When I first started writing this column, I suffered from a major case of imposter syndrome. Prior to working for myself, my entire professional life was spent working for a nonprofit.
So, when I saw my byline appearing next to unicorn CEOs and Shark Tank investors, that little voice in my head kept shouting:
You don't belong.
I remember receiving the advice to just "fake it till you make it." Well-meaning people told me to fake my confidence or pretend I was something I'm not--with the goal of eventually learning enough that I became the person I was aspiring to be.
But I discovered big problems with this approach. Eventually, I decided to go a different route.
I doubled down on writing what I knew. I focused on sharing my unique experience. On honing my voice. Then, I reached out to other successful writers and learned from their process.
After much time--and many mistakes--I did find my voice, and discovered an audience of millions who were eager to learn from my own experience.
Nowadays, I like to call this technique L.A.U.G.H: Learn. Apply. Understand. Grow. Help.
The Laugh approach is based on principles of emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. Let's break down how it works, and why it's more effective to build confidence than to fake it.
(If you find value in the Laugh approach, you might be interested in my full emotional intelligence course -- which includes 20 more rules that help you develop your emotional intelligence. Check out the full course here.)
How the Laugh approach helps you fight imposter syndrome and build confidence
The problem with fake it till you make it is that its built on a shaky foundation. Even if others don't know you're confidence lacks authenticity, you do. Instead of combating imposter syndrome, you feed it.
Additionally, plenty of people will see right through that false bravado, and that will work against you in the long run.
In contrast, the Laugh approach is based on authenticity, and encourages a growth mindset. You go in with the conviction that you're starting something new, and that you've got much to learn. But you're also determined to succeed and will do whatever it takes to become the best at what you do.
With Laugh, it doesn't matter if you're starting a new company, a new role, or work with a new client. If you feel like you're in over your head, you embrace that feeling--and use it as a catalyst to work both harder and smarter.
So, how does it work?
Those who fake it till they make it act like know-it-alls; you want to be a learn-it-all. Seek out experts and reach out to them. Invite them to lunch, or for coffee. Ask questions. Learn from their process, their habits. Treat your conversations with them like your favorite podcast interviewer would--sincerely interested in how they do things, in the lessons they've learned, and how those lessons can benefit others (including you).
When you go in with a learning mindset, you respect others' experience. The benefit is twofold: You earn their respect and build your network, and you improve at the same time.
It's scary to try new things. Something that can help is a phrase I learned from a fellow Inc. columnist:
Let's run the experiment.
When you run the experiment, you're eager to try out new ideas and adjust on the fly. Like the time I tried writing a column every day for three months straight. This pace wasn't sustainable for me, but it was never meant to be. It was a "sprint," and I learned tons from it as far as finding the balance between what I wanted to write about, and what resonated with readers.
When you run an experiment, don't worry if things don't go the way you anticipated. You'll make mistakes, things will go wrong. But that's all part of the process of getting better.
No experiment is a failure. It's a learning experience.
As you continue to run the experiment, over and over, you'll start to see patterns.
That's how it was with this column. I realized that, rather than just describe what emotional intelligence was in theory, I needed to provide real-life examples. And when I could take stories from the news or my personal life to serve as those examples, people responded.
You can do the same thing: As you keep trying, analyzing, learning--you'll begin to see what works, and what doesn't. Do it enough times, and you'll develop insights that others don't have.
Here's where lots of people go wrong. Once they understand what works, they stop learning. Now they become "know-it-alls."
Don't do it.
Never consider yourself an expert. Always consider yourself a student. This will allow you to continue to refine your process. To continue adapting. To continue growing.
Steps one through three put you ahead of most others. But step four will put you in the top one percent.
Now you're in a position to help others.
You'd be surprised; it doesn't take as long as you think to reach step five. There are always people a few steps behind you, people who can benefit from what you've already learned. But you can even help those who are more experienced than you--because you bring a unique perspective, a unique set of experiences.
Armed with insight that only you bring to the table, and with a mindset of actually being willing to help others, you'll continue to draw others to you.
If you're like me, whenever you try something new, you'll still fight the same feelings. That same lack of confidence, the same voice that shouts: You don't belong.
But what you need to remember is this:
The people that you're intimidated by? They're just like you. They have strengths, weaknesses, fears. They're good at some things, and not at others.
So, if you're feeling like a small fish in a big tank, forget about faking it till you make it.
Instead, have a good Laugh--and prove that you truly belong.