Why this Impostor had to Wake Up and Ditch the Coffee

A cup of coffee over which you can contemplate the impostor syndrome

I’m not the type of person who likes to waste a doctor’s time, but this was getting serious.

The first time it happened to me was in the beautiful city of Bath. Walking down the long main street that lies at the heart of the shopping area, I rapidly became aware that I was feeling not just light-headed but, somehow, also wasn’t even ‘there’.

I stopped walking.

Can anyone see me?

I had become a phantom presence, an impostor who was now unseen by the crowds scurrying around me. I was no longer occupying the physical space in that street.

As if trying to emerge from the terror of a nightmare, I forced myself back into consciousness to become part of that street scene again.

Frightened by what I had just experienced, I sought out a nearby low wall and tried to compose myself, worried that I might faint if I didn’t quickly sit down.

The moment eventually passed and I, like so many do who have the same experience, reasoned with myself that I had been working too hard, travelling too much and sleeping too little.

That was enough to push the experience out of my head.

Until it happened again.

A parallel universe

A phantom presence - impostors often describe their presence in a role as feeling like a fraud

This time I was in a room facilitating a session. The session was going swimmingly until the moment my brain also started going swimmingly…

Once more, it was the same sensation. One moment I was part of the activity, walking the room, asking questions, making sure we were on track and on time. But the next moment, I was in a parallel universe, watching the proceedings in a ‘disembodied state’.

Worryingly, I found myself within the scene but outside the scene. An impostor that had strangely manifested themselves within that hotel conference room.

Again, I shrugged hard and urged my brain and body back into reality. I placed a hand on a table and pressed my fingers hard against the wood, desperate that it might reassure me that I was conscious, very much alive and not about to keel over in front of the delegates.

I’d had enough. This time I needed to talk to someone.

Why was it happening?

A doctor's stethoscope and pen will not diagnose impostorism as it is a dysfunctional thinking pattern

So, there I sat, on a cold March morning, clean sunlight slanting through the white blinds, ready to tell all to my Doctor.

Of course, my mind had already started to catastrophise what it might be. In my rational moments I knew that there was only one thing worse than knowing what fate might have in store for me, and that was not knowing what fate might have in store for me.

Somewhat embarrassedly, I related my experiences.

The doctor listened, occasionally nodding his head whilst wiping his spectacles with a tissue. Once I’d finished speaking, he remained quiet.

Oh God, I thought, it’s worse than I realised.

Java jive

“Tell me, Mr Heath. Do you drink coffee?”

Bemused by this unexpected turn of conversation, I told him I did.

“How much? And at what time of the day?”

I answered that, usually, I’d drink around 6 or 7 cups before my lunch, and switch to tea for the remainder of the day.

He sighed, turned to his computer and informed me that, if I should halve my coffee intake, the feelings I was experiencing would probably disappear.

I left the surgery completely crushed.

I am not alone

The film director, David Lynch.

Could coffee really produce those unnerving sensations?

As the film director, David Lynch – who created Mulholland Drive, one of my favourite movies – will confirm: it is a lot more powerful than you think.

Lynch often tells the story that his mind-bending plots, bizarre characters and dystopian settings (think Twin Peaks) are the result of massive intakes of Brazil’s finest.

So, if you want to get high, but don’t want to end up with a narcotics charge, then reach for the java, my friend. But make sure you ‘go large’.

Do I deserve to be here?

So, had it all been a waste of my time, never mind the doctor’s?

Well, no. Because, over the ensuing months, the memory of that ‘out of body’ experience returned again and again.

When mentoring certain clients, it suddenly struck me that they were undergoing a similar experience. One they couldn’t account for but was as real as the disembodied sensation I’d felt in Bath.

They talked about how, despite reassurances from everyone around them, they were utterly convinced that they shouldn’t be there. That they were interlopers or bystanders in their roles.

They asked themselves things like…

“How ever did I reach this position?”

“Don’t my bosses realise I’m out of my depth?”

“I was fine in the last position I held, but why did they ever believe that I was capable of doing this job?”

But they did deserve to be in that position. Just as I deserved to be in that busy Bath streetscape or hotel conference room.

The Impostor mentality

A picture of a stone demon. Many who suffer from Impostor Syndrome describe the nagging self-doubt as a voice in their head or a demon on their shoulder.

They were there on merit. Sheer talent had elevated them to a more senior role – but the demon on their shoulder constantly whispered, ‘One day, someone is going to find you out’.

And that demon tortured them all day, every day.

Is such a feeling unusual? The answer is a firm ‘no’. Research has shown that around 70% of people experience the same ‘impostor’ feelings in their career.

That’s why, when I thought about developing my first online workshop, I immediately chose the subject of ‘The Impostor Syndrome’. It is very real, very common and, for those that experience it, very disturbing.

Here is my introduction video to the workshop.

If you, or someone that you are close to, would like to make sure that you feel valid in any work or home arena, then my online course shows you how to sweep that demon off your shoulder, and show up loud and proud in your life.

As the podcasting veteran, Jerod Morris, so brilliantly put it:

A picture of the podcaster, Jerod Morris.

“Showing up isn’t half the battle.

It’s not 90 percent of the battle.

It is the battle.”

Start my interactive online workshop, ‘The Impostor Syndrome – A Survivor’s Guide’, today. Just follow the link to banish the Impostor Demon forever!

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