Not long ago, I began a mindfulness meditation group. Not necessarily because I felt I had anything to offer, but because experience leading meditation is a pre-requisite for a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) workshop I’m hoping to attend next year, and also because meeting like-minded people in my city can be difficult.
As the group membership grew (numbers are currently at 133), so did my feelings of inadequacy. Previously, these had been limited to questioning the relevance of these written musings, given everything worth saying has already been said before – and by far more illustrious and capable people than I. But now, people were counting on me to impart something worthwhile in person. Quelle horreur!
I began preparing for the group’s first meeting. I looked back through my previous articles, dug out some old resources, listened to the meditations with a new interest and mocked up an agenda. I reminded myself that it was not my research; and all I had to do was relay it in a cohesive way. And, I reasoned, there would probably only be three or four people there. But, as the RSVPs for the meeting hit 20, that feeling of being woefully inadequate increased.
Yes, if I was an imposter, I was going to be a damned good one.
Like all good MSC practitioners, I explored this feeling further and discovered that I wasn’t afraid of facing the group, but rather being judged by people I knew. Would they think this undertaking made me self-important? Would they question exactly what qualified me to lead this group, the way I myself was? Essentially, would they call me out for what I felt I was – an imposter?
Fortunately, as it is with naming any fear, articulating these thoughts made them more manageable. Likewise, MSC practice gave me a chance to honour my feelings and to realise that many people face feelings of inadequacy when they embark on new challenges. And, something a friend told me many years ago re-entered my consciousness: fake it ‘til you make it. Yes, if I was an imposter, I was going to be a damned good one.
The meeting day arrived and, just as I was leaving, I discovered that my wallet was missing. Locating it set me back about 15 minutes and, in the end, I arrived late. But, as I was driving, it occurred to me that I could use my embarrassment to show how MSC can help soothe the frustrations of everyday life.
Apart from being understanding, the group was engaged and curious. Just like me, they were eager to meet new people and develop their mindfulness practice. Many of them – particularly those with no meditation experience – asked questions; all of which I answered with ease. And, just like that, I stopped being an imposter and started to feel confident in my own knowledge and abilities.
In the end, I didn’t need to fake it, because being late gave me the perfect opportunity to be authentic and relatable. But it was the act of stepping up that really helped me to shed my feelings of inadequacy. In other words, once I stopped worrying about being an imposter, I was free to be myself – and to engage all of the skills that came with that.
If you think you might be at the mercy of imposter syndrome, you can take a short quiz here.