THE BLOG

A Cure for Impostor Syndrome?

19/08/2013 14:06 BST | Updated 18/10/2013 10:12 BST

Until very recently I suffered from the frightfully fashionable inferiority complex known as Impostor Syndrome. I.S (which no one calls it, by the way) had me in its a grips and, across many walks of life, was reaching all-consuming levels. Then recently, I found an accidental cure which has enabled me to overcome Impostor Syndrome, hopefully for good. What's more, I'm willing to bet my cure will work for other impostors too.

Impostor Syndrome describes the status of feeling like you don't know as much as you think you know on a given subject, that those around you know infinitely more, and that you might be found out as a fraud at any minute. Sound familiar? It's a problem from which even the most successful and outwardly confident people suffer. When I discovered that such a condition existed, I realised that it aptly described my own feelings during every job I had ever had: despite being a relatively high career achiever through my early 20s and going on to start my own company at 27, I never felt like I knew what I was doing and was always worried I'd be discovered as an impostor. Even 5 years into my by-then-thriving business, I'd frequently turn up to the most innocuous meetings with sweaty palms, expecting everything to fold due to my own ineptitudes, even though I'd probably had the meeting dozens of times before, and would have spent the night before cramming with unnecessary amounts of research and list-making. I noticed the same pattern affecting personal relationships too. Thanks to Impostor Syndrome, I had become irrational, and it was starting to get in the way of my life.

Then in March 2013, I rebooted my lifestyle, and everything changed. The central theme of this lifestyle reboot/experiment (which I call My Year In Flux) is the importance of constantly embracing novelty. I now believe that simply undertaking the regular process of trying something new is a MAJOR antidote to Impostor Syndrome.

Let me explain how this worked for me: thanks to the lifestyle reboot, my 'job' for the year is to try my hand at a new skill or experience every 7 days and then write about it on my blog, and I complete my 'work' whilst backpacking in a southerly direction through the Americas. The new routine means my toolkit for life is now pretty different too, and I find little opportunity for wallowing in material possessions now that my entire world is contained in a 40 litre backpack. In short, the living, working and consuming parts of my life revolve almost entirely around novelty, andI believe that the psychological boost contained within this diet of newness has enabled me to overcome Impostor Syndrome.

So where is the link between newness and Impostor Syndrome? It's devilishly simply. I no longer have any space for experience or expertise, nor therefore is there room for impostor anxiety. Every few days, as I touch down in a new place and a new Weekly Challenge dawns, I'm starting afresh. Last week I arrived in the Amazon, knee-deep in truly incredible scenery and wildlife, yet unable to snap away at it due to my latest weekly challenge, Mental Photography, which required me to put my camera down for a week and absorb the environment through my eyes instead of a lens. This week, I'm bussing my way down to the Bolivian Salt Flats whilst attempting to learn Coin Magic, and getting some pretty odd looks while I'm at it!

My life has become an iterative process of trial-and-error, a series of episodic experimental escapades, and through this constant flow of new sights and sounds, new challenges and new limitations, I have found, to my surprise, that my mind has begun to work in positive new ways too. By the time I move on to a new challenge and (usually) a new location, I've digested exactly a week's worth of information about a new subject and a new place. A week isn't a big unit of knowledge, it doesn't promise black belt status, it merely shows a healthy curiosity with those unknown, unexplored cul-de-sacs we spend most of our adult lives avoiding. For example during my Surf Challenge I spent a week slowly gaining confidence on the board, before almost drowning in a dangerous pacific rip current. Not great, but then I didn't set out to become a great surfer in a week, I set out to try surfing, simply because I'd always wanted to, and danger is a big part of the sport, after all, so perhaps my week was indicative of how my surf career might have gone if pursued further. And this, for me, is the crux of the psychological development I've enjoyed through My Year In Flux: instead of feeling the frustrating urge to master a subject to the point where I could never be 'found out' as an impostor, I spend my days basking in flux and uncertainty, lustrously loping through the long grass of yet another new subject, knowing that however badly this week might go (and with the surfing it could barely have gone worse), I'll be rebooting again next week with a new place and a new challenge, accompanied only by my supportive and ever-patient wife and the same tiny 40 litre bag of essentials.

In this Flux lifestyle then, where there is no space for success or specialism, nor room for corrosive habits, comforts and laziness, I can say that I no longer feel like I am going through life as an impostor. Novelty has taken me hook-line-and-sinker and in six short months I have become a healthier, happier person, and now that I have made this discovery, I want to encourage other impostors to get off the sofa and into the novelty zone, because if you can get even 10% of the newness I'm enjoying each week, you'll find it's a very healthy place to be. And believe me, I know what I'm talking about.

Find out what new challenge David is taking on this week