Continuing with the blog series on integrating mindfulness in everyday life, this is the second post on overcoming feelings of inadequacy to experience true confidence.

We’ve all encountered situations where we felt inadequate, especially in first time situations like a job interview, first meeting or presentation at a new job, or the first date. Many experts and well-meaning people recommend the “fake it till you make it” strategy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt good faking my way to confidence. The reasoning for it makes sense – don’t wait to feel confident before trying something new. Once you do it, over time you will gain confidence. But sometimes repeating the same actions leads to the same results – feeling inadequate and under-confident.

In this post I briefly describe imposter syndrome and three mindful steps to deal with it using the example of my experience running for elections. You can substitute this situation with any context relevant to you where you didn’t feel good enough or like you didn’t truly deserve to be in that situation.

Imposter Syndrome In The First Public Forum

I remember my first public forum for the six candidates running for Town Council. I felt uneasy. I had prepared as well as I could, but I felt unprepared. I took deep breaths to calm myself – relax my body and keep an open mind. But I still felt stressed. I found myself comparing my opening statement with other more experienced candidates. I felt like an imposter. Like I didn’t really belong there.

Just to be clear, I did prepare as well as I could for the forum. I had spoken with many people who had experience with town politics, including my campaign manager who spent many hours going over the issues and grilling me. I did extensive research about the issues important to our town – the new charter, schools, property taxes, downtown developments, zoning and land use.

Being new to politics, I felt like I needed to read every article, research paper, and piece of information on the Town website. We were given enough notice to prepare but nowhere enough time to read and comprehend what I felt was necessary to really understand the issues at hand. In the absence of knowing everything — especially since some of the candidates had experience with local politics and I didn’t — I felt I wasn’t good enough to run for Town Council. I was experiencing what is commonly known as the imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Have you ever felt like you were not good enough – like you didn’t belong? Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon reflecting a belief that you are inadequate despite evidence to the contrary. Many high achievers feel like frauds. Dr. Valerie Young – an expert on imposter syndrome – suggests changing our thoughts to change how we feel about ourselves along with other suggestions to overcome imposter syndrome. Reframing is a powerful remedy to shift our perspective and how we feel, but it may be insufficient on its own. Sometimes, what we really need is to pause and connect with ourselves and the bigger picture – our intentions, passions, and who else is involved in this situation.

How Mindfulness Helped Me At The Forum

Right before the forum, I felt anxious and wondered what it means to be mindful in this new context of appearing in a public forum. Mindfulness didn’t free me from anxiety entirely, but my emotions didn’t hijack my thinking. I could stay focused on what’s most important in the moment – answering people’s questions and concerns with honesty.

I remembered to have self-compassion and connect with my audience.

It was also helpful to breathe and check in with my body. This allowed me to have a relaxed and alert body posture and disposition.

Doing Things Differently: Connecting With Self And My Passions

Many people got back to me after the first forum that they found me to be thoughtful and eloquent. Yet, I knew something was missing in my presentation. And my campaign manager agreed. He didn’t say how I could have done better, just that I wasn’t my usual self.

The next day was another forum. This time, before writing my opening statement, I stopped and meditated. I created space for contemplation and connection. I went over my last performance and noticed my thoughts and emotions. I realized I was trying to be as good as the more experienced candidates. My focus was on research, reading, and learning the issues and all of this was important. What I didn’t do is acknowledge what I bring to the table. My focus was on becoming like the others rather than figuring out how my strengths would be useful to the first Amherst Town Council.

Instead of focusing on what I didn’t know and continue to read and learn more, which I knew there would be time for at a later point, I decided to meditate on who am I and why I am running for Town Council. I saw that my strengths as a mindfulness practitioner and teacher, researcher, and chartered accountant, and my diverse experience in different countries and industries can be beneficial in solving the problems our town was facing.

In that moment I clearly saw that I was no less than the other experienced candidates. I felt genuinely connected with who I am and what I have to offer as a Town Councilor. I wrote my opening statement based on this clarity and connection with self. I read the statement a couple of times and edited it till I was happy with the points I was making. I went over the likely questions from this particular audience and the research I had already done.

Speaking From The Heart Is More Important Than Perfection

This time at the forum, I put my paper down and spoke from my heart. This is easier said than done. It requires letting go of that tiny piece of paper that has your neatly typed thoughts. It requires trust that you will remember all that is important. And the reality is that I didn’t say everything I wanted to, but I felt good about what I did say. I owned it. Throughout that forum, I was grounded, genuinely connected with my self and the audience, and completely at ease. At the end of this forum my campaign manager came to me beaming, “You were thousand times better than yesterday.” And I agreed with him.

To Sum Up: 3 Mindful Steps to Deal With Imposter Syndrome

Here is how mindfulness can help with the imposter syndrome:

  1. Awareness: The first step to overcome imposter syndrome is to recognize that you are experiencing it. For different people the pathway to awareness may be different. For some, awareness of the body may be a starting point. When you notice tightness in the body or your heart beating faster, you know something is not quote right. Or you may notice feeling anxious or fearful, even though you have done your best to prepare for the occasion. Or you may pay attention to your thoughts and catch yourself doubting yourself.
  1. Curiosity: Once you know you are doubting yourself, you can bring curiosity to your experience. Examine your assumptions and default patterns. In my case, there was an implicit assumption that everyone is better than I am and that my lack of experience meant that I had nothing to offer. I saw that my default pattern is to dive into research and read about the topic from multiple perspectives. This is very useful but only focusing on research isn’t enough. What is also needed is heart and passion. Take the time to ask yourself why is this important to you and who is this going to impact. Asking myself, why I was running for Town Council, was an important question to answer before losing myself in research.
  1. Creating Space to Connect With Compassion: Compassion plays an important role when we turn towards our discomfort instead of distracting ourselves or our usual tactics to avoid discomfort. Recognizing that of course I would feel uncomfortable in this new context, helped me engage with my discomfort with more understanding. Once we drop the judgments about ourselves, we can truly connect with who we are and why we are doing what we are doing.
    Before resorting to my default tendencies to research, creating the space to connect with myself, allowed me to realign with my purpose for running, which is also the purpose I teach mindfulness – to make this world a better place for all beings. And when I spoke from this place of connection with my passions and skills, I could genuinely connect with others. I was authentic and it showed.

If I had simply reframed my thinking to be more confident, I might have come across as confident, but I wouldn’t have connected with the people in the same way as I did after connecting with myself and my intentions for running.  I see this in other speakers and leaders as well. The ones who really stand out are those who were connected with their passion and not just confident.

Have you encountered the imposter syndrome?

How did you deal with it?