Even the most successful people sometimes doubt their abilities. This “imposter syndrome,” as it’s called can hold us back and prevent us from being the best versions of ourselves.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So, a couple of episodes ago, you and I talked about, you know, dreams and dreams as far as not the dreams we have when we sleep, but you know, the things we wanted to do when we were younger. Maybe, now, you know, I said I wanted to be an actress. I think I wanted to be a Broadway actress, and I think you said you wanted to be a drummer at some point. But, we had But you weren’t a kid. I think that was young adult Connor’s dream, right?
Connor: That’s right.
Brittany: And when we had this conversation, you had mentioned about your goal of being a thought leader, and I think that’s what you called it. And we talked about something that kind of holds us back from our dreams called imposter syndrome. And I think this is an interesting topic that I wanted to dive into a little bit more with you. So let’s talk about what it means first, and then we can share some personal stories and get into maybe ways we can avoid it or combat it. So what is an imposter? An imposter is someone pretending to be someone else. You know, if someone puts on a white coat and pretends to be a doctor, that would be an imposter. They’re not really a doctor. So when we talk about imposter syndrome, it’s when someone, and this is usually someone who’s actually like a high achiever, successful, right? Somebody who’s not doing anything isn’t gonna have imposter syndrome unless it’s like a homeless person that thinks they’re a rocket scientist or something, which, we have a lot of those. So, but it’s when somebody who’s pretty successful begins to really doubt themselves because they think that maybe that they’re a fraud or they’re a fake, and they’re gonna get either gonna get found out because people think they’re so successful, but maybe they don’t deserve it. Maybe they haven’t worked hard enough, or some people, you know, just feel like at any second it’s gonna be revealed that they aren’t as talented as people thought they were. So, I know I encountered this a lot because my writing career happened very quickly. So it went from one day I was doing events at a nonprofit, and I hated that. I am not a detail-oriented person. Detail-oriented people are who were great at events, philosophical people are not good at events, So it was terrible. But I got my first job as a writer, and that really, like, I just was writing constantly and trying to get into different publications. And so it happened really quickly. But I don’t have a college degree. And as we’ve talked about, I don’t think that’s important, but I live in a city where everyone has a degree and they’re very proud of that. So that was really hard for me because I kept thinking, okay, this happened really quickly. I’m really proud of this, but maybe I don’t deserve to be here. You know, maybe I’m not as good of a writer as I think I am, but I was just in the right place at the right time. And at any minute someone’s gonna find out that, you know, I don’t have a degree,
Connor: They’re gonna catch you.
Brittany: I’m, yeah, they’re gonna catch me. Like I’m gonna get in trouble. And so that was, that was really hard for me. And I don’t even know if I could tell you how I overcame that. I think it was just one of the things where I have to keep my head down and keep working. But Connor, you’re the one that brought up this idea of imposter syndrome and that one episode we had on dreams. So what are your experiences with this?
Connor: Yeah, this is interesting. I think about this a bit because of my background, I do have a college degree, but it’s in what’s called information technology, which is a fancy way of saying, I became a computer nerd, which is also silly because I already was a computer nerd. And so I knew all the things that I was, you know, or a lot, most of the things that I was learning from my college degree. Now I just had a fancy piece of paper to say, yep, he knows all the things even though I, you know, knew all the things. And so, but that was my background. So then as my life evolved, and then I started my think Tank Libertas Institute and everything, I found myself, I remember one. I had one meeting where I was sitting down with the Attorney General, which is like the government’s top lawyer, and several lawyers from, his, you know, office and a couple of elected officials and a couple of other attorneys. And basically, everyone in the room was a lawyer except for me. And they were all, like, literally the attorney general turned to me and said, well, Connor, how does this law work? And we were talking about a particular law that we were working on, and he had me draw on the whiteboard for him how this law worked because he didn’t, you know about it. And then, you know, some other people in the room start saying other things, and I’m having to correct them or, you know, maybe debate them a little bit or tell them why I think their view is not correct and stuff like that. And so I’m in this meeting and you know, I held my own or whatever, but at the end of the meeting, like I was driving home and I was like, my life is so weird because here I am in this meeting with all these people who’ve studied for years about the law, and I studied computers, and I’ve just kind of learned about the law on the way, on my own self-taught is the term, right. Taught myself and I don’t have a fancy degree. And I’d, oh, I didn’t, you know, graduate from this prestigious law school and I didn’t pass the bar exam, which is like the test you need to take if you wanna be a lawyer. And I didn’t do any of that. And yet I’m still able to hold my own and work with these people. And yet sometimes those thoughts creep in. I’m like, am I supposed to do this? Am I allowed to do this? Like, did I miss a sign somewhere that said, you know, no lawyers allowed, or non-lawyers allow? And so some people really struggle with this. I don’t personally struggle a lot. I find it more curious, and I kind of think about it a lot, but it doesn’t deeply affect me. Some people with imposter syndrome become really like paralyzed where they feel like, oh, I’m not good enough. And what if they think this about me, or, you know, I’m not prepared, or I didn’t do all the things other people did? And so then they kind of get locked up and don’t try, they don’t move forward. And I’ll never forget the thing that clicked for me when I speak to youth groups, like whatever topic talking about, I always try and give one piece of advice because it’s something that I didn’t learn until much later in life. And I say I want you guys to understand this is usually like teenagers. I said I want you to understand something adults are really good at faking it. Like we pretend that we know what we’re doing. Even smart people who have all this experience or whatever, every day of their life, they’re faking something. They’re figuring it out as they go. They’re projecting that they are better than they actually are, or that they know more than they actually do. They’re projecting confidence. They’re kind of not showing you their insecurity, right? So adults are good at kind of faking all that stuff, which is interesting because then young people feel, I felt, I’m like, oh gosh, like adults have it all figured out, right? Like, they’re so confident and competent, and am I ever gonna get there? Or whatever. And I think that’s where a lot of people with imposter syndrome don’t realize that everyone and to some degree feels like they’re an imposter, right? Like, I’ve never done this before, or I’ve never been here. Oh, I have to figure this out. This is new, right? I need to fix the kitchen sink. I don’t know how to f like I’m an imposter. I’m not a plumber. You know? And, like I, so, adults are just really good at like, I think faking a lot of that. And I think some people though with imposter syndrome, like these teenagers kind of struggle to think that other people are more, like better at something than they are. And so they’re a little bit more insecure. Maybe they, aren’t courageous to go take that action or do that thing. ’cause they, they get inside their head and they think, oh, what if I’m not good enough? Or what if I do it wrong? Or what if someone finds out? So, I think there’s degrees of that where, for me, it’s more like curious that I’m an imposter in a way. For other people, it’s more paralyzing ’cause they deeply feel that they’re not good enough because, but to me, the valuable takeaway is like, no one is, right? No one’s perfect, no one, even the people, even lawyers who went to school when I, again, here’s the attorney general who’s like the top lawyer for the government, and I know more about this particular law than he does. And so things like that are reassuring to me to say like, okay, even though I’m not in a lawyer and I didn’t go to law school, and now I work with all these laws, like on some days I might feel like, oh, you know, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Or whatever. But then I realize like, most of these people don’t know what they’re talking about too. They might get this, like this narrow specialty in this like one little thing, but then when with everything else, they don’t know. And so they’re on the same playing field as me that they have to go learn. Just like I have to go learn. So, I don’t know, I know that some people, especially those who are more prone to anxiety are going to have imposter syndrome a little bit more, I think, where they kind of get inside their head and they worry a lot. But, even for those of us who don’t have, anxiety like that, I think we can still feel like imposters in some respects. And I think we just need to give ourselves permission to think and to know the truth that everyone is an imposter to some degree, and we’re all just doing our best and trying to figure it out. What are your thoughts, Brittany?
Brittany: Yeah, I think in some cases it can make you even better at what it is you’re doing. Cause I feel like, you know, I do standup comedy, and at first I really hate being asked this question, but people ask this if everybody, they always ask, like before they see you go on stage, the comics are hanging out before a show or an open mic. And they’ll be like, how long have you been doing comedy? And I was really self-conscious about this question at first. Cause I’d only been doing it consistently, meaning like all the time, like for a couple of months. And I didn’t wanna say that ’cause I didn’t wanna seem like a newbie, right? Like a new inexperienced person, even though I was a new inexperienced person. But it was also different because I had, not to toot my own horn, Connor, but I am very good. And so people, a lot of people were like, how many years have you been doing it? And for a second I almost had an inclination to lie, right? And just be like, oh, they think I’ve been doing this for years. And you know, technically I had, I went up a few times, you know, over the years. But I didn’t wanna say that because that wasn’t necessarily true. But I was flattered that they thought that. But I didn’t wanna be thought of as like an amateur, right? As something new. But we’re all, if you’re going to open mics, pretty much everyone there is an amateur. They’re not a famous comedian. So the cool thing that I learned about that is just getting better. And it’s fun to get notes, like some tips from people who were more experienced than you. And it’s really fun to try harder. ’cause I can say, okay, this guy’s been doing it for years. I’ve only been doing it for a few months, but I like the way he does that. I’m gonna do something like that. Or, I like the way she says that in that tone. So it can also help you be better that, yeah, I’m new. And it does kind of feel like, all right, I’ve only been doing this a few months and I’m already getting booked on shows. I’m already doing this and I feel like I’m getting a lot of traction. And that’s scary. But it’s also like, okay, now I can get better and I can learn with even better people. So I think it can be used for both.
Connor: I think I` like how you say that because in a way if you were to tell people, you know, if they think, wow, you know, I really enjoyed your comedy sketch and how long have you been doing it? And then when you tell them, oh, I’ve only been doing it for two months, that can, I think, be a really positive thing. Like, wow, you’re that good and you’ve only been doing right. And so like, you, like sometimes the temptation is to be like, oh, I’m actually an expert. I’ve done it a long time. But if we’re vulnerable, I think that people can kind of have a different observation and realize like, oh wow, that’s like, that’s actually a really cool thing. I remember in one meeting I was at, we were kind of fighting, not, you know, what’s a better way to put it? We were, strongly debating something with, this government department, and their lawyer was there. And I’m in this room with like 15 people, and it’s me against all of them. In other words, they’re all on the opposite side, and they really don’t like what we’re trying to do. And so they’re all trying to like attack what our proposal is and chip away at it and tell us why it’s wrong. And I’m the only one there on my side kind of defending what we’re trying to do. And so at one point, we’re kind of, you know, and but the thing to know here is like, we had a little bit of momentum. In other words, elected officials were gonna kind of be on my side. And a lot of these government, attorneys kind of knew that they were on the losing side even though there were more of them. So I, even though I was alone, I kind of had the strength of knowing like, you know, ultimately I can get my way more than they can get their way. Because elected officials were gonna agree with me when it was time to go talk to them about this bill. So I’m in this room feeling like David versus Goliath, and I’m debating this lady who is a government attorney. And she, and again, like I sometimes get in my head or whatever, right? Like, oh, like all these attorneys and just Connor, the web developer, right? Like, who used to make websites for a living and now I’m tangling with all these attorneys, and this lady and I are kind of like going back and forth and she’s kind of getting a little cranky. Cause I keep telling her why I think she’s wrong. And then she turns to me and she says, well, Connor, maybe you’d know more about this if you went to law school. And I mean, it was a clear insult. you know, she’s, but what was really interesting about it is, you know, I might be like, oh, I feel bad, or, oh, she kind of hit me where it hurts, you know, and poured salt in the wound. But it was interesting that all of, the other people in the room reacted poorly to what she said, even though she was on their side. And they kind of sympathized with me. And one of them even like, came to my defense and was like, no, that won’t be ridiculous. Like, that’s, why would he even say something like that? You know? And so this lady kind of attacked my imposter, you know, situation and all these other attorneys, even though, you know, I figured, oh, maybe they’d think like she did. They kind of rose to my defense even though we were on opposite sides of that issue. So I found that really interesting that here I am, that I might have this imposter syndrome. And you think that other people think that about you. Oh, everyone knows I’m not a lawyer, and oh, what do they think about that? But then anyone who tries to attack you about it gets shut down like that. I think that’s really interesting that maybe we give, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for like, okay, Brittany, if you’re a comedian and, you know, you wonder like, what will all these people think about me? And are they gonna think that I’m no good? ’cause I haven’t done this a long time, or I’m not very good at it, or what, well, you are good at it, but like, you know, for whatever our imposter thing is, and we don’t realize, I think like we expect people to be more critical of us than they actually are. We worry that like, oh, all these people are gonna think I’m an imposter. But I think most people are worrying about themselves. Right? They’re not thinking about, oh, that person’s an imposter.
Brittany: And if they are worried about you, that says something about them more than does about you.
Connor: Yeah. It’s like, ultimately, who cares what they think? Because chances are they’re not thinking about you. And if they are thinking about you, they’re probably not being as critical of you as you are of yourself. And, I don’t know. I think these are important thoughts because I don’t want any of us to not reach our potential. And if we’re like stretching ourselves, we’re all gonna be figuring things out on the way, learning new things, doing things we’re not quote-unquote qualified or experienced to do. We’re forging new territory. And so we need that to make the world a better place. We need to like to push our boundaries a bit and explore and try new things. And so all of us are gonna have to realize that we’re all gonna be quote-unquote imposters in some way and recognize that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. That it just shows that we’re trying hard to do new things and grow. And I think we just have to own that that’s a positive issue. So for any of you kids listening out there, if you don’t feel, you know, qualified or experienced or good enough or whatever, just realize that you know everyone’s going through that. It’s a part of life. Don’t let it set you back. Recognize that you need to push forward and don’t care what other people think about you. Recognize how awesome it is that you’ve gotten as far as you have, that you’re doing new things that you’re trying to grow. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. And when I think our world needs a whole lot more of it. Brittany, thanks for joining me. As always, appreciate you guys listening. Until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.