This Is Not a Dress Rehearsal
Updated: May 12
In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we look at the stubbornness of impostor syndrome. My guest, Peter George, shares how, despite his ongoing success, he continues to struggle with fears of being a fraud. He also shares how he has used impostor syndrome as a force to drive him forward and how surrounding himself with good people has helped him manage self-doubt.
About Peter George:
Peter George believes that everyone should be able to confidently share their knowledge and experience. As a public speaking coach and trainer, he specializes in helping executives, attorneys, entrepreneurs, and professional speakers be calm, confident, and credible® every time they speak in public — whether they’re presenting in meetings, appearing in court, or speaking on stage.
Throughout his childhood, Peter dealt with a lisp and a stutter. Consequently, he grew up shy and introverted, avoiding communicating with others as much as possible. When he got into the business world, he quickly realized that his lack of presentation skills kept him at a disadvantage. After seeking help, he now credits his public speaking coaches for much of his business success.
Over the past 17 years, Peter has helped professionals from around the corner to those in Fortune 100 companies develop into speakers who understand how to craft and deliver presentations that engage, persuade, and inspire, ultimately helping them increase their impact, influence, and income.
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Kim Meninger Welcome, Peter, it’s great to talk to you today. I’m excited to have you here. And I’d love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit more about you.
Peter George Well, thank you, Kim. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m a public speaking coach. I’m based in Providence, Rhode Island. But I have clients all over the world, stretching throughout Europe, South America, Asia, and as well as here in New England with those I get to see face to face, the ones in New England and the other classes through zoom.
Kim Meninger Wonderful. And I’m really interested in digging a little bit more into this idea that you’re a public speaking coach, based on what you shared with me earlier about your own personal story. And so before we get too deeply into that, I’d love to start just by asking you my standard set of introductory questions, which are, you know, what does impostor syndrome mean to you? And then how has it shown up in your life or in your career?
Peter George Impostor syndrome, for me, is my fear of people figuring out I’m a fraud, that I don’t have the chops to do what I’m doing. And I’m not capable of equaling, equaling maybe someone else’s success or expertise at it. And that has bothered me throughout my whole life. And the funny thing is, no matter when it’s bothered me, I’ve overcome it. But it didn’t mean I got to deal with it. Well, it would always be in the back of my mind, if not even closer to the forefront.
Kim Meninger Hmm. So is what you’re saying that you got through it, but not necessarily, gracefully?
Peter George Yeah, you know, I think quite often it’s, I feel like I’ve gotten through it. And then I’m like, Oh, you’re still there. And no matter what, it’s been in my life, and I’ve been fairly successful, thankfully. And I’ve had a lot of help doing that. And maybe in some fields where I should not have been successful. And that’s why it’s always there with me. That what am I doing in this particular field, whether it’s either public speaking, which I’ve spoken for 35 years now on stage, or teaching others to do it or helping others to do it, or when I owned a publishing company, of which I knew nothing about. Not, not word one about publishing, yet, it became a very successful company. So it really has to do with I don’t belong here. And others know it.
Kim Meninger Yeah. And so when you talk about that, which is such a classic way of thinking, when we struggle with impostor syndrome, right? It’s that sense of I don’t belong here. And everyone’s gonna figure this out, everyone’s gonna figure out that I’m a fraud. I’m not up to the task, whatever it might be. How did it show up for, other than that, kind of voice, that critic voice in your mind telling you that. Like, were there other ways in which it manifested itself? Like, did it prevent you from doing anything? Or how, how would you characterize the quote-unquote, symptoms of it?
Peter George Okay, this would be a three-hour show. It prevented me from doing a lot. And I’m very fortunate, in that I have a built-in best friend and greatest critic, who happens to be my wife. And she’s also successful. And she pushes me and she’ll say, why are you letting that stop you? And she pushes me through it. But yeah, there are many things that I just put aside, I say, this is a great idea. I know how to do this. I can get this done. And then it’s but what if, what if this reveals that I am an impostor, and so it has either delayed some things or totally scrapped them.
Kim Meninger What I find interesting about what you’re personally saying, and what many of us have struggled with, in general, around this whole experience with impostor syndrome is that the successes that you’ve described of having no experience with publishing before running a successful publishing company, or, you know, being a successful public speaking coach, and all of I’m sure the, the micro successes that have come along with that, don’t ever generate enough confidence to be able to say, Oh, well, I’ve proven to myself that what I’m telling myself right now is not true. Right? It always feels like Oh, well. I got through that by the skin of my teeth.
Peter George Right? No one noticed but they’ll notice this time. Yes,
Kim Meninger yeah. And is that how you have generally experienced it too as this sense that, Well, it was kind of a fluke, or I got through that one. But this next time is going to be different.
Peter George Yeah, you absolutely nailed it. And this can go all the way back to when I was young playing sports in the life where I rose up very quickly. And I’ll sit back and say, Well, that was because this happened to someone else, and I replaced them. I wouldn’t have been there on my own, and that type thing. So it was always discounting my success and the impostor syndrome, just like we just set out, I’ll say, Yep, I got through it. This time, I had a successful publishing company, I should have a ton of confidence in anything I do. But then I take on something else that I don’t have the experience with, I don’t have the formal training with and say to myself, but this is the time they’re going to catch me.
Kim Meninger Well, you said something interesting, too, that I think is really connected to this whole conversation. And that is the, I guess you could call it, self-awareness. You could call it humility, right? That we are so aware of the fact that we’re not operating alone in our successes, that you know, it’s because this person was there to support me or because of XYZ external scenario that I was able to get to where I am. And in many ways that’s, I think, an admirable quality not you know, not to, not to come across as entirely arrogant or egotistical right to recognize that other people have played a role. But it seems, when we struggle with impostor syndrome, like we take that too far, and give all of the credit to this outside world of supporters or actors in the situation and dismiss any of our own responsibility for what’s happening.
Peter George Yeah, I’ll agree with that. I believe that, at least in my case, that has a lot to do with, whether it’s my wife, who like I said, is my greatest fan, my greatest supporter, but also my greatest critic. But if it’s not her, then it’s someone else. Have they’ve been responsible for a lot of my success? And I do believe that my mentors, my coaches, who whoever I might be working with have an awful lot to do with my success, and always have, but sometimes, it’s all about them and not about me. And it’s not being humble, I’d love to say it’s being humble. I’m probably not the most humble person walking the earth. But it, it’s still nagging at me, always has and I’m, for your listeners, I’m, in my early 60s. I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, the major things in my life has it delayed, it was delayed it maybe but it hasn’t prevented it. But there’s a lot of steps along the way that where I say I could be further along with this, or I missed that opportunity to do that. Whatever it might be, I’m writing a book that will be out later this year about public speaking of which I know a lot. And it came down to a business associate who’s had six New York Times best-selling business books, who said to me it’s just writing what’s holding you back. And my excuse was, well, you know, as a former publisher, I know what goes into writing a book and how it takes so long in the editing process and all these parts that go in into it. And I don’t know if I want to go through that. That wasn’t the truth. The thing was, oh my god, I’m gonna put this book out there that my competitors who I liked for the most part, they’re friendly competitors might oh my god, my competitors are going to read it and go all Yep, he’s an impostor.
Kim Meninger So what gets you through it? Are you consciously making choices or engaging in certain kinds of behavioral changes or mindset shifts? Because I can understand that feeling that you just described really well. And yet, you’re still writing the book, right? So it hasn’t stopped you from doing it? How are you managing those feelings along the way?
Peter George I would love to say that there’s a plan or knowledge or feeling that gets me through it. And truthfully, it probably just comes down to stubbornness. But what I like to say, what I like to tell my clients because a lot of my clients have impostor syndrome. So I have a lot of empathy for them and I can help them deal with that. But I tell me that my clients a story that goes back many years to the point when I was like 12 years old. I had a great grandmother who lived up in Maine, nowhere Maine, I mean, just out in the sticks. And she had all these country sayings. And she lived to be 100. So I got to know her. But when we had family reunions, we would have 200-250 people at these family reunions up there. There would be 15, great-grandkids. And she’d bring us aside and tell us these country sayings that often made no sense at all to a 12-year-old. And I remember one specific saying she had she brought us all aside, away from everybody else. And said, if they look that close, slap their face. And as a 12-year-old boy, I’m thinking, what does that mean? And she’d never explain anything. She’d say it, turn around and walk away. And I think her brilliance was she let it mean whatever it was to mean to each one of us. But when I got a little older, I went, ah, country girl, I think she was talking to the girls, if the boys get a little too friendly, slap them. But what I took that as an adult, later on, to mean, if someone criticizes you that much, the heck with them. Anybody can criticize us. I critique all day long for a living. But there’s a difference between the two. And anybody can criticize us. And if they do criticize us, that’s not my problem, or our problem. There’s nothing we can do with that. That’s their problem. They critique us. That’s totally different. So there’s a lot of that, in me of, I’m not going to abandon everything in life, I might delay some things, I might not do some things that I could have. But I’m not going to abandon everything. And some things I just have to do. And I’ll be quite truthful. Some things once I tell my wife, I’m going to do them, I have to do. It’s because I there’s one person, since my parents are gone. There’s one person left on this earth, I will not disappoint. And that’s her. So if I tell her I’m going to accomplish something, come hell or high water, impostor syndrome, impostor syndrome or not, I will get that done, maybe not in the most timely manner. I’ll get it done.
Kim Meninger That’s a really great point too. And, you know, I often talk about this idea of impostor syndrome as a fear response to something scary, right? It’s, it’s unknown, it’s uncertain. And that makes us as humans uncomfortable. And so naturally, our brain is going to see that as a threat and want us to avoid it. And so impostor syndrome, in my mind is just that fear showing up as that voice that’s telling us, You can’t do this, you’re not good enough, etc, simply as a means to get us back into our comfort zones. And so because we can anticipate that because we know what it’s doing and why we have to find what’s bigger than the fear. And what you’re describing is that the commitment to your wife, right, the relationship that you’ve built with her is bigger than the fear. And I think that’s such an important thing for all of us to find is that anchor, that that source of strength that allows us to transcend the inevitable fear that’s going to pop up when we do something new.
Peter George Yeah, there will always be that, if not fear, that curiosity of how is this going to go? Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing it correctly? I believe there’s always going to be that. And we have to deal with that. But in this case with my wife, like I said, she’s successful in what she does. And I see when she says, I’m going to do this, how she works as hard as she can to get that done. Sometimes it doesn’t work as she had hoped. But that’s just part of life. That’s just part of trying. So that’s one of the ways I forced myself to do it, is to tell her. An that advice has been around for years. If you want to get something done, tell others you’re going to do it and you’re more likely to get it done. Well, if whether that scientific or not, I don’t know. But I do know, once I expose myself to others and say I’m going to do this. Now I have the almost the fear of saying I’m an impostor that I didn’t keep my word.
Kim Meninger Exactly, exactly that accountability piece kicks in. And we feel an obligation to be true to what we committed to. Are there any ways in which you feel impostor syndrome has served you?
Peter George Yeah, I think it has in that with the fear of being discovered as an impostor. At least with me. I I overcompensate. Now, I’ll give you an example. Like I said, I knew nothing about publishing. Nothing. And what I wanted to do when I got into publishing is it was just about the time, the publishing industry and the printing industry was going from stripping in film. So manually to do it and doing it all digitally. So I went and sat with people from the printing company, and sat down with their pre-press people, and said, How can I replicate this in my company, so it serves you best. And truthfully, a lot of that not only wanting to do it correctly with the new technology, it was also learning to do it most effectively. So it’s not costing me four corrections. And more time, because I was on a shoestring budget at the time. So I went to others and said, How do I do this? How do I do this? Well, how do I do this better than anybody else? And what was really good was InDesign by Adobe was just coming out at that time to address the new technology. And we started using it from day one. It wasn’t all that great at day one. But now it’s the industry standard. And we got recognition for that from Adobe. And what we were doing. So it really manifested itself in just saying, How can I ensure that no one finds out? I’m that impostor, how can I overcompensate? And that really helped to my success a great deal.
Kim Meninger Yeah, and I think that that is one of the, I don’t even know how you would characterize it, hidden benefits maybe. I mean, it certainly comes with its own set of pain, right? But, but I do think that because we have that fear of disappointing ourselves and others, of humiliating ourselves or whatever the case may be, that we may work harder, we may invest more in getting it right, which can actually work to our advantage in the long run.
Peter George I believe it does. When we do that, I believe it can only benefit us. Now we can take it too far of course, we could with anything, but it can only benefit us to learn our profession, or whatever it is we’re doing, where we might be held back otherwise, to learn how to do it extremely well, it’s a motivator. It’s to me, it’s the electric cattle prod behind me. That’s an interesting way of moving, moving me forward. And I love to learn. And so when I would go and learn, I’ll give you an example we had the printing done at chemical and chemical is legit one of the largest printers, if not the largest printer in the world. And where our magazines were printed, there were other magazines being printed, obviously, but high-end, everybody knows these names, type magazines, and then there was us. And they would put out a report every month saying how many AA’s — author alterations, so corrections each magazine had. And I looked at how much they had on average, and how much that would cost me and I’d say, Well, that would put us out of business in about three months. I can’t afford that. So again, we were perfecting. And we did that. So well, we were about 18% of the average. So our cost for corrections, alterations and like, was minimal. So much so that we, we actually were the first company, this is what they told us anyway, the first publishing company that went away from proofing, they would normally send you the proofs so you could look at the magazine before it was printed. We went away from hard proof to soft proofs where we just did it on the screen. And again, that was through the fact that I needed to do it as well, even because of financial reasons, obviously. But I needed to be able to do it as well, if not better than anybody else in my mind. And here’s how that ended. And I would expect this to end the same way when my career is over with public speaking coaching, which will be my last part of my career. But when I saw that company, I looked back at our initial publications. And I was talking to my mentor and said, Oh my God, how did we ever make a living? How did anybody ever buy this? Look at this, it’s, it’s, I wouldn’t have spent money on this. And he said, Well stop for a second. He said I was there. The day the first magazine was published. I remember how excited you were, how proud you were, the fact that it’s not the quality of your last issue is to be expected. And you can’t forget that. And so right there again, it was like look at this, how could I, how could I have so have arrived, how could I have built a company? This is horrible. I was an impostor. I did it by the skin of my teeth. You know, the winds blew the right way, whatever it might have been. But he brought it to my attention that, No, you were thrilled. The day that went, that went out from the printers. And I was.
Kim Meninger How great that you’re surrounded by people who are willing to say things like that to you. Right? It sounds like your wife is one of them as well. It’s great that you’ve surrounded yourself with, with honest people who can help you to keep that perspective.
Peter George Yeah, I wish I could say that was planned. I probably didn’t even notice that till you just said it. But I was thinking of my, my major mentor now. And he and I meet once a month for lunch. And he’s very much that way. Where I’ll say I’m working on this, but this happened. And he’ll look right at me and say, Yeah, so like, well, that’s gonna delay me three weeks. Yeah. Okay. Like, are you looking for sympathy? It’s kind of what are you looking for? And I’ll just look at him and say, so I just have to keep moving no matter what he’s like, yeah. What else are you gonna do? And, and so I like people like that. I like people who will call me out. But they do it with encouragement. Hmm.
Kim Meninger Yeah, that’s great. I think that’s another key to managing this experience as well is really paying attention to who you seek guidance from. Right? And not just people who tell you what you want to hear. But people who kindly and gently push you.
Peter George Yeah, I don’t know if I have people who can we just want to hear. I’m an extremely direct person, extreme, and probably more than I should be. But I’m extremely direct. And I look for that in others. I need people, if they’re going to say it with nuance, it’s just going to fly right over my head. I’m not going to recognize it at all. But if they, they hit me in the face with it. I go, Ah, I got you. Yep, couldn’t avoid that. I got you. I might not like it. I might not like what you’re saying. I might even tell you I don’t agree with you, even though I probably do. But I want to defend myself. But later on, I’ll come around and say, Yep, he’s right. She’s right. This is what I need to do. And I think a lot of people go through that, especially in relationships, because I know my wife says to me all the time, I’ll say, Hey, I went to lunch with Dick today. And this is what we talked about. And this is what I’m going to do and she goes oh, that same suggestion I gave you three months ago. At the moment, someone else said it like, ah, yeah, right. I think that’s just what happens in a close relationship, that sometimes someone else has to say it. But I do like people who push me, I like people who push me further than I think I can go or had any ever had any intention of going. But I also believe every time they push you, the impostor syndrome is coming in the wake right behind you.
Kim Meninger Yes. Absolutely. Would you be open to sharing, just because I found this really fascinating when you and I first connected? You talked a little bit about your childhood experience. And this, I guess you could maybe say a little bit of irony in terms of where you’ve ended up? Could you share a little bit more about that?
Peter George Yeah, my picture should be under the term of irony in the dictionary, at least, I think. And I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. And growing up in a city, it was what it was, and we didn’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t the best part of town. But as a 9-year-old, 10-year-old when you grow up, and you have a lisp and a stutter, you can get picked on. And if you’re smart, you learn to do two things extremely well. One is shut up, keep your mouth shut. The other is become fairly proficient in sports. So I grew up playing baseball, football and hockey, so I could play splotchy around and I became pretty decent. And that protected me. And I also learned not to answer questions in class. Because I didn’t want to stutter I have my lisp made fun of or anything like that. In the fourth grade, they forced me into this speech room. And Mrs. Hitler, who was the person running it — that’s what I called her because she was the meanest person I had ever met in my life. As a 9 or 10-year-old, I was standing there in tears, but she pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. And I’ve learned that if I talked about sports, or music and then later on when owned a business, I didn’t stutter. So I learned never to talk about myself personally, at least not in a deep level. If I do even to this day I’ll start stuttering. Especially if I talk about, about my dad. So everything personally is on a surface level, level. Excuse me. So. So that was the irony, I grew up, I grew up not wanting to communicate with people, I was afraid to communicate with people, I became an introvert, I became extremely shy. And then look what I did for a living. I started a publishing company, which is communicating with people. When, when that was over, I went into coaching people with public speaking. During the time of my business career, early on in my business career, I started speaking on stage, I started speaking in front of people. And that helped me build both companies. So here I am afraid of communicating, and not wanting to communicate for fear of embarrassing myself, and being tormented mostly by me. To spending my adult life communicating with others.
Kim Meninger Wow. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I’m sure. You know, we joke about it being ironic, but I’m sure it’s also not a coincidence. If we really, if we were to really start to think about it.
Peter George What, what I found out, when I went for speaking training, as an adult, was I had been learning public speaking my entire life from afar. And I learned how to avoid it, which, ironically enough, was also learning how to do it well. So when I was being taught and saying, here’s how you want to engage people, here’s how you want to connect. I was like, Oh, I already know that. But from the other side of the coin.
Kim Meninger Interesting. Wow, that’s, that’s really fascinating. What are you hoping that people will take away from this conversation today? I mean, this has been such a great discussion, and I’m so grateful to you for being here. What? What do you want people to take away?
Peter George If they take away the fact and they may know this, if, if, even if they don’t deal with it, but they might know deep down that many, many, many people go through this, which is fine. That doesn’t necessarily help knowing others go through it. When you get hurt in a car accident, knowing that it happens all day around the country around the world doesn’t relieve your pain. So the fact that others go through it, but there are other people they can talk to. And the thing that they can take away from this is don’t let it completely ruin your dreams. Don’t let it completely ruin things you’re working on. Use it as a force to move forward. I’ve told both my children, I tell other people who I coach about public speaking when they say, you know, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Here’s what I don’t want in life, for me or anybody else to be on your deathbed saying I wish I had, I wish I tried. I wish I had done this. As the saying goes, this isn’t a dress rehearsal, you don’t come back and have a chance to do it over. So put that in your head and say, yep, they might find I’m an impostor. So what? So what the funny thing is, they started somewhere. No one started doing anything at the level. They’re doing it now.
Kim Meninger It’s a really important reminder. And what a great way to wrap up this really powerful conversation. Thank you so much, Peter, for being here today.
Peter George Thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.