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Fighting Phyllis: facing Imposter Syndrome


“There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves. Period.”

It was like the slap in the face I needed. I read this quote, jumping out at me from my phone in stark white type on a black background, when scrolling through Instagram. 

And I read it again. And again.

The quote was posted by motivational speaker and public relations director Carlii Lyon. With my curiosity piqued, I began looking more closely at Carlii’s feed. It was as if her quotes, her message and her mission were speaking directly to me.

You see, I’ve been a long-time sufferer of something known as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It’s the crippling belief that you’re not good enough; that you’re not worthy of your seat at the table; that what you have to say does not matter; and that any moment now, someone is going to tap you on the shoulder and expose you as some sort of ‘imposter’ pretending to be someone who actually does know what they’re doing.

Just a few months or even weeks ago, I would never have dared to write this story I share with you now. The thought of actually admitting to a larger audience beyond my closest family and friends that Imposter Syndrome and I had been well acquainted for decades was nauseating. Worse than suffering it, I didn’t need to admit I suffered from it, right?

But here’s what has changed, what I’ve learned and why it's liberating for me to write these words. There are ‘sufferers’ walking amongst us, every day, in every single field you can think of: high-ranking officials, professionals at the top of their game, elite athletes, entertainers in the public eye – and yet, we mistakenly believe we are alone.

My daily dose of Carlii Lyon was beginning to pull at a nerve I’d tried to soothe in various ways over the years – some through healthy means such as meditation, therapy, devouring self-help books, yoga, gratitude journals, positive affirmations and various courses – to unhealthy means such as over-eating, isolating myself when I’ve felt down, drinking too much when I was younger for Dutch courage or just slipping into self-pity.

But Carlii was tapping at my social media ‘window’, with her glowing red-lipped smile and fabulous heels. I had recently re-connected with one of my best high school friends, Janine, when we’d met up to attend a Business Chicks breakfast together. It was here that I mentioned Carlii and her one-day Brand in You workshops. There was soon going to be a workshop taking place in Sydney.

“That workshop looks great and reasonable. I’m keen,” messaged Janine.

It was almost the answer I didn’t want to hear – I was running out of excuses to talk myself out of enrolling.

“Okay….but I’m scared. Have to put myself out there,” I admitted in a sheepish reply.

“I’m scared too… we’ll be scared together."

Almost two months after Carlii’s probing post had been niggling at my subconscious, I booked for two to attend 'The Brand in You' workshop in Sydney. 

Carlii Lyon The Brand in You
From left: Katrina Holden, Carlii Lyon and Janine Botha.

In the meantime, I also started reading the excellent book (recommended by Carlii on her feed) called The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom by Dr Russ Harris.

In his book, Dr Harris reminds readers that humans are hard-wired from evolution to have constant, negative thoughts. It stems back to the very origins of our species where literal survival meant looking over one’s shoulder, aware of dangers and predatory threats – the fight or flight response. To try and pretend we’ll never have negative thoughts is setting ourselves up for certain failure. Rather, as Dr Harris explains, we need to learn how to ‘defuse’ our negative thoughts that will constantly come into our mind. To wait to take action until we feel supremely confident is a mistake. He recommends these three key steps to defuse negative thinking:

Notice it

Name it (hi there Phyllis – that’s the name I’ve given my negative nag inside my brain)

Neutralise it

At Carlii’s Sydney workshop, the room was filled with an incredible mix of talented, interesting and vibrant women. Ranging in age, some were senior executives at leading multi-national companies; others ran their own and multiple successful businesses; others were starting out in their careers or changing direction; and others had survived major traumas such as life-threatening illnesses and serious mental health issues.

Listening as we all began to open up, it was apparent I was among women who were, quite literally, survivors. There was such strength and gentleness in the room; there was achievement but also humility. There was bravery, courage and determination. There was a willingness to share business advice and guidance with one another. And yet, we were all there because we wanted clarity about our own personal brand, how to put ourselves out there, learning why being vulnerable and risking the feedback of naysayers is the only way forward, and finding the courage to believe why our voice matters.

Carlii Lyon The Brand in You
Attendees at The Brand in You. Image: Prue Aja Photography, courtesy of Carlii Lyon.

In one of our exercises towards the close of the day, we were asked to write ourselves a letter today that was written by our ‘future self’ – allowing her to thank us for committing to our dreams despite our insecurities.

Whilst some of the earlier questions had been difficult to answer, and we’d stumbled many times to define personal attributes, when it came to this letter my pen was powered by a force, or dare I say it, a confidence that I can’t explain.

Without pausing for 10 minutes, I hand-wrote the following letter from my future self:

Dear Katrina,

Thank you for all the hard work and all the vision you have used to create me, your future self.

Every time you felt like giving up, that you weren’t good enough – and yet, you battled on.

And for the mistakes you made along the way, you have learned something from every one of these. Each mistake has been a thread in the yarn of your life, creating a perfectly imperfect tapestry.

For all the times you chose love over fear, go girl.

For all the kindness, love and selfless moments you’ve shared with your children, partner, siblings, parents and friends – all of it has mattered.

Each joy and each sorrow hasn’t come easy.

You have maintained dignity when you had every right to scream out loud.

You have respected yourself and others along the way – and for the few times you didn’t, you have at least owned it.

Thank you for doing all the hard work on yourself to constantly grow and become the best version of yourself.

Thank you for using your gift, your words, and for having the courage to put them out there into the world. The things you wrote mattered – they touched people more than you know.

Every letter, birthday card, the lunchbox notes you wrote to your kids, the Valentine’s Day cards to your partner, the poem to your father, the blog posts, the travel stories, the social media posts….. you put them out there and the words had impact – even if it only affected one person.

Don’t shrink from who you are. You are meant to shine and meant to love and meant to live your life with truth and purpose.

You will never be alone.

After connecting with fellow attendees on LinkedIn and leaving on a high, despite the realisation we were all heading out into Friday afternoon Sydney traffic, I headed to the carpark, chatting to some of the ladies I hadn’t yet had a chance to speak with.

“And what do you do, what’s your story?” I’m asked.

Without pausing or missing a step in my hot pink heels, I recite my new personal brand statement that is penned in my The Brand In You booklet now sitting like precious gold in my Kate Spade bag.

“I am Katrina. I am an editor and journalist. I curate and create engaging travel stories and content to help people discover the transformative power of travel and to learn about different places, people and culture.”

Turns out, there is a brand in each of us. Eat that Phyllis!

Katrina Holden editor and journalist
My home office space, now with Carlli's quote and business card pinned as a reminder.

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For more information on Carlii Lyon’s courses visit her website here

And for your own daily dose of motivation, follow Carlli on Instagram. 

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