If you are looking for one of the best ways to trigger imposter syndrome, I’m pretty sure I know what it is. It usually goes something like this…
You are scrolling through social media, looking at all the happy-to-ecstatic faces. People’s posts boasting or humble-bragging about all the wild success they have achieved in business and life. #success #blessed
For good measure, you look at the social media posts of other consultants. Their success is obviously off the charts. They have all the clients they could ever want. Their success was so fast, so effortless. All it took was following three principles or some such easy path. They wrote a book about it! Damn. Even their house is always clean.
That’s when it starts. For me, it usually starts in my body, with a tightening in my chest. Then the thoughts and feelings start to cascade as I begin to build a case against myself.
"Why are they all more successful than me?"
"Why is it so easy for them and not me?"
"How come they aren’t experiencing what I am, the doubt and frustration?"
You know the list. Keep at it, even for a short time, and you will likely arrive at this thought:
"Maybe I’m not cut out to be a consultant."
What You See Isn’t What You Get
Maybe you intellectually know that when you're on social media you are seeing a slice of reality or a slice that was created to give an exaggerated or sometimes even false impression of people’s lives and businesses. Particularly with posts about business, they exist to build that business by showing what success is “supposed to” look like. Filming a video in a flawless office with perfect hair does that better than filming in front of your stacks of laundry with a sweatshirt on and a DIY COVID haircut. Trust me, more than once I have made sure that the mess in my dining room was not visible from where I was filming a video!
But knowing that is one thing; applying it is another. It’s easy to say you’re just going to stop, but comparing yourself to others is, in some ways, wired into us and imposed on us externally. And social media itself is designed—intentionally—to get us hooked. And what better way to do that than by enticing us to gather emotionally-charged evidence against ourselves.
The problem is that, aside from not feeling good, comparing yourself to others on social media gets in your way of seeing reality clearly, trusting in your value and ability to succeed, and taking the right actions for your consulting business and life.
Be the Boss of What You See
If imposter syndrome is infecting you because of your social media consumption, make the boss do something about it! Here’s what I make my boss (otherwise known as me) do:
Anytime I cut back on the amount of social media I use, I feel happier and more confident. But I know it’s easy to get sucked back in. And once I'm in it, oh the rabbit holes I can go down! I have learned that limiting the dose and duration of social media I consume is key. So I experiment with different ways of limiting my use, including taking the apps off my phone to make it less available, limiting my use to defined times, and not viewing some platforms altogether.
Follow What Brings You Joy and Confidence
I do follow some folks because they give me new ideas and challenge how I am thinking about or running my consulting business. But if I start down a path to imposter syndrome every time I view their posts, then I unfollow them. I like to be challenged, but I don’t need to make it difficult on myself. So buh-bye!
I also follow people who are more willing to show the messier sides of their lives and talk about their frustrations and flops. And, in truth, I often learn more from them than the hyper-polished “perfect” people.
Feed Your Feed
I don’t just follow people in my field or business pages. I mix up my feed so I see people helping others, growing vegetables, rescuing animals, and engaging in activism to make the world a more just, equitable place. I follow folks who post silly puns and cartoons. Dad jokes and interspecies friendship posts are always welcome! All that good stuff. I want to see a bigger, more real world that triggers different emotions than those that come with comparing myself to others.
I applaud consultants who are trying to get business on social media. Heck, I do it too! So I also try to operate by principles that matter most to me: generosity and support. If I’m feeling jealous of someone else because of what they post—and what I think that says about me—I celebrate them. I comment. I repost. I send them a message. In doing so, I’m trying to make it more than about myself and create friends where my fear creates competitors. And, by doing so, I am breaking the spell of imposter syndrome and, even if just for a while, freeing myself to see myself with more loving, accurate eyes.