Take time to write down all of the major achievements you have made in your life– go back as far as you can remember. What did you do well? In what areas did you excel? Did you win an award, get certified, graduate, etc.? You will surprise yourself with all that you achieved when you take time to sit down and do this activity. It is important to write them down. Let your mind relive each memory as you write and add the feeling of accomplishment you had at the time of your win.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dara Connolly.
Dara is a TEDx speaker, author of the top-selling book Flip Your Fear, and a confidence coach who helps women speak up to be heard and kick fear to the curb! For the past 16 years, Dara has been leading a movement that she originally started out of her garage, and has now trained over 10,000 women, and is endorsed by doctors and therapists. Dara is the founder of an innovative program she designed called PTC™ (Positive Transformational Confidence™)– that is a proven system with repeatable results to help women crush impostor syndrome. Her website is www.DaraConnolly.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I spent most of my life consumed with fear. Ever since I was little, I had a fear of talking then later it became a fear of well… everything! The ironic part is that I have a black belt in martial arts and could teach others how to appear very confident– yet I didn’t feel very confident myself.
It took me a long time to realize confidence was something that comes from the inside not the outside. I felt as if I was going through the motions in life, waiting to accomplish another goal or for someone to tell me “I had made it”, when in reality our confidence already exists within each of us– it’s up to us to realize our potential.
Years later, I became an entrepreneur and started coaching women to speak with assertiveness and not tolerate being talked over,– little did I know this work was helping me find my voice.
I still meet women every day who feel held back from their true ability and let self-doubt or impostor syndrome run their life. When I think back at how far I have come and how much fear held me back, I wonder how many others are letting time slip by without living their true passion?
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I was younger I had always dreamt of being a speaker but I had a major dilemma– I was extremely shy. I didn’t even like talking! Inevitably it seemed ridiculous to be a speaker, so I let that dream die and I forgot about it until many years later.
Last year, I had a wake-up call.
My dad turned 80 and it was a major realization for me of how quickly time goes by. I knew it was time to face my fears and doing so meant to be vulnerable and connect with dad. I wanted to do something special for dad but my parents live on the East coast, me on the West. What could I do when he’s 3,000 miles away, half-deaf, and I can’t travel because of the pandemic?
I was creative and decided to write a book with a simple yet profound message about fear dedicated to him. The book was titled, Flip Your Fear because while I was writing it, I discovered that when you flip the word ‘fear’ around it reveals a code, and that code helped me come out of my shell.
Long story short, I printed one book for dad and was planning on presenting it to him in person on his birthday in August. Covid made it difficult to travel to him so I waited a long time. During that time, impostor syndrome set in. ‘How can you still be afraid of speaking if you wrote a book on flipping fear?’ I felt like a hypocrite. I decided to take a chance and apply for a TEDx talk in San Francisco to push through my fears. While I was on the phone with the curator she asked me what topics I normally speak about. Well at the time, I wasn’t speaking at all. I had led small workshops locally and I didn’t know what to say. I looked down at the book sitting on my desk and mentioned that I had recently written a new book called Flip Your Fear that changes the way we think about fear. Life works really mysteriously– she not only invited me to her TEDx stage, but I landed 3 other TEDx talks which propelled me into the world of speaking.
My biggest takeaways as an entrepreneur are to have a plan or intention of where you want to go but always be open to new opportunities. I would have never guessed that I would be a TEDx speaker since for many years I didn’t have a voice at all. But what looks like a set-back at the moment can reveal itself to be an amazing setup. Keep moving forward. You never know where your path will lead you until you look back over your shoulder.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have always led with integrity and believe in making a difference in the world however I can. Many social-justice causes are important to me. From the onset of my business, I have kept a philanthropic mission. In the early days, I held kick-a-thons at my karate schools to donate money to charities and in a few short years we raised over $20,000.
More recently, I continue to offer a myriad of programs and services that appeal to people of all income levels to not exclude anyone. My programs range from entry-level books and e-books to high-end premium programs and masterminds. It is important to me to offer services that meet different people’s needs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There was a time when I spent several years after college trying to find myself. I can count on both hands the number of failed careers I had. Nothing seemed to be a fit. After my last lay-off, I was inspired to start my entrepreneurial path and started teaching classes out of my garage in Berkeley. At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing I just knew I wanted to help other women speak up and gender discrimination in the workplace.
A few months into leading classes, I received a phone call from the local Chief of Police. I thought they were contacting me because my classes were creating a disturbance in the neighborhood and that they would ask me to shut down my business. Instead, they were calling me to say that they heard about the great work I was doing in the community and wanted to partner with me. That partnership lasted many years, and my company received multiple awards from the police, mayoral offices, and the city. I am forever grateful for Chief McQuiston and his team at the Albany Police Department.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Impostor Syndrome is the belief that despite all of your accomplishments and achievements in life that you are not worthy of your accolades and that someone somewhere will discover you as a fraud. This is not necessarily true, but many people, up to 82% experience this impostor-like feeling.
Many people who consider themselves perfectionists, high-achievers, or anyone can experience these feelings of doubt and question their self-worth– and it feels awful. You may notice you start to shy away from compliments, positive feedback, or new opportunities as you believe you are not worthy of them. Then when you feel stagnant because you don’t have any new successes, it reinforces to you your feelings of unworthiness, and the cycle of self-sabotage continues.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
The self-limiting beliefs that occur from doubting your success or down-playing your achievements may prevent you from moving forward in your career, going after a promotion, or feeling deserving of the success you already have. The result is you constantly live in a state of fear that you are not good enough and that others will discover you as a fraud.
Some people exhibit signs of impostor syndrome by becoming a people pleaser or constantly fearing being fired even though they have positive reviews. You may notice you are overworking or overpreparing for projects because you believe ‘it is never good enough’ or worse, that you are not good enough.
Other traps you may feel stuck in are constantly comparing yourself to others or thinking everyone has more success than you. These feelings can prevent you from moving forward or achieving success.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
When you live in a state of comparison or doubting yourself, you inhibit your interpersonal relationship and growth. Constantly being reliant on other’s ideas or opinions of you– instead of seeing them as independent beings eventually strip away and diminish the strength of your ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. You lose your sense of self-worth even more. Suddenly everyone around you feels like a threat to you and you live in a state of fear, competition, or paranoia– rather than feeling safe, content, and self-assured with who you are or what you have accomplished.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
A few years ago, when I first decided to break into speaking I immediately felt feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. When I was a very new speaker, I remember being in Las Vegas at a huge convention. I was scheduled to speak a day after several seasoned speakers performed before me. They were dynamic, told hilarious stories, had incomparable energy, and amazing stage presence and charisma. I felt dejected, incomplete, and not good enough to be in their company. My initial reaction was ‘I’m not cut out for this, I can’t do it’. My feelings of impostor syndrome were so overwhelming that I went back to my hotel room and cried. I tried to rewrite my presentation at the last minute to match their style and energy but in doing so, I was losing my sense of self. Then a friend reminded me that I was comparing myself to other people’s end game. That wasn’t their first speech. I didn’t see all the failures or years of practice they put in– I could do this, I just needed to start.
Impostor Syndrome has a pesky way of trying to keep us stuck in fear and prevent us from moving forward to our fullest potential– but our growth and ability to move through that fear is necessary to evolve and become the greatest version of ourselves.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
I have found there are 2 common ways these feelings come up for me. The first is if I take too big of a leap into a new business, or explore a new opportunity– especially if it’s one that I am not feeling competent at yet. The fear in this situation is telling me that I have to do more preparation– it’s normal to feel like an impostor if you are not truly ready to do the work yet.
The second time is if I have not taken the time to validate the time, work, experiences, or training that I achieved to learn the skill. When we feel validated for our work, the fraudulent and impostor feelings subside– you cannot be an impostor if you put the time and work into learning your skills. Everything comes down to how competent you are at the task and how confidently you believe in your ability to perform it.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Take time to write down all of the major achievements you have made in your life– go back as far as you can remember. What did you do well? In what areas did you excel? Did you win an award, get certified, graduate, etc.? You will surprise yourself with all that you achieved when you take time to sit down and do this activity. It is important to write them down. Let your mind relive each memory as you write and add the feeling of accomplishment you had at the time of your win.
- Keep adding to your list of achievements! I like to keep a running list of my achievements and organize them by year. This way, when I feel extremely overwhelmed or when fear tries to sneak in again, I can go back and look at my list and think “Wow I did that then, I know can do this now too”. Taking time to validate your past achievements and to continue to do so with an on-going list is crucial in diffusing the power of self-doubt.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who compliment you and acknowledge your abilities. It is hard to feel valued if you are around negative people who tell you that you are not good enough. Know your self-worth and choose to be around people who appreciate the skills you have.
- Take breaks off social media. Remember, most people only post their highlights or their wins– you are not seeing their trials and failures. Social media has become a place for people to brag, people do not normally post all their years of struggle or hard work that they went through. Watching others appear perfect on video or constantly viewing social media can make you feel less than. The only person you should compare yourself to is the last version of you.
- Accept that wherever you are on your journey is exactly where you need to be. Our culture is so conditioned to want to rush to achievement or success, but there is no finish line– the success lies in staying the course and being consistent on your journey. When I first started public speaking, then later private coaching I knew it wasn’t an overnight process. I had to continue to learn new skills, practice, and work with coaches to better myself. Even to this day, I am not done learning– I push myself to new challenges and never stay stagnant. The secret of highly successful people is not that they don’t ever feel fear or impostor syndrome, it’s that they continue to move on despite it. Stay consistent along your journey and continue to grow and challenge yourself every single day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My deepest and truest desire is to inspire ALL women to step into their power and know that their voices are important. As a shy wallflower for most of my life, it wasn’t until I found my voice that I was able to make an impact on others. I know there are many more women who still feel silenced or ignored.
Whether you are a corporate woman who feels talked over in a meeting, or an entrepreneurial woman who doesn’t know how to bring your voice to the stage when you speak with purpose and conviction you are seen as a respected female leader. Helping you speak up to be heard, kick fear to the curb, and be TEDx confident would be my greatest gift that I can bring to you.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Oh wow! My dream would be to meet Oprah Winfrey. I have wonderful memories of watching her talk show when it first aired in the 1980’s with my mom. Oprah was a friend who came into our kitchen every afternoon who motivated and inspired us to dream big and I knew she was talking to me.
I loved when Oprah would say ‘your intuition starts with a whisper and then gets louder until you hear it’. There are so many “aha moments” she gave me, and I loved her candor that she brought into every interview.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I have even visualized being interviewed by Oprah many times about my Flip Your Fear book on her Super Soul Sunday show– we have a phenomenal conversation about how fear is something that can be flipped!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The best place to find me is www.DaraConnolly.com
I am also on LinkedIn, Instagram (Dara_Connolly_Speaker), Facebook (join our private PTC™ Positive Transformational Confidence™ group for women), and Clubhouse!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for this opportunity. This was amazing!