Imposter Syndrome, living in the arena, and being a guide instead of a guru

Building Blocks: Actionable insights to build an Intentional Life

Hey everybody,

Welcome to the new and improved newsletter!

Here’s a batch of actionable insights to start your week off right, so you can be more intentional with how you live, work, and create.

Let’s get started.


Today’s theme is Imposter Syndrome.

I didn’t set out to do a themed issue. But after a great conversation with Samantha Demers about a book she’s writing to help Creators overcome it, I had some ideas I wanted to share with you.

So here are a few insights from our conversation, plus a few more resources to help you understand and overcome Imposter Syndrome.


Insight 1: No One Knows What They’re Doing

When I was in grad school, we partnered with the schools of medicine, pharmacy, and other human service-related fields to do a homeless outreach event in December.

People experiencing homelessness could come and get food, clothes, medical check-ups and medications–the whole-nine.

Then there was me.

I was expected to offer therapy services.

It’s freezing outside. These people are fighting to stay alive every day. What can I possibly help them with? They don’t need deep breathing or relaxation skills!

I felt lost and useless.

So I walked up to two of my supervisors, who had a combined 50+ years of therapy experience, and asked:

“When does this feeling like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing go away?”

Their response:

“We’ll let you know.”

Even they–experts at the top of their field–still questioned their abilities.

Since then, I’ve met tons of people creating incredible companies and inspirational content. And every single one of them says the same thing–they’re winging it.

We’re all making things up as we go along.


Insight 2: But That Doesn’t Have to Stop You

It’s okay to question yourself. But don’t let it keep you from doing meaningful work. (Share this on Twitter)

It’s terrifying to put yourself, or your work, out into the world. Most of my coaching clients are creators, entrepreneurs, and founders. Many of them question how good what they’re putting out into the world really is.

In essence, they’re concerned with what critics might say.

When my clients struggle with this, I point them toward the single most-influential piece of writing I’ve come across and draw inspiration from anytime I start to question myself.

Popularly known as the “Man in the Arena” speech by Theodore Roosevelt, it reads:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Anytime fear or Imposter Syndrome start to creep in, I remind myself it’s better to live in the arena than sit on the sidelines and be a critic, or allow critics to keep me from doing meaningful work.

I revisited this speech many times last year when I got fired and dove both-feet-first into starting my own business–without any business training:

Talk about Imposter Syndrome…


Insight 3: Reframe Your Expectations of Yourself

A big piece of Imposter Syndrome is rooted in unrealistic expectations.

We expect more of ourselves than we’re currently able to achieve.

Ali Abdaal is a physician with over 2 million Youtube subscribers. When he started writing a book on productivity, Imposter Syndrome kicked in hard.

So he talked to his writing coach, who helped him reframe his expectations:

“You don’t have to be a guru. You can be a guide.”

What’s the difference?

A guru comes down from the top of the mountain and claims to be an expert—they have all the answers and are infallible.

A guide is someone who’s on the same journey as you and shares what they’ve discovered so far.

When you expect yourself to be the be-all end-all authority on something, of course fear will paralyze you from moving forward.

But if you see yourself as just a guide–someone who’s maybe 2-3 steps ahead of the person you’re talking to? That’s way easier to approach.


Question for the Week

Will you live in the arena, sit on the sidelines and be a critic, or allow fear of criticism to keep you from doing meaningful work?


Insights in Action

One of the best ways to clarify your thinking is to write it out.

So if you want to develop your thinking on this question or start applying insights from today’s newsletter, send a tweet to @CoreyWilksPsyD with your thoughts and put #BuildingBlocks at the end so I can find it.

Not ready to “think in public” yet? No problem. You can also reply to this email if you want to share your thoughts with me.


Until next time,

Corey Wilks, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Certified Professional Coach

Building https://coreywilkspsyd.com/