Last week I was fortunate enough to be featured in a spotlight on a national fitness website. It was a big deal for me, as Girls Gone Strong is a resource I read often, and the women who run the site promote ideals and values that I feel very strongly about. I was both pleased and excited to have the opportunity to be featured among other women with such incredible stories.
The post came out Sunday, but by Monday morning I was overwhelmed with one predominant feeling.
Friends and colleagues shared the post and people threw out all kinds of words that had me hanging my head and kicking my feet on the floor.
I felt so unworthy of the compliments that I regretted doing the interview at all.
My God, I thought. If only they knew the truth.
I have never felt so unworthy of praise in my life as I did last Monday. And the more clients who commented on the post, the worse I felt.
I was completely unprepared and surprised by the intensity of those feelings. In high school when I had success on the softball field I shuffled my feet and deflected attention at every opportunity. I literally hid behind a curtain on stage when I received my first team MVP award and never looked up from my green and blue flannel shirt when I was forced to take center stage and accept it.
Imagine my surprise last Monday when I suddenly felt like that 15-year-old girl who didn’t believe she was worthy of an award.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome.
It’s the idea that what other people are seeing when you accomplish great things is not actually you. It’s an imposter or fraud.
And you wait for them to discover, as you know they will, that you are just average. You’re not worthy of attention, awards - or even kindness.
We compare ourselves with others. We strive to be like the other people in the gym, in our lives, in the world and in the process we never truly believe that we are good enough. We never think we arrive. I think I was most bothered last week by the fact that I’ve done hours and hours and hours of inner work - meditation and life coaching and therapy - and despite all of my efforts when the spotlight shone brightly on me my instinct was to turn and run as far into the shadows as I could.
Even when people offer me a casual compliment I don’t say thank you. If someone offers that I am a good writer, that I am a good coach, or that I have somehow been helpful to them, I say the same exact thing every time:
“That’s kind of you.”
Sometimes I say thank you.
But more often than not, I treat the compliment as a kindness that I’m not deserving of as opposed to words that might really be about me.
And I see this almost every day in the gym.
“You look fantastic.”
“If I could just lose another 15 pounds maybe.”
“You are an inspiration to other gym members.”
“If they knew I’ve been stuck on the same weight for three months I wouldn’t be.”
I don’t know why so many of us, women especially, feel so unworthy of kindness, let alone praise and compliments. Because if someone offered us a criticism, you can be damn sure we’ll believe every single word of it. And we will carry that criticism with us for days, sewing those words right into the fabric of who we are.
Tell me something positive and I deflect it quicker than Wonder Woman deflects a bullet.
Researcher and author Brene Brown says there are no prerequisites for worthiness. She says that it’s not an if/when proposition. I will be worthy if I write a book. You will be worthy if you lose 25 pounds.
We are worthy as we are.
I don’t believe that quite yet. And maybe you don’t either.
But we can hold each other accountable to doing our best to believe that we are, indeed, worthy. Of praise, of kindness, and of basic goodness.