The first time I ever experienced Impostor Syndrome, I was a new hire at Price Waterhouse (now PWC). The audit entry instructor asked the hires to go around the room and introduce ourselves, state the school we graduated from, and provide an interesting fact about ourselves. As Ivy League grads, world travelers, people who had won awards and had actual hobbies introduced themselves: my heart started to race. What was I going to say? I’m an awesome anchor in any drinking game? I have drunk beer from a rugby cleat dozens of times? I can funnel faster than most guys? As I scanned my memory files for an interesting sober accomplishment, the voice in my head started screaming, “I DON’T BELONG HERE!!”

My inner voice can be a total asshole. On the verge of a full blown panic attack, I mentally squared my shoulders and gave myself a pep talk. I graduated from a solid business school Magna Cum Laude. I passed my CPA exam first try. Most of the people in that room had not passed the exam; some hadn’t even taken it. I’m smart and I’m fun. That’s pretty much all I’ve got… but surely I can leverage something from that? I don’t recall what I ultimately said in my intro. What stands out is the horrible overwhelming panic that almost took control.

Years ago, at a writers conference, the presenter set a novel concept and asked the class to write the opening paragraph. We were divided into groups and told to share our paragraph. Developing a worthy piece of writing on the spot for an idea you’ve had almost no time to ponder is really, really hard. As the other authors shared their paragraphs, panic washed over me. Frenetic chatter built to the crescendo: “Their pieces are so much better than mine. I should excuse myself and make a run for it. My writing is terrible. I think I’m seriously going to vomit. What the hell am I even doing here? I DON’T BELONG HERE!!”

Deep breaths. Another pep talk. I won 13th in a Writer’s Digest competition. I get personal rejection letters. Other authors crème their pants when I tell them that. Apparently, the personal form of rejection is supposed to be framed and celebrated, (I’ll never get used to that). So, I shared my piece and no one threw vegetables or rotten eggs. I’ve also never been published…

This week I did a photo shoot for Wicked Sexy Smart. My hair was perfectly straightened. I had kick ass shoes and a little black dress that managed to be classy while also being scandalously short. But, posing out in a courtyard while old men in golf carts drive slowly by, and families walk their dogs: I did not feel sexy. What I felt was ridiculous. My photographer repeatedly warned me, “You have that concerned look again.” Nailed concerned apparently, (see left… that’s my, “Is my kid drowning in the pool?”). But concerned isn’t particularly sexy or smart. We eventually got some usable shots. I learned that next time I will absolutely precede a photo shoot with at least one shot of tequila.

I’ve been told I make a lot of things look easy… things like fitness, parenting, entertaining guests etc. These things do not come easily for me. Even the things I have figured out took mucking through time, practice, failure and anxiety. I hate walking into a party alone. My legs shake violently when I speak publicly. I hate sitting alone anywhere. If I have to enter a class setting on my own, I throw my shoulders back and walk right up the middle to the front of the room so no one can guess how awkward I feel.

Maybe there are lots of people that handle being outside their comfort zone with ease and grace both internally and externally. For the rest of you that suffer from Impostor Syndrome like I do, just remember that your inner voice really is a total shit head. You don’t have to listen to him. The point is digging deeper and pushing forward. Always persevere because sometimes, frankly, “It’s not how you feel, It’s how you look. And you look MARVELOUS!”