“You suck, and you have everyone fooled into thinking you can do this. But they know you can’t, don’t they? Why would you even try?”
We’ve all heard this voice, belching forth confidence-shattering negativity from an alcove in our heads where it lives, rent-free. The voice seems to exist solely to undermine any effort we would dare take to better ourselves, be it a promotion, a new job or some other hard-earned opportunity.
It’s particularly vile when an opportunity requires us to step outside our comfort zone, and it’s absolutely at its worst when we’re most in need of a vital injection of self-confidence.
This voice is loud, deeply unpleasant and damned convincing.
I call this voice in my head “A. Hole” (or more often “Mr. Hole,” as I refuse to honor him with first-name deference), and he’s been trying to convince me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t try something new, different or challenging for as long as those opportunities have been possible in my life.
I’m guessing you’re acquainted with your version of Mr. or Ms. Hole, too.
For most of us, that contrary inner voice desperately seeks to undermine our efforts. It calls into question every challenge we’re embarking upon and every new direction we would dare to consider.
Even if we’ve already taken the plunge and left our comfort zone, despite his insistence that we shouldn’t or can’t, Mr. Hole will bombard us with assurances that we’ve made a terrible mistake, and we can only keep fooling other people for so long.
For some of us, the voice is louder than it is for others – but nearly all of us struggle with it, and it constantly undermines our attempts to better ourselves.
Often, those who are imminently qualified for leadership positions and have worked to put themselves in a position to apply for and get them, won’t even try. “I couldn’t do that. I’d screw something up. I’m not qualified. I probably wouldn’t get it anyway,” they’ll say, already defeated before they even make the attempt.
You can bet Mr. Hole is there in their heads, unshaven and stretched out on a tattered lawn chair, sipping lukewarm malt liquor in a greasy t-shirt, reveling in the self-doubt he’s sowing.
So, what is this voice? Why is it so strong, and how do we give it the boot (or at least start charging it rent)?
According to researchers with the National Institute of Health, Mr. Hole is, indeed, a known phenomenon. In academic circles, he goes by the name Imposter Phenomenon or Imposter Syndrome.
“Imposter syndrome is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. These individuals cannot internalize their success and subsequently experience pervasive feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and/or apprehension of being exposed as a fraud in their work, despite verifiable and objective evidence of their successfulness.” (Huecker, Shreffler, McKeny & Davis, 2023).
The research on the topic is extensive and goes back several years, having been first described in 1978 by Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D.
Along with the formal recognition and definition of imposter syndrome, researchers have also arrived at proven strategies for quieting the voice and easing the burden that it so often causes.
Jessica Vanderlan, PhD, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggests the following for when you’re being bombarded by your version of A. Hole:
- Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What facts support that you deserve to try for or be in your new role?
- Ask yourself how you might support a friend who minimizes their accomplishments, and then apply the same supportive language to your own narration.
- If you don’t trust your own facts, enlist other people by sharing your imposter feelings – this will open the door for others to share what they see in you. Others see you with a clarity that you often cannot.
While Dr. Vanderlan further suggests that the voice may always make a comeback when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, simple exercises like the ones above can help us begin to quiet it.
Given the knowledge that this unsightly, crippling voice is a recognized phenomenon that nearly all of us deal with helps begin to mitigate and take away its power.
As convincing as your version Mr. Hole may prove to be, refuse to let him hold you back. Give yourself permission to try, and do so with confidence, conviction and the awareness that you have earned the opportunity, no matter what you’re hearing internally.
Someone who desperately needs what you have to offer is counting on you to take the leap.
About Kris Inman:
Kris Inman is the Director of Program Development for The Healthy Dispatcher. A 29-year veteran of 9-1-1, Kris retired in July 2023 as Director of Springfield Greene County 9-1-1 in Springfield, MO. An awarded speaker and instructor, Kris has delivered standout educational sessions, keynotes, motivational talks and yoga instruction to dispatchers across the country. He is also a long-time college adjunct instructor, teaching courses in communication and public safety leadership. Kris holds a Master of Arts in Communication and a Bachelor of Science in Electronic Media from Missouri State University. He is also a registered yoga instructor.