Overcoming impostor syndrome to build your online presence

Posted on March 1, 2021.
Photo 202769941 © VchalupDreamstime.com

Every day at least four YouTube channels hit one million subscribers (source). There are 766 million LinkedIn users. Only 3 million of them share content on a weekly basis (source). Out of tiktok’s 800 million active users, 55% share their own videos (source). There are 850,000 active podcasts available (source). Even if the ratio between creators and consumers is lopsided, these are big numbers, any way you look at them. You may ask yourself then, “What can I contribute that will stand out as unique or original enough to draw some of these consumers to me?” Fair question. 

I remember back in 2003 when I wrote my first blog post I asked myself that very question. You can imagine that back then (nearly 20 years ago now) these numbers were much smaller and yet, even then, it felt like everything about everything had already been written and said. What did I know that I could share that would add value, not noise, and introduce me to my industry and peers in the hopes of building an audience. I’d only be working professionally for about 5 years. I wasn’t even sure how to communicate to my audience of designers and web developers. I certainly didn’t know how to write. I felt like an impostor. 

Fast forward 18 years and I’ve done a decent job of building a platform and an audience for myself across various social media platforms and have established myself as a recognized expert in my field. But that feeling of being an impostor? It’s never gone away. 

Impostor syndrome is defined as believing you are, “…undeserving of [your] achievements and the high esteem in which [you] are, in fact, generally held. [You] feel that [you] aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about [you].” The definition goes on to say that highly accomplished people are often the most likely to suffer from this condition. Much of it is driven by a quest for perfectionism — that feeling that you can always write something a bit better, sharpen your skills a bit finer, learn more about a subject before sharing anything publicly. In my career I’ve tried sharing my expertise in virtually every way. I eventually found my groove with public speaking, writing (to my surprise) and teaching.

The time spent figuring out how to best reach an audience, grow my network and become a thought leader in my space helped me overcome the never-ending clawing of impostor syndrome. In my experience there were two things that helped me get comfortable with sharing my ideas publicly and creating the online presence I talk about in Forever Employable:

  1. Telling my story — If there’s one thing I’m confident I know it’s what I’ve done. I know the challenges I’ve overcome. The work I’ve done. The failures that didn’t work out. The tactics and experiences that got in my way and the ones that made me successful at work. Telling my story helped me build my confidence. “I’m not an impostor if I tell a story about myself” is how I rationalized it. And that’s my advice to you — start telling your story. You know it. You lived it. Share it broadly. Share the wins and the losses. It humanizes you. It turns your two-dimensional profile picture into a three-dimensional living, breathing human with feelings, emotions and experience. It doesn’t have to be a story of high-level expertise. It can be about how you started your career or mistakes you made when you were younger. People are always looking for validation that their path is correct. If yours is similar to theirs, they’ll find value in it. There’s an extra bonus to telling your story — no one else has it, literally. No one can tell it because it’s your unique experience.

  2. Quantity over quality — French Enlightenment writer Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” You’ve probably heard that before. If we seek perfection, you’ll be searching forever. That blog post will never be perfect. That powerpoint deck will always need work. It doesn’t matter. Just ship it. The more you ship — the more ideas you put out in public — the easier it becomes to do it again. Each time you publish an idea, you’re experimenting with that idea, the format, the channel and the audience. Every tweet, blog post or video teaches what to publish next. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more comfortable you become putting your ideas out to your audience. While you may never achieve your ideal level of quality (and you shouldn’t try) it doesn’t really matter because quality is ultimately perceived by your audience. You may love it or hate it but if they choose to read it, share it and learn from it then it was of high quality. 

Like any anxiety, your goal is to mitigate impostor syndrome rather than outright defeat it. Sharing material you’re comfortable with that only you can share, continuously and frequently gives you a fighting chance to not only ignore the voice of impostor syndrome but also of being heard within your community. So just go ahead, ship it. 

Next month, the second cohort of Becoming Forever Employable is kicking off. It’s a 10-week online workshop where I will coach you and a small cohort of colleagues to establish your online presence, build your thought leadership and monetize your expertise. Learn more here