"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I remember those words, just like it was yesterday. It was October of 2007, I saw a psychotherapist for the first time in my life. As a single mom carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, I was nearing a mental breakdown. I wanted help ending the cycle of toxic habits and relationships once and for all.
"I want to be an inspirational speaker," I told her. "But, why would anyone listen to a 30-year-old woman who still has to get her life together? I'll have to wait until I'm 50."
My therapist replied, "As long as you believe that to be true, you're right."
That exchange changed the trajectory of my life. Since that session, I quit my job, ended my quasi-relationship, and launched a coaching practice. At the age of 33, I earned my place on the stage and for the past seven years, I have delivered hundreds of talks to help people speak up, stand out, and change the world.
My story is far from an overnight success.
In this post, I share three powerful ways I broke through the impostor syndrome to fulfill my dreams these past seven years. I hope they will empower you to do the same.
1. Redefine success or it will define you
Since 2013, I've interviewed over 130 successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders on my web show. When asked what they feared most, I received this resounding answer: "I'm afraid I'm not contributing to the world the way I want to."
If our insecurities and fears of not being good enough are sabotaging our efforts that we end up not starting at all, here's our reality check. Many successful people still feel like a fraud at times no matter how much they've achieved.
My friend and social entrepreneur AJ Leon says, "Define your moments or they will define you."
I take this a step further by encouraging us to redefine success instead of defining ourselves by what society tells us success must look like. My old definition of success resembled someone I could never become in this lifetime. The meme stood 6-feet tall with salt-and-pepper hair. He sported a navy blue suit, red tie, and shiny brown leather shoes.
I'm 4-feet and 11-inches tall with olive skin, black hair and brown eyes. No wonder I felt like an impostor when I was attempting to live up to that standard. In order for me to have a fighting chance at success, I had to change that mental image. I had to stop chasing someone else's dream.
What has success looked and felt like to you? How would you redefine success now?
2. Find the silver lining in things not going your way
It's hard to believe the saying, "things happen for a reason" while we're still in the thick of it. As Steve Jobs said:
"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
For decades, I avoided telling people I had dropped out of high school, got married and pregnant by 17. Who would find a high school dropout credible as an inspirational speaker?
It turns out, an auditorium full of university students and staff members wanted to hear my story. I gave a keynote speech at a career day event themed Sweet Success. I shared lessons I had learned after overcoming obstacles and defying the odds to reach my version of success.
My past failures could have ended any hope I had for a bright future. Instead, I graduated second-in-class (only six months behind schedule) and I won a full academic scholarship to pursue my business degree. By age 21, I became the youngest corporate account executive on my sales team. At the peak of my sales career, I managed a multi-million dollar account base of Fortune 500 clients.
The silver lining stories we get to share with our audiences make us more relatable and credible. For me, I turned my life around despite taking the unconventional route. If others can see themselves in us, it inspires them to believe they also have a chance at succeeding.
When you connect the dots looking back, what unique stories are you able to tell? How have your past failures and struggles transformed the way you show up in the world today?
3. Keep it real even if you feel unpopular for doing so
Blending in will never fuel you unless your dream is to be a pale imitation of someone else. This lesson hits home for me because I lived with an identity crisis for over 30 years.
When I was still emulating my old definition of success, I was making decisions based on what I thought he would do. I got the penthouse apartment and lived beyond my means to keep up the facade. Even with the world in the palm of my hands, I still felt unfulfilled. I was pretending to be something I was not so I could achieve a dream I realized I didn't really want after all.
When we are not clear about why we're doing a thing, we end up losing passion about the reason we started at all. Keeping it real is about standing up for what you believe in. It's about standing out of the crowd even if you feel unpopular for doing so.
Who do you want to help? What are you standing up for? How will it fuel your soul?
If you're ready to break through the impostor syndrome and fulfill your dream, there's no better time to get started than now. Redefine success before it defines you. Find your silver lining stories and share them with the world. No matter what, keep it real. The world awaits you.
About the Author
Berni Xiong is The Shin Kicking Life Spark. She helps impact-driven authors and entrepreneurs speak up, stand out, and change the world. When she's not kicking shins, she writes on her blog at bernixiong.com.