How to Stop Feeling Like an Impostor

Jim was in his late 40’s after he graduated from massage school. He was a hard worker but his massage needed improvement and he was aware of this. In fact, he thought he was so bad that he felt like an impostor. I put together a plan and we started working on his massage issues. Soon his massage started to get better, but Jim’s feeling about being an impostor didn’t change. He needed to do one more key thing to make this impostor feeling go away. He needed to fake it ‘til he made (became) it.

The Price to Pay

The price to pay for believing the internal voice that says “you don’t belong here” can be huge. For Jim, it was about relationships. He was a very likable and kind person, but he struggled to stay engaged with family and friends. Massage was a way that he could connect with people through helping them and it could serve as a template for deepening his relationships with the people that were closest to him. If he failed, it would reinforce his habit to isolate himself from friends and family.

Reliable Plan and Feedback

My plan called for Jim to work on fellow MTs because they would give reliable feedback. And after a few sessions, Jim knew he was getting better because his colleagues were giving him good reviews. But that wasn’t enough for Jim to move forward. He continued to refuse to work on a paying customer. Quite frankly, the little voice in his head just wouldn’t shut up.

Fighting the Little Voice

To counter the little voice, I pointed out to Jim that he had graduated from massage school. I also reminded him that though he wasn’t the massage therapist he wanted to be at the moment, he was on track to being that therapist. He agreed with me, but still wouldn’t budge.

So I pulled out the guilt card. In a nice way I let him know that I’d put a lot of time in with him and that our goal wasn’t to just massage MTs. It was to get him comfortable working on people who are paying for his massage. I asked him, as a favor to me, to do the massage on a paying customer even though he felt like an impostor. Unknowingly at the time, I was asking Jim to fake it (pretend he wasn’t an impostor) ‘til he made it (felt like he was a massage therapist). With great angst, Jim agreed to work on a client.

Fake it ‘til You Make It

Faking it, pretending to be something that you’re not feeling, will actually create physiological changes in your body. For example, if you hold a pen in your mouth (which forces you to smile) it can make you feel happy. Researcher Amy Cuddy, in her moving and powerful TedTalk (a game-changing must see video), explains that pretending to be powerful can actually make you feel powerful.

In her experiment participants were asked to hold a high-power pose (e.g., Wonder Woman stance) or low-power pose (e.g., arms drawn in) for two minutes. Participants’ testosterone and cortisol levels were measured before and after they posed. Powerful and effective leaders have high testosterone (which means they’re assertive, confident and optimistic ) and low cortisol (which means they don’t freak out in stressful situations). High-power poses produced a rise in testosterone and a lowering in cortisol, the hormonal characteristics of powerful leaders!

Cuddy concludes: “Our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.” Over time if you fake it, like if you pretend you’re a competent massage therapist even though you don’t feel like it, you can do more than make it—you can become what you’re pretending to be.

Jim Nearly Snapped My Shoulder

Jim “faked it” and the client liked his massage! A few weeks later, he nearly dislocated my shoulder when we high-fived to celebrate his first repeat client. As Jim accumulated more wins, his confidence grew and that little voice fell silent. Jim was not feeling like an impostor any longer. He had become an MT.

Three Steps to Not Feeling Like an Impostor

If you’re feeling the way Jim did, try this: (1) find someone objective in the field of massage who will act in your best interest and give you reliable feedback about your massage, like a fellow MT, a friend (who gets massaged regularly), a teacher or a coach. (2) If you need to tweak your massage, go ahead, but make sure you have confidence in the tweaking plan and continue to massage as many people as you can. (3) If you feel an impostor moment coming on before a massage, hit the bathroom and strike a Wonder Woman pose for two minutes. It’s not rocket science. It’s body language science and it can change your life starting now!

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