A Freelancer’s Battle with Imposter Syndrome
And how I kicked it to the curb.
When I realized I had a problem
Early in 2020, pre-pandemic, I decided to pick up more freelance work. The plan was to expand my skillset and portfolio, and eventually go into business for myself.
I had been in marketing and communications for over a decade, working mostly with nonprofits and smaller organizations. In that time, I became well-versed in digital communications and discovered a knack for email marketing, content marketing, and writing in general. I worked my way into the role of a communications director for a religious institution, but quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever.
I knew I needed to blow the dust off my online portfolio and grow my repertoire of clients before I could jump off the cliff. So like most, I started reaching out to people I knew, asking if they knew anybody who needed a writer.
Eventually, I connected with an old friend who needed help writing some marketing materials for his company. Knowing it was something I was more than capable of doing, I pitched the project, and I guess because it was the right price, he hired me.
That’s when I started hyperventilating.
I broke into a cold sweat. My breathing increased and grew shallow. My vision narrowed. My brain swelled with thoughts of inadequacy. I was on the verge of a panic attack. All because I felt like I was faking it.
What the hell did I think I was doing? Who did I think I was taking on this task? Surely, I would fail.
And I quickly realized I had a bigger problem.
The dirty details of Imposter Syndrome
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Gill Corkindale defines imposter syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”
For sufferers, self-doubt runs rampant. No matter how successful you may be in a particular field, you’re wholly incapable of internalizing your accomplishments. Instead, all you can see is your perceived inability, lack, or “failure.”
To no surprise, imposter syndrome is a common problem with perfectionists (a term, with which, I unfortunately identify).
Corkindale shares that researchers think it can be traced back to childhood (one of those ol’ nature vs. nurture scenarios). But no matter its genesis, it manifests in a multitude of ways.
Personally, I’ll believe the lie of “I’m not good enough.”
This lie is a slithering poison that quietly works itself into every sacred corner of my mind. When it finally takes hold, my mental clarity is completely incapacitated. All I “see” is my lack of ability, knowledge, and the feeling that I’m engaging in one giant, deceptive con.
Since I was beginning my journey into freelancing full-time, I knew I needed someone to help me overcome this problem — and fast. Thankfully, I found a guy.
My hero’s name? Todd Herman.
Creating my “Alter Ego Effect”
I’m a member of the Copywriter Underground. It’s a group of marketing writers, freelancers, and business owners who rub shoulders virtually (and in real life) to be better at their craft.
One day while scrolling through our private Facebook group, someone shared that they wrestled with imposter syndrome. There was a book by a dude named Todd Herman, called The Alter Ego Effect (← hey-o, affiliate link), that helped them in their struggle and they recommended we check it out.
So I did what anybody quietly suffering would do: I scurried on over to Amazon and purchased that baby! (You can download the first chapter for free here ← and I promise I’m not being paid to write that).
Todd has spent the last 20+ years helping athletes, entrepreneurs, and other leaders successfully meet their goals. These people range from Olympic athletes to CEOs of very large companies. During that time, he figured out what worked and what didn’t.
One of his biggest secrets to success and overcoming imposter syndrome? The right mindset. And it just happens that’s what The Alter Ego Effect helps you accomplish.
Sidebar: If you’re struggling with deep-rooted past mental or emotional trauma, this book will not help you. But a therapist can help (more below).
How it works
The Alter Ego Effect is about making sense of the various roles we play during the day and then locking-in on performing one (or more) of them successfully. Todd recommends you do this by:
(1) identifying your field of play;
(2) creating a superhero-like secret identity; and
(3) activating it when the time is right.
In other words, and excuse the gross oversimplification, determine where you’re struggling and how you want to succeed. Once you do that, identify who you need to be in order to make that a reality.
I’ll walk you through a 30,000-foot view of what I ended up with.
How I developed my alter ego
After I bought Todd’s book, I started methodically working through every exercise he put in it.
I identified my field of play (i.e. freelance business owner) and then mapped out my alter ego’s emotional connections, characteristics, beliefs, worldview, and so much more.
It was a lot.
By the time it was all said and done, I had created a powerfully strong mental (and written) image of the person I was genuinely hoping to one day be — the person who was going to kick my imposter syndrome to the curb.
So, who is he?
When it comes to business, my alter ego’s great at networking, excels at sales calls, and performs his work without fear of rejection. He’s always looking for the best in others, remains upbeat, and generously gives back to his community.
In addition to that, my alter ego is a quiet, strong, confident leader. He’s sociable, easygoing, knowledgeable, and optimistic.
Todd also recommends you find a way to “activate” your alter ego, something you physically do to “turn it on.” Some of his clients put on a piece of jewelry, some listen to a song, while others might perform a certain movement. I chose to activate mine by slipping a ring on my finger that I carry in my pocket.
For me, one of the most transformative exercises in the book was a fictitious conversation with my alter ego. Once I had all of the details fleshed out, Todd had me imagine myself stuck on an elevator with the guy.
What did we talk about? How did he dress? What was his charisma like? All the things.
I wrote over 10 pages of me imagining a conversation with this fella’. It was a big shock to my system, and by the time I was finished writing, I felt a stronger personal connection to my alter ego. When I slipped on my ring, I knew what was going to come next.
This is great Matt, but how’s it working for you?
It’s been exactly one year since I finished The Alter Ego Effect and identified exactly who I want to become.
Personally, I’m much more confident in my skills and abilities than I was before. Whenever I have any hesitations about trying something new, I “slip” into my alter ego’s state of mind and quickly tackle what’s in front of me. And when I need to be social and outgoing, it helps to step into my alter ego for an hour or so.
I mentioned earlier that I used to wrestle with the “I’m not good enough” thoughts. While they’re still a present nuisance, the power they have over me has significantly diminished. My alter ego helped me start breaking out of that lie, but what really helped was going to therapy…
Toward the end of last year, I decided to take more control of my mental health. There were other issues in play besides my level of confidence as it related to my business.
My therapist kindly walked me through some childhood memories and conditioning that hard-wired my perfectionistic tendencies, tendencies that fueled the crippling “I’m not good enough” narrative, and my imposter syndrome.
Today, there are actually times I forget to turn my alter ego “on.” It’s getting easier to not separate him from me. As time wears on, and to no one’s surprise, I realize there is no difference between me and my alter ego. We’re the same person because, truthfully, I’ve been him all along.
Kick imposter syndrome in the backside.
Does this sound like a process that might help you? I recommend you check out Todd’s book The Alter Ego Effect. If you’re lucky, it might even be available at your local library.
And if you feel like you need something more programmatic, you can enroll in the Alter Ego Effect Method Masterclass. It’s an online intensive packed with videos, resources, worksheets, and a private community designed to help you get the most out of Todd’s methodology.
What have you done to combat imposter syndrome? Leave a response below and let me know.
I’m always looking for good advice to pass along to my community.
** I need to be clear, I was NOT ASKED and I am NOT being paid to promote Todd Herman’s products on his website (aside from the one Amazon affiliate link, which gives me a small kickback on… Amazon.. not related to Mr. Herman at all). I genuinely found them helpful and transformative when it came to my personal life and business. Simply sharing the love. **