clare would position herself in the audience where I could see her smiling face. From time to time I’ve been able to reciprocate. To this day, whenever I speak at a conference or in a theatre I’ll look for a friendly attentive face in the audience and glance at them from time to time. Naturally, not so they’d notice.
At the end of my talk, I’ll try to find them and give them a gift as a thank you for their unwitting help to me. Their smile and listening attentively were all it took to silence my self-doubt and anxiety.
I hope that one or more of the three ways I deal with Imposter Syndrome may be of use. If you know someone with any of the symptoms – self-doubt, anxiety, fear of failure and feeling a fraud – remember that a friendly word, to remind them what they’re gifted at, and a reassuring smile may be all it takes to silence that snide, critical voice in their head.