In this “Just Melissa” two-part episode, Melissa (she/her) talks about imposter syndrome: the behaviors she’s noticed contributing to this feeling in her own life, and her own practical tips to keep imposter syndrome at bay. She also talks about how to stop being so judgmental of others, and offers three concrete strategies for rewiring your brain out of the habit of judgment and back onto the path of your highest self.
THIS EPISODE’S GUEST
Whole30 Head Mistress, Co-Founder
Hi, my name is Melissa urban and you’re listening to do the thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick.
Today I’m answering two of your questions, Dear Melissa style. First I’ll talk about impostor syndrome, something we have all experienced. I remember doing some research into impostor syndrome when whole 30 was in its early days and I was struggling and the best advice I could find was it’s totally normal. Fake it till you make it, which actually backfired for me to be honest. Now, a decade later, I’ve learned some really practical tips you can employ right away to keep imposter syndrome at bay and I’ll tell a few stories from my own life to illustrate my points. Second, let’s talk about judgement specifically how you can stop being so judgmental of others. You know how if you say a word too many times in a row, it completely loses its meaning. Judge Judgment Judgy, we’re there at this point, but in this exploration I will talk about the last time I got super judgey on someone and offer three concrete strategies for rewiring your brain out of the habit of judgement and back onto the path of your highest self.
Today’s theme is awareness, being brave enough to identify behaviors that aren’t serving you. Notice how you could flip the script and commit to doing your own work. I hope by exploring these stories you’ll have your own light bulb moment and successfully do the thing.
This segment of Dear Melissa didn’t come as the result of one specific question, but it’s something you’ve asked me about on social media. Time and time again to discuss and the subject at hand is imposter syndrome. I’m very familiar with imposter syndrome, but before I talk about my own experience, this is how I think about imposter syndrome. It’s walking around saying to yourself, at some point, these people are going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. Somebody is going to come along and take a good hard look at my work performance. The advice I’m giving, the leadership I’m giving in my community, and they’re going to say, oh my gosh, you are wholly unqualified for this role and they’re going to strip me of all my and accomplishments. Imposter Syndrome basically means you’re walking around feeling like a fraud, and this very often manifests professionally in your career, but it can also manifest socially.
The irony of impostor syndrome is that we’re all walking around from time to time thinking, oh my gosh, I’m a giant fraud. They’re going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m not qualified to do this, that other people could do it so much better than me. They’re the real deal. I’m the one who doesn’t know what I’m doing, but everyone is walking around feeling like this. We have this weird disconnect and that we see these qualities in other people but can’t see them in ourselves, and that’s ironic because we can’t possibly know what’s happening with these other people. I don’t know what challenges or struggles or hardships they have or how they feel about their own work product or level of success, and we assume that for some reason we don’t deserve, we haven’t earned our place, which makes us feel like a fraud and this imposter syndrome really holds us back in life.
It will keep you from speaking up with a great idea. It will keep you from applying for that job because you feel like you’re unqualified or once you get into the position, they’ll figure out you don’t know what you’re doing. It holds us back in so many ways because we feel like we aren’t empowered to be our full selves. I have a lot of experience with imposter syndrome. In fact, my impostor even has a name. She’s whole 30 Melissa and whole 30 Melissa is so much more polished and professional and perfect than plain old just Melissa. I think I felt like I needed to become whole 30 Melissa in the early days of whole 30 for a few reasons. One, I was paying so much attention to what I thought people expected of me. I was sort of thrust into this like leadership role. That program was growing so fast and I felt like I had to meet people’s expectations.
Not that I knew your expectations by the way. I just assumed that you needed me to eat perfectly to have all of these lifestyle factors in line to be blissfully happy and always positive and always polished and that was who I strive to be in the public eye. So at seminars, on social media, at in person events, I gave you this like facade that I thought you needed but made me feel awful because I knew that I wasn’t this perfect, polished, positive person all the time. So I felt like I was an imposter for that reason alone. I also felt like an impostor with respect to the subject material I was being asked to give expert opinions on, particularly around the science. Part of it was that I didn’t have a degree in nutrition and I didn’t have this science background and to be honest, the science has never been my thing.
I’ve relied on other people, medical doctors, registered dieticians, biochemists to advise me on the science and I understand enough of it of course to be able to explain, but digging into the research papers and reading them, that was never my thing. It wasn’t what I was good at and it wasn’t what I enjoyed doing, but especially in the beginning of whole 30 in the first few years I felt like I had to be able to answer any question that someone threw at me, whether it was about motivating change or habit or about some super sciency biochemistry concept. It made me feel so insecure all the time. I would most of the time just like try to pull answers out of my butt. And I knew maybe just enough for the lay person to think I knew what I was talking about, but my goodness, if I ever got into a discussion with someone who knew their stuff, it was immediately clear that I couldn’t keep up.
And the very act of trying to keep up was so devastating to my self confidence. Like talk about feeling like a fraud. I remember doing a whole 30 seminar in Toronto like 2010 probably, and going back to the hotel room at lunch for our break and bursting into tears and saying out loud, they’re all going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing and I have no business being up there. That was the worst of it, but it was also a major turning point for me when it came to addressing my own imposter syndrome. It forced me to look at some of my own behaviors that were contributing to me feeling this way and helped me identify strategies so I never had to feel like that again. So let’s talk about when imposter syndrome pops up the most for me. So the first thing that happens, and this is very common in the world of social media, is when I catch myself image crafting on Instagram, I am not showing up as my authentic self.
So this would look like me having a really rough day or feeling depressed or feeling down, but posting a photo of me looking like I’m having the time of my life with this really uplifting caption or like when my relationship was really struggling, I would try to counteract that by posting a lovely picture of us looking happy with this comment about how great things were. That was the worst. It makes me want to throw up just thinking about it. It’s when I’m not showing up as me and when I do that, when I post this disconnect, especially if my social media image is far more positive or perfect or polished than I am in real life, it makes me feel like I’m an imposter in my own life. Like I can’t even live up to what this Melissa on Instagram is doing. I can’t be as happy as she is.
I can’t be as pretty as she is because I filtered and chosen only the most beautiful photo. I can’t be as active or as positive full as she is, and that’s like the number one reason why I will feel like impostor is if I’m taking steps to curate the way I’m presenting myself on social media in a way that feels inauthentic. I’ll occasionally still do it. Usually I’m looking for some kind of external validation like I’m having a hard day and I want you guys to tell me I’m awesome. That still comes up for me sometimes, but I recognize now that doing that is going to hurt more than it’s going to help that that validation isn’t going to fill me up. That feeling like an impostor on social media is going to make me feel worse about myself, not better, and I’ll post it and immediately think to myself, oh gosh, this feels gross, and I immediately deleted.
I can’t remember the last time this happened. It’s been a long time because now I’m good at catching it before it happens, but this is one very, very consistent kind of point of conflict for me in terms of how I see myself. If I image craft on social media, if I’m not showing up as my authentic self, it makes me feel like an impostor in my own life and that’s a really crappy feeling. Another thing that comes up for me that makes me feel like an impostor is when I’m comparing myself to my competition too much and this came up really recently with respect to this podcast. Actually, you know the podcast is a new venture. I’m only however many episodes in and I really want it to be good. I started listening to a bunch of other podcasts and I told myself it was research, but when I was really doing was comparing this podcast to theirs and everyone else sounded so articulate and so well researched and so engaging and so authentic and so natural.
And immediately I panicked like, oh my goodness, these people are real podcast hosts and I’m just a fake podcast host who happens to like have a microphone and a platform. And I had a really hard time with this. I remember having to talk to Brandon about it to say like, I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m putting this out every single week. And like, I don’t know if it’s good, I don’t know if it’s not good, but man, these other people are doing so, so well and I’m just fumbling like a total amateur hour. And that’s the dichotomy that I was talking about earlier. I feel like everyone else who has their own podcast has their stuff totally together. And I’m the only one who feels like I don’t always know what I’m doing. And of course that’s not true. So if I’m comparing myself to my competition and I’m making quotey fingers here, if I’m out looking at what other people are doing and I get too caught up in what other people are doing in comparison and letting my stories runaway with me, it makes me feel like an impostor.
Not necessarily that I’m not good at what I’m doing, but that I’m not good at what I’m doing in comparison to how everyone else is doing, which makes me feel really insecure and unsure of myself and timid, which means I’m not bringing my full gifts and talent and expression to the arena, which means I’m actually not doing very well at this job, which is my fear in the first place. Like it’s all very ironic anyway, I don’t compare myself to my competition and I feel much better and much more secure about my own talents and how much I belong here. Another thing that makes me feel like an impostor is when I’m too afraid or too ego-driven to say, I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you or that’s not actually, that’s not my wheelhouse. You’re going to have to ask this person about that.
Back in the early whole30 days, I felt like I had to answer every single question thrown at me even if I didn’t know. So I would be asked my way through the answer and be like a giant fraud. Well, because I was a giant fraud because I didn’t really know, and instead of qualifying it and being really honest about it, I threw some stuff out there and hoped that I sounded smart enough or confusing enough or that you were uneducated enough that it stuck. Now when you asked me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I say, I don’t know because that’s authentic. I say, man, you’re asking a medical question and that’s above my pay grade. Or I say, you’re asking a biochemistry question. Let me find out from a registered dietitian friend of mine. I’m not afraid to say, I don’t know because that’s authentic and that’s real, and then I’ll find the answer for you and then I’ll learn a little more.
And then we have this engaged, authentic connection where you’ve asked me a question and I’ve helped you, but I’ve done it in such a way that like, I’m not trying to make you feel dumb to make myself feel better. I’m not trying to make you feel uneducated to make myself feel smarter and it makes me feel way less of an impostor because I’m super clear on what I know and what I don’t. It also helps me because when I do answer a question, when you asked me a question and I take it and I run with it and answer it confidently, it’s because I know I know my stuff, which kind of leads me to the last item on this list. Things that I do that make me feel like an imposter if I show up ill prepared. So if I show up to a speaking engagement or a Dr Oz episode or a book signing event or a podcast, actually if I haven’t done my research into the guest, if I feel like I don’t really know what they’re about, if I don’t have my talking points down, if I haven’t thought about what kind of questions they might ask me so that I could feel prepared if I walk in ill prepared, I’m far more likely to make stuff up on the spot or try to answer a question instead of saying…
I don’t know because I’m not confident in my material. So knowing what I know and knowing what I don’t know is huge, but also preparing to talk about the things I know makes me feel a lot more prepared, makes me far more solid in my own knowledge and what I know and helps me feel less like a fraud and more like me. So this all leads up to the real meat of this message, which is how can I calm that? This impostor syndrome, what are some things I can do in my own life? And of course I talked about the things, my behaviors that contribute to this feeling, but here are some really concrete practical tips for combating impostor syndrome. The very first step is to be you just be you. You can never fail at being you. It’s probably the only thing in life that you can never fail at.
Show up authentically. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to say things like, I don’t know, be you. The second tip is to stay in your own lane or run your own race, and I’ve said this a number of times before, I don’t focus on what my competition is doing because I know what I need to do. I know my goals, I know my strengths, I know my talents and if I’m focusing on them, invariably I’m going to steer myself right off my own course. I’m going to start to do something they’re doing cause it looks fancy or it looks successful and all of a sudden I’m living someone else’s life and that makes me feel like an impostor. So stay in your own lane and run your own race. The third thing is know what you know and what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know.
Owning what I know and responding confidently makes me feel really good because it’s me. I own this material, I own this knowledge, I own this experience and expertise and when I’m sharing that answer with you, I’m just being me. Letting go of things I don’t know also makes me feel like me because that’s an authentic answer and that makes me feel far less like an imposter because again, I’m only just being me. Another way to not feel like an imposter, and this might sound counterintuitive, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I think it was during a lunch I had with my friend, Dr. Michael Ruscio, and we were talking about how he’s no longer afraid to not be the smartest guy in the room. And the conversation went like this. If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
I want to be in rooms with people who are smart and who are engaged and who have knowledge that I don’t have and passion. I don’t have and are willing to share that with me. And one of the, the most important things I’ve done is surrounded myself with people who I think are more talented and more passionate and smarter than I am. And I can say things like, I don’t know, and I can practice being authentic and seeing how that feels in the moment and giving them permission to do the same. And honestly, talking about your imposter syndrome is one of the best ways to dispel impostor syndrome. Remember there’s this dichotomy between you feeling like everyone else is so qualified to do what they do and you’re the only one who isn’t. But getting it out in the open, especially in a room full of people that you admire is the fastest way to realize what a collective shared experience this is.
And I’ll give you an example. Two days before my podcast was set to lunch, I was texting with my friend Nora McInerney. She has the Terrible Thanks for Asking podcast. She’s a podcast genius. Her work is authentic, it’s real. She’s so smart. Like she’s one of the people in the room who I look up to and I was really freaking out about the podcast launch. We were so far behind in some of our deliverables. So I texted her and I said, just so you know, this podcast launches in two days and it’s not even recorded yet, and she sent me back a note right away and she was like, okay, here’s my secret. Sometimes we’re finishing up our podcasts the night before or that morning, so you’re already a pro. And that made me feel so much better because if someone I admire as much as Nora feels the same way like man, like I’m just sometimes sitting on my closet floor recording an ad that’s supposed to go out in like two hours.
If she can say stuff like that, I can say stuff like that and I’m not alone in this experience. Having these conversations is the best way to mitigate this idea of impostor syndrome. Eliminate the idea that we are the only ones who feel like this and everybody else has their stuff totally together. Trust me. I promise you, every single person on this planet has had this experience. Talk about it. The more we do that, the more comfortable we’ll be owning who we are. Feeling, not like an impostor, but feeling really, truly, happily ourselves. I hope you found that helpful. If you want to share your imposter syndrome experience with me or how you combat it in your own life, send me a direct message on Instagram @melissa_hartwig.
I recently mentioned on Instagram that I wanted to do a podcast segment about judgement and what I thought I’d be talking about was how to stop feeling so judged. Interestingly, what came up in the comments and in the DMs over and over again was how do I stop myself from being so judgemental? Leslie asked, how do you alter your thoughts away from judgment? It can create negativity and feelings of self-loathing. Kate agreed saying, judging like any other behavior becomes a habit. I unintentionally judge frequently and then feel the self-loathing sometimes. Immediately Carissa got more specific. She said, sometimes I get judgy and don’t realize it. Can I get a checklist or mental pocket guide about when I’ve crossed the line from speculating to being judgmental? The first thing that I want to point out is that two people in this very specific comment thread mentioned the term self loathing when it comes to judgment, and I think I know why, but we’ll get to that later.
Carissa asked for a checklist and after thinking about it for a few days, I’ve actually come up with one for you. So here are three ways to snap yourself out of that judgmental behavior and turn it into something positive. The first sign for me that I’m judgmental is when I get excessively angry or fired up or preachy about something that has nothing to do with me. It’s not affecting me, it’s not for me, it’s not about me and yet I am all up making it my business and it’s like more than just an overreaction. Where I really get into trouble is when I not only think the judgmental thoughts but I’m so fired up about it that I have to tell someone else how awful this person’s behavior is and for me that is the most clear indicator that there is something in my own life that I’m not looking at and should be because judgment is a mirror, not a window.
Yeah, just sit with that for a minute. We think we’re looking at someone else’s behavior through this window and we’re noticing all the ways they’re doing it wrong or messing it up, but judgment is never about them. Take that window and turn it into a mirror because judgment is always about ourselves. When you judge the working mom who leaves her kids to travel for work, often when you judge the woman who comes into class in her skimpy yoga clothes, when you judge your best friend for the way he spends his money, you’re not actually looking at their behavior. You are looking in a mirror making comments about them, speaking to things you are unhappy with about yourself. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is the gosh darn truth. I’m going to give you an example in my own life and I’m going to go deep here cause this idea of judgment as a mirror is something I’ve covered a lot in therapy.
There’s this woman I like kind of knew in real life and I also followed her on Instagram and she would post all these like yoga and dance and lifestyle photos and she’d be half naked. And all of them, she was no different than the other, like 2 million women who post photos and little clothes on Instagram. But for some reason this person like always rubbed me the wrong way. So every time I’d see one of her photos, I would tell anyone who would listen, how transparent this person was. She was so thirsty. She was always fishing for compliments. She must not like herself that much because she is so digging for likes and comments on social media. Oh and I have to tell you, it doesn’t, it’s not comfortable to share those thoughts with you because they’re, they’re horrible. And I have to say that even in the moment as I was preaching from up on high, it made me feel like crap.
Like I didn’t like it about myself. I knew in the back of my head that there was something there that I wasn’t paying attention to, but I was completely overriding it because I was so caught up in this moment of, and so one day as I was again going off about how terrible this person was to a mutual acquaintance of ours, this person said to me, well, why don’t you just unfollow her? And I was like, oh, because this was a long time before my unfollow Friday campaign and the idea had never occurred to me. I could just stop watching her if she bugged me so much. But my immediate reaction was, no, I can’t. I can’t. I can’t unfollow her because then I won’t be able to see all the terrible things that she is doing. So that was my clue in that moment that there was something here that I had to look at because unfollowing her was like the logical solution and I was resisting that so much and it made me realize in that moment that judging her in some way was serving me because if it wasn’t I would have just done followed.
And at that point I had to figure out why. This was during a time in my life where I had lost a lot of my self confidence and my sense of self and self worth. You know, my marriage was falling apart. Like it was a really difficult, stressful time for me. And what I had come to realize in therapy during this stressful time was that I had been seeking a lot of external validation from social media because I wasn’t able to give it to myself and I felt like my life was kind of in this. So I was very purposefully looking for compliments to fill me up. So thanks to my therapy sessions. I had recently stopped doing that. I was working really, really hard to be authentic on social media and learn to find my own validation, my own intrinsic validation, but I wasn’t there yet so I hadn’t yet shored up my own sense of self worth.
I was still working through that in therapy, but I was no longer filling myself up with strangers compliments anymore and that left me feeling really vulnerable and going back to seeing this girl posting photos on Instagram and getting tons of compliments in the comments, it made me miss doing that. I hated her because I imagine she was getting the same validation that I used to get and I missed tremendously and it was easier to judge her feed than it was to do the work I needed to do in the arena and that was such an eye opening experience. Once I realized that I continued on with my therapy, I got far more solid in my sense of self and I was able finally to see that this external validation was not what I was looking for. I was able to see it for what it was and I was able to see my judgment.
For what? It was a mirror instead of a window. What do you need to do to love yourself today? What do you need to do to be confident in yourself? What do you need to do to give yourself nice words? And that really allowed me to grow past my temptation, judge other people for this behavior because I now realized that it wasn’t about them. It was always about me. So that’s your first checkbox. Even if you don’t realize you’re being judgmental, this overreaction to something that legitimately has nothing to do with you, should be your first signal to take that window you think you’re looking through and morphed it into a mirror and ask yourself, what about this person’s behavior? Do I not like in myself? What I like to change about myself? Am I not address thing in myself? That’s where the real work is done.
And that’s a really good segue into my second checkbox. If you want another way to snap yourself out of judgment after you notice it, you can think about the idea of business. Whose business am I in? You know, I’m a huge Byron Katie Fan. I talk about her all the time. Byron Katie says there are three kinds of business in this world. There’s your business. There’s my business, and there’s God’s business and the only place we have real power is when we stay in our business. Now, if I’m all up in this girl’s business on Instagram, wondering what she’s doing and what she’s getting out of it and what her motivations are, I have no power there. I can’t possibly know her motivation or her mindset or what she’s getting out of it. I can’t change her behavior. I have zero power because I’m not in my business.
If I stop the judgment, if I flip that window around and turn it into a mirror and I’m in my business, I have the ability to take a look at my behavior and my motivations and my actions. I can ask myself what’s going well and what do I want to do better? I can do the work. I can inquire about stressful thoughts. I can go to therapy. I can change what needs to be changed. I have all the power. If I just stay in my business, asking myself, whose business are you in right now has been really helpful in me releasing my own judgemental behaviors and I think about it not just in terms of me giving up my power when I step outside of my business, but in terms of me abandoning myself when I leave my business and when I abandoned myself, it means I can’t grow.
I can’t show myself love. I can’t have authentic connections. And I think in part that’s where this idea of self-loathing comes from, right? Both of those comments, two in a row happened to mention the idea of immediately feeling self-loathing. When we find ourselves judging someone else, we know when we’re judging someone else that we’ve abandoned ourselves and essentially isolated ourselves. Judging someone from afar feels like a really lonely place to be like the people were judging, don’t know that we’re judging them and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. So here we are out here all by focusing so much on this other person and speaking into the wind, which feels so lonely and isolating. It feels empty. It feels petty. It may feel gratifying in the moment, but it doesn’t return what it promises. We think that talking negatively about other people will make us feel better about ourselves, but it doesn’t.
It never does, and we don’t like ourselves when we do this because we are depriving ourselves of growth and love and power and connection. Whose business are you in is another really helpful way to identify when you’re in judgment and return to your own business doing your own work. Finally, the third checkbox about how to interrupt a judgmental thought in the moment. If the idea of mirror or not a window isn’t clicking for you, if you don’t remember or think to ask who’s business man, here’s what I want you to think about. Judgment lacks compassion and compassion is something that I think many of us are striving for these days. Compassion for others, compassion for ourselves. When we’re judgmental, we look at a situation and we tell the worst possible story about it. My immediate thought when I saw this woman’s photos on Instagram wasn’t wow, she must be really comfortable with her body or wow, she must be really proud of this new fitness move she did.
There were any number of stories I could have told about her mindset and motivation. Not that I could have known them for sure, cause that’s not my business. But I could have told myself a number of stories. Instead, I chose to tell myself the worst possible story that this person hated themselves so much that they were seeking validation on social media. And that is so not compassionate. You know, I think about when I see a toddler or a child in a store throwing a tantrum. I have a six year old, we have been there. But when I see a child in a store throwing the Tantrum, I have two choices. I can choose to be compassionate and think parenting is really hard. I guarantee this parent is doing the best they can. This is a very difficult situation. It’s gotta be really embarrassing for the parent even though they have nothing to be embarrassed for.
And I can show compassion, I can let them go ahead of me in line. I can give her a sympathetic smile. I can do any number of actions that feel like an act of kindness in this moment, which forges an authentic connection between me and that parent. Even if it’s just a weary shared smile or I can judge and I can turn off all that compassion and all that empathy and all that connection and I can say, wow, that parent must be a terrible parent. Or how can you let your kid get away with that? Or maybe if you didn’t let your kid have so many toys or snacks or sweets, they wouldn’t behave like that. And I’ve cut myself off from all of these nice qualities about myself that I’m compassionate, that I’m kind, that I’m generous, that I’m giving. And that’s I think also where the self-loathing comes in because we know when we are being judgmental that we are not operating at our highest self.
We know that we are sinking down into the depths of like the most shallow engagement, the least kind engagement, the most basic engagement. And it really doesn’t feel good. So in that moment, if you think to yourself, have I crossed the line from speculating to being judgmental? Ask Yourself, can I find compassion in this situation? Can I find a moment of empathy? Can I see myself in their shoes in any way at all? And through that compassion and empathy and kindness, forge an authentic connection. Or if I can’t, can I go back to one of the other two scenarios and at the very least recognize that this is now my business and my judgment is just a mirror? I think if you go back to these three techniques, when you catch yourself being judgmental, you will go a long way towards rewiring this thought process, this habit in the brain.
Because Kate’s right, this mindset is a habit. And not only is it a habit, there’s a reward tied into it as well, which makes it really inviting to continue because the brain will always revert to what is easy and rewarding, especially in times of stress. And looking at our own behavior is really hard, but analyzing someone else’s is both easy because there’s no emotional investment. And rewarding because it takes all the pressure off us to do anything about our own behavior. So the next time you find yourself judging someone, picture the window between you morphing into a mirror. Picture the three kinds of business and ask who’s business am I in right now? And Ask yourself, can I find some compassion here? Not just for them, but for yourself in this moment because judging other people doesn’t feel good or healthy, but neither does judging yourself.
For those of you who still want to know how you can deal with judgment coming from other people, I am going to talk about this on another episode. I just ran out of time today, but I hope that I’ve left you with some pretty big clues about how to handle judgemental behavior from others or how to spot when their judgment is just a story you’re telling yourself. Just some food for thought, but I will talk about this more.