Towards the end of my last overview update post I expressed some of the topics that my experiences have lead me to learn about first hand. While everything might feel idealistic and smooth, that rarely tends to be the case. It’s what I show, but not always how I live. The first listed topic to come was Imposter Syndrome, which I find so fascinating. It’s something that allegedly 70% of all people have felt at least once in their lifetime, and once I realized that it felt like a ‘perfect storm’ type of topic to talk about.
For those that don’t know, imposter syndrome is “the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area,” according to Very Well Mind. It’s a branch off of the tree of self-doubt, it can create restlessness and nervous energy; and it links directly to perfectionism, social constructs, and perceptions. It’s one of the ‘other sides’ to success that many deal with, so why not bring it to the table when talking about sharing perspectives?
It’s a feeling that most athletes of the collegiate level and beyond feel often. I am not immune to the feeling myself. But, I’ve identified that I can break it down and overcome it. Let’s dive in.
For relatability sake, there are allegedly five categories of imposter syndrome. I don’t know which I’d identify with, and I don’t know if you’d identify with any either, but here they are:
- The perfectionist
They always look for things to go “perfectly”. Their main concern is “how” something is done. A slight error or defect is enough to classify it as a failure and it leads to feelings of shame and guilt.
- The expert
Experts seek to know everything. Their main concern is about “what” and “how much” they know or can do. In the face of even the slightest lack of knowledge about something they feel like a failure.
- The soloist
They need to do things alone without help from anyone. If someone helps them, they interpret it as a sign of their weakness and failure.
- The natural genius
They aim to achieve their goals quickly and effortlessly. They begin to doubt themselves and feel very ashamed when things start to get difficult, they can’t achieve it in their first try.
- The Super Man / The Super Woman
Their success is based on how many different roles they can play. They need to be a good father/mother, son, partner, boss, brother, and/or friend, among others. They always work longer and do not take days off. If they can’t play any of the many roles perfectly, they feel like a complete fraud.
As you start to introspectively think about yourself from reading those, allow me to tell how some of my experiences shaped my perspectives on these feelings. Like I said, I’m not even sure I align with any of those directly, but those are the categories the smart people of the world have laid out for us.
Every year I pick a ‘word of the year’ and then analyze if I stayed true to my word before picking another. While this is not that particular post, it is certainly related. For 2022 I picked the word ‘trailblaze,’ meaning to create a path where there was not one before. In order to set out to do that, I wrote these words:
If, by definition, I am choosing to make a trail where there wasn’t one, then I have to live by what I believe – not by what others don’t see.
Right off the bat I accepted alienation. Acting on what I believe is present and possible isn’t relatable to others because they simply can’t see it. For the most part. The key to overcoming the self-doubt thoughts of fraud has a lot to do with who you put around you and what type of roles they play. That’s what I’ve found to be true.
When I look back on this year, I did what I set out to do. While the work isn’t finished, I can sit back and say I did create paths and opportunities for not only myself, but for others. We launched Route One Apparel’s first ever student-athlete collaborative clothing line with the goal of helping athletes born in Maryland understand that they have business opportunities locally by staying in Maryland to play collegiately. We started a show to help tell the stories of Towson University and bring light to the characters that make these stories possible. We created a resource based campaign to inspire young diabetic athletes to continue the pursuit of their dreams despite the volatility of their diagnoses. Those are the big milestones that jump out to me.
In all of those instances, and many more that I have brewing, I’m trying to be a change agent. Being a change agent is dangerous. Being a change agent is lonely. Being a change agent is frustrating.
When you go through processes of meetings, sketches, conversations, graphics, production, interviews, brainstorms, etc. to bring new ideas to life that the success of is entirely dependent upon other people’s perceptions… that’s scary.
The same goes for sports and training, practices, film study, treatment, recovery, diet, teamwork, and on and on, all to strive for excellence on the field of play that is not anywhere close to guaranteed… that’s scary.
So all of these efforts either fail or succeed, right? That’s pretty black and white, right? Not quite. Failure is failure, sure. But there is still self-doubt in success.
Take an example of when a success hits. There are times where I have sat and looked at myself in a newspaper or on the news and thought about how other people might view that. It’s so easy to guess how other people might feel about or perceive you, especially in a negative way. I’ve always been one to suggest most people run on jealousy, envy and greed. That’s a wild mental formula, particularly when you yourself wonder what you’ve done to earn such recognition.
Furthermore, there are most definitely times where plans don’t go as planned. There are certainly words I say to elicit one type of reaction that draw the opposite. There are occasionally actions with intentions that are misunderstood. That all happens due to changed perceptions of my external environment.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but I can usually contain the doubt because of what I actually here from those around me. Like I’ve written before, seeing is knowing. When these thoughts start to creep in, I usually have the words of others to shut them down.
Ironically enough, in the midst of all of this, I took a class this semester about using media to be a change agent. So, I took a topic that I’ve been working closely with and that I care about and made it into my project. I don’t think I gave myself enough credit for what I was doing, and I definitely didn’t expect the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got from my professor. A piece of that feedback read:
Your story is full of many leadership lessons that people can learn from. Your why was enlightening- always stay true to your story- it is your story that is the most valid piece of “evidence” that there is — no matter what anyone says.
With change agents, there is often a problem they face – in that they begin to doubt themselves and lose motivation as change takes time – to persevere and know you do influence one person at a time– and then the ripple continues for a long, long time.
Deep down, I knew and understood that, but I had to hear it. That’s extremely valuable and powerful feedback. That set a lightbulb off in my head that even in times of doubt or question I am at complete peace with what I am doing. Every time thoughts of doubt creep in, I rely on words like those. I had gotten them from many more sources than her for much longer, and that’s the lesson of it all.
I heard from people all of the time all year. People all over the country hitting me up after watching one of our games. People coming out of the wood works giving words of encouragement and prayer after my injury. People noticing Towson through my mediums now more than ever. People reading these posts, or watching episodes of the show, or reading articles, and then contacting me. People with diabetes identifying me as a role model. I’ve heard it all, and that conquers all doubt. That is what we do this for – each other.
On an even more personal level, overcoming these fraudulent thoughts is dependent upon who you have around you, and how their morals, values, and motivations align with yours. Their patience, empathy, kindness, respect, and integrity also matter as well. Just as yours matters to them.
As I look around my life, I find blessings of decade long friendships, a family that is going to always care about and love me (and always tell it like it is), and various members of supporting cast that have various necessary roles.
For perspective, do you know who I can see struggling with this concept of loneliness and imposter syndrome? Tom Brady. That’s a man whose entire identity is being a football player and father. Now he’s playing on a below average team for the first time in years and lost his wife to divorce and hence lost time with his kids in the process. That man is lost, and I can guarantee there is an internal questioning of what this is all about, what he deserves/earned, and how to get out of it when he sits in his home. I can see it in his eyes.
So, as I was saying, just as those people have empowered me, I look to empower others in return tenfold. That’s why I share all that I do. We all have stories. We all have moments. We all have motivations, and perspectives, and talents, and things that make us who we are – and all of those attributes are valid. They are the truth, yet they are not perfection. We learn nothing from perfection.
Figuring out who matters to you and why, and then placing them into the roles that best suit your needs is a beautiful thing. Tim Grover put it best in his book “Relentless”. The title of the chapter was You trust very few people, and those you trust better never let you down. Ain’t that the truth. Here’s what he said:
Because no matter who you are, part of success means recognizing the people who can help you get to where you want to go, and putting all the best pieces in place. You have to surround yourself with people who can operate at your level of demanding excellence. You can’t be unstoppable, or even great, if you can’t do that. And it’s probably the hardest thing for (you) to do.
You already know when people say, “It’s lonely at the top,” they’re talking about you.
Find the people that tell you they’re proud of you. Find the people that are going to brainstorm and problem solve with you. Find the people with the drive to do whatever their goals require. Find the people that are going to look out for you when you can’t see what’s best for yourself. Also find the people that are going to keep you accountable and tell you when you are wrong and why. Be all of those things for others. The problem is these typed of people do not exist in abundance, but authenticity attracts authenticity.
And if you cannot find those people in your life yet – you are not alone. Trust your faith, talk to God, seek what truth the scripture unveils to you. You think Jesus didn’t have to face doubt of nonbelievers? That’s what his entire life was about. If you face these feelings there are words of the Good Book that will tug on your mind and heart, and then the lessons and people that you need will integrate themselves into your life. That’s always how it’s works.
I always give people the advice to just be themselves. The most effective relationships in your life will appear when you are just being yourself… because those people are attracted to you authentically. That’s where I’ve found success with those around me. I’m also careful about who gets my attention. I take a lot into account when figuring out who matters to me – and when I find those people I give them my all for as long as they deserve it. As my buddy Tim Grover says, “count on few people, and if they’re one of them, they’ve earned it.“
That idea goes hand in hand with knowing your worth, which is almost guaranteed to be the topic of my next post. That’s a nearly seamless topic to transition to.
So, thank you to those who have been a part of this trailblazing theme in my life. I appreciate you more than you know. There are more of you than you realize. Thank you also to those who say it can’t be done. I encourage you to watch it be done.
It hasn’t always been easy, but what I’ve done isn’t possible without you and your words and actions to support my never ceasing brain. I look forward to taking a dive into self-worth and then my ever so greatly anticipated word of the year for 2023 within the next two weeks.
Be well, my friends. Don’t be afraid of your truths. Tell your stories.