My Experience with Imposter Syndrome

What’s Up with Imposter Syndrome?

Share your thoughts and story in the comments below.

In the hidden corridors of our minds, there lurk insidious cognitive monsters that subtly influence our thoughts and actions. One such creature that frequently rears its head, casting self-doubt and sowing anxiety, is known as “Imposter Syndrome.” 

Imposter syndrome can be crippling mentally and emotionally, drain your energy and attention, and cause you to fall short of the performance you are capable of, thus, feeding the cycle of self-doubt.

This psychological phenomenon involves an overwhelming fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of competence and achievement. And if that weren’t enough, our minds are also filled with “Thinking Traps.” These cognitive distortions can lead us to form inaccurate perceptions about ourselves and the world around us. 

I’ve been reading A LOT about thought traps lately and came across this article, “How High Achievers Overcome Their Anxiety,” from HBR. What resonated with me is that I have often been there and had (and still have) some of these crippling thoughts. 

I mean, I read this article and felt SEEN! 👀👀👀

Three Traps to Rule Them All

In this post, there are 11 identified traps, and I could relate in some way to them all. However, there were three that resonated the most: 

All-or-nothing thinking.

“…A tendency to view things as black or white. If a situation falls short of perfection in your eyes, for example, you might see it as a total failure.”

Let’s consider the Learning Rebels Community. It took me WAY longer than it should have to get the community up and running. Why? Because I wanted it to be perfect. Not the best I could give – just the best. I was bogged down with the idea of people expecting perfection. In my heart, I know that wasn’t true, but my brain was on a different path.

I often encourage others to think about “progress rather than perfection.” However, it’s very difficult for me to eat my own dog food and accept the truth of progression.

The ghosts of “all-or-nothing thinking” projects fill my Google files. The partially completed courses, half-written blog posts, and barely begun tools and templates reflect not a lack of effort, but rather a stringent and inflexible approach, wherein anything short of perfection seemed akin to disaster. My audience deserves more!

I am learning to understand and overcome the destructive power of ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ and embrace my own advice that sometimes, “good is good enough” and ‘progress over perfection.’ 


This involves obsessive, repetitive thoughts about negative events in the past, problems we’re having in the present, or ones we anticipate in the future. 

Is this author in my head? For me, I see this trap as the companion piece to “all-or-nothing” thinking trap.

I can be obsessive about my perceived failures. In past lives, I’ve been known to ruminate repeatedly about a poor speaker review, Twitter comments that are rude or uncaring, or creating anxiety-filled moments thinking about a comment I made – did someone take it the wrong way? Why did I do this rather than that? 

Here’s the thing about rumination, I compare it to running on a treadmill. You’re moving a lot, but you’re not getting anywhere. It’s different from helpful thinking because it doesn’t give me fresh ideas or strategies to tackle a problem. I’m just going over the same old stuff, stuck in a loop of negativity. Most likely sitting on the couch with a can of Pringles. 

The author stated this: Future-focused rumination may feel good: If you’re worried about a tough task, you’ll work harder at it; if you’re fretting about a bad outcome, you’ll try your best to avoid it. But it doesn’t really work that way. Obsessing will almost always leave you languishing in a pattern of inaction.

I think there is something to be said about positive self-talk. When you give yourself a pep talk, when you cheer yourself on, you’re not just spinning words. You’re essentially re-wiring your brain to allow your future self to believe in your abilities and possibilities. 

This, admittedly, is difficult for me. It’s much easier to believe the negative. I’m trying to be more mindful of my internal dialogue. When I sense it’s taking over, I go outside or play with the dogs – Break up negative with positive action. 

Social comparison.

“Comparing yourself with others is particularly pernicious, especially when it results in fatalistic self-assessments: He’ll always have higher sales than I do. She’ll always earn more money. …The result is unhealthy competition and heightened anxiety, which stymie collaboration and collective performance.”

This thought trap about DID.ME.IN! 

The mirror of social comparison has, in the past, reflected my distorted image back at me. As I navigated my career, especially after starting Learning Rebels, it was as though everyone else’s successes and achievements served as a yardstick to measure my own worth.

I see people online who have taken an idea I had moons ago and ran with it (some ideas stolen, and others serendipitous). I know my idea was “better,” but they were implementing it better and faster. So is there room for me, my thoughts, my ideas? Why should I even try to compete?

Every aspect of life and business became a battleground for comparison. I was entrapped in a never-ending game of measuring my self-worth against the perceived success of others, a game that often left me feeling inadequate and depressed. 

This cognitive thinking trap of social comparison was my constant companion, and if I’m being brutally honest with myself… it still has its moments.

What we can do

After reading this – you may think I’m in need of puppy playtime. Understandable. However, I share these thoughts with you, not only to help banish them from my mind but to those out there who may be struggling with the same thing. 

And let’s call it out, social media platforms have not helped. Within the L&D industry, many seem to think they sit high above to lord over all that is learning. Heaven forbid you have the temerity to ask a simple question that may go against their thoughts or philosophies regarding workplace learning – You’ll be treated with condescension and patronized – or worse, ganged up on.

I’ve seen it. This is what keeps people in the hamster wheel of thought traps.  

So I write this to tell you that you are not alone. I’m there with you. 

In fact, imposter syndrome, or the prevalence of thought traps, is attributed more to high-performing women. (Therefore, if you are a person who identifies as a woman, I also encourage you to read the following: “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ann Bury.)

The author of the article we’re discussing today provides useful tips to combat these traps. The reoccurring theme tells us that to gain success with the traps is self-acceptance. Recognizing our natural cognitive tendencies, be they impostor syndrome or various thinking traps, is the first step towards freeing the mind. (There is no spoon.)

Rather than resisting these mental patterns or viewing them as personal shortcomings, we can approach them with a sense of self-acceptance and compassion. Acknowledge that “thought traps” are something that everyone has at some point or another and do not reflect on our worth or capabilities. I don’t think we can ever banish the thoughts, but we can guide our minds toward healthier thinking patterns.  

So I hope this article helps – I have said this before on the Learning Rebels Coffee Chats, we have to have grace with ourselves. But I think the author said it more thoughtfully: 

“Practice self-compassion. As the psychology professor Kristin Neff has shown, replacing “self-judgment” with “self-kindness” can greatly reduce anxiety. If you approach yourself more positively, you’ll feel better, think more clearly, and escape the thought traps.”

I encourage all of us to practice a bit of self-compassion.

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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