Tarot and the imposter complex: How to deal when you don’t believe in yourself

I’m trying to come up with a snappy way to start this but a voice in my head keeps saying, “Just write. Like you always do.”

And I almost want to laugh at that, because years ago, when I was working full-time as a freelance writer, any block I had in writing an opening sentence might have spelled doom for the rest of my day. If I let it, it would lead to a downward spiral into all kinds of terrible truths about myself:

That I was a fake. That everything I’d written up until that point had been a fluke. That it was only a matter of time before my editors would figure me out and find someone else to work with.

At least I thought these were truths. Of course, I had all kinds of reasons to believe otherwise: I’d graduated from journalism school with honours and had been working in the media industry long before I even got my certification. I’d published widely. I’d decided to become a writer and made it happen.

So what was the problem?

I didn’t believe in myself.

Welcome to the Imposter Complex.

It’s quite the beast, and it loves to linger in the hearts and minds of people of all ages and walks of life. But in my experience, it can be especially loyal to those who work in intuitive, creative, and entrepreneurial worlds.

And when I started to work with tarot, it certainly followed me. But when I think about it, the imposter complex has shown up in everything I’ve done – especially in situations when I’ve challenged myself to do something new.

It even followed me to the gym when I started weight lifting a few years ago. “I’m not really like everyone else here,” I used to tell myself. Until one day I thought, “Who am I kidding? I am here every day, showing up, doing the work – of course I belong.”

The imposter complex – also known as imposter syndrome – is the thing that makes you question whether you have the right to take up space, to make that statement, to name yourself as something: A tarot reader, a feminist, a healer, a witch, a writer – you get the picture.

It’s the thing that makes you wonder why you got hired for a job instead of someone else. Or how you got accepted into that amazing program you busted your butt applying for.

It’s that doubt that creeps in every time you have an off-day, or make a mistake, or say the wrong thing.
In tarot, this can be especially problematic. Maybe you do a reading for someone and nothing you say resonates with them. Later, you might find yourself up all night, wondering if you should just give up.

The imposter complex makes you lose sight of what you’ve already accomplished. You could spend five years studying tarot and another five reading professionally and still have days when that little voice creeps in and says, “Who do you think you are, anyway?”

It leads you to believe that everything you’ve achieved up until now has been a fluke, a stroke of luck, and nothing more.

It keeps you from valuing the work you’ve put into honing your skills. It keeps you seeing how far you’ve actually come and what your experience and expertise can do you for the community you serve.

It’s what keeps you from writing that blog post, raising your rates, or even just adding “tarot reader” to your Instagram bio.

There a lot of tarot readers out there who have incredible ways of working with the cards, but question whether they are really ready, or really right, to step into tarot in a bigger way.

And there are readers out there who seem to exude confidence and you might wonder, “How come nothing seems to throw them off?” Well, don’t be so sure they don’t have their doubts. I don’t think many people are immune to insecurity.

So if you can relate to any of these feelings, trust me when I say you are not alone.

I know that not everyone wants to read tarot professionally. For the sake of this piece, much of what I will talk about will connect back to tarot as a profession, but keep in mind that the themes and questions that come up here can impact your tarot practice at all stages.

Because at some point, you might want to expand. You might want to start that blog, or read at a fundraiser. You might see someone hosting a tarot workshop and think, “How come I’m not doing something like that?” And as soon as you start to think about reaching a new level with your readings – even if it’s just feeling confident enough to read for friends – the imposter complex can kick in with all kinds of doubts about skills, worth, and deservedness.

Keep in mind that the imposter complex is not the same thing as just not being ready. If you’re really new to tarot, or are still learning how to deliver a reading, you might just have to keep riding the learning curve for now. It does come together eventually.

But for tarot readers who are well beyond the beginner stages, or are working in a professional capacity as it is, the imposter complex may be the reason for those days when you think to yourself, “Am I really good enough to be doing this?”

This kind of self-doubt can be a really hard thing to admit to within this space. Because when we use tools like tarot to help others, we often want to come from a place of power ourselves.

It can be highly uncomfortable to have someone want to get a reading from you when you’re not even sure you can do it – even though you’ve done it many, many times before, and done it well.

Here’s the thing: Even the most accomplished people question themselves. This is not exclusive to tarot.
Roxanne Gay has talked about the imposter complex.

So has award-winning actor Kate Winslet, who once said, “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.”

Author Neil Gaiman has struggled with imposter complex, too. “The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you.”

So those of us who’ve met with their own imposters before are at least in good company.

This is the part where I’d love to tell you that the imposter complex goes away. That the more time you put in, the more praise you hear, and the more classes and certifications and experience you rack up, the more confident you get.

But I can’t tell you that that’s how it goes, because it might not. Even with all of the experience you can possibly get, there will be days when your faith in yourself feels shaken. Even when you fully believe that tarot is something you are meant to be doing, there will be times when you question your path.

It all reminds me of the Chariot card.

While we often connect the Chariot with themes of determination and victory, it is important to remember that chariots were vehicles of warfare and racing.

There is combative, aggressive energy here, meaning it’s always not an easy ride.

In the Sharman-Caselli Tarot (above), we see two horses running in opposite directions as the driver holds the reins. Which begs the question: Who is really in control here?

Say you’re the driver, and the dark horse is your imposter complex. Here, we see all that self-doubt wanting to pull you off your path, trying to get you off the road altogether.

The white horse is your talent and expertise. It’s also the potential you hold, and the goals and dreams you might have for your tarot practice.

Even though these horses seem to be in opposition, two are still better than one, right? If you can take in the reins and get them both working together and moving in the same direction, imagine how much ground you could cover. Imagine how much easier the ride would be.

Our shadow sides – which is where we find things like the imposter complex – can help drive us forward just as much as our goals and dreams can. In the Chariot, we see horses of equal power, but without the driver telling them where to go, that power will just go wherever it wants.

It all needs direction. Doubt doesn’t have to be a deciding force in where we end up.

The imposter complex loves it when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. I know that I often set myself up for failure because I expect perfection in ways that just may not be possible.
When I nitpick every single word I speak or write, I am setting myself up for failure. When I constantly ask, “How could I have made today even better?” instead of asking, “What went really well today?” I am setting myself up for fault-finding.

“But there is always room for improvement,” my imposter complex says. And yes, but it’s also important to look at what’s going well as it is and take time to enjoy it.

The Chariot may be a vehicle of war, but it doesn’t mean we have to constantly battle against ourselves.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about tarot readings I’ve had from others, and which ones have stuck with me the most over time. I’m realizing that my favourite readings have always been from tarot people who got me: Who could relate to what I was talking about, who could tell me, “Oh yes, I’ve been there, too.”

I value working with people who aren’t afraid to admit they’re human.

Insecurities are how we can relate to each other. If none of us had ever had any fears, setbacks, or heartbreaks of our own, how would we ever understand the people we are trying to serve? How would we ever be able to truly connect with tarot, a tool that is fraught with intensity?

By embracing self-doubt, we can begin to take control of the imposter complex. We can begin to honour our own humanity by saying, “Yup. I have days where I just don’t think I measure up. But it doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Tarot reading isn’t about striving towards perfection. It’s about getting under the surface and seeing that life is frequently strange, disappointing, complicated, and messy. But it can also be transcendent, inspiring, and magical.

And, like the Chariot, there is a lot to be said about persevering and pushing ahead, even in the face of an adversary like the imposter complex.

Sometimes you have to do the thing that scares you in order to see how far along you really are. Going to a tarot conference or hosting a tarot meetup can be great ways to gain perspective of where you’re really at. Writing a blog or putting together a proposal for a workshop can force you to focus on the knowledge you already hold.

It might feel scary at first, but it might also bring you to a whole new level of confidence.

Turning points can also come from unexpected places. I remember when I signed up for a tarot class years ago because it sounded like it was just what I needed at the time.

Except by the end of the class, I realized I’d already been putting all of those learnings into practice. Even though I didn’t really need to be there the way I thought I did, it turned out to be an important place for me all the same. I just came out with a different lesson than I expected.

Tarot of course can help us to navigate doubt when it comes up, too. Here’s a small tarot spread that might help:

1. What is the root of my imposter complex?
2. How is it holding me back at this time?
3. What is one step can I take to overcome it?
4. How can I make my imposter complex and ally?

Have you struggled with the imposter complex? What have you done to counter it?

Cards shown in this post are from the Vibrant Spirit Tarot, the Sharman Caselli Tarot and the Barbara Walker Tarot.

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  1. OOF, I feel like you wrote this specifically for me, even though I know everyone reading it feels that same way! I have a couple of different careers and most of my Imposter complex comes from feeling like “Everyone else is so heart and soul into this ONE thing. Should I even be here?” But I show up, like you mentioned, time and time again, so of course I do. This was really beautifully done, and I’m ecstatic to have that spread in my toolbox next time I’m struggling. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for these nourishing words and confirmation. I feel like everyone goes through the imposter complex in one way or another. I know I do even as a professional reader and writer… sometimes you do feel like all the other times were a fluke and you cannot repeat it. I remind myself that life is art… and art is all about being in the process of discovery. We are so much more powerful than we realize… lets keep that energy moving! Shaheen

  3. Oh I feel like this all the time ???? Everyone knows more than me, is better at things than me, is more known than me and so on….. I don’t read Tarot but I do spirit guide readings and have to tell myself I’m just the intermediary, it’s nothing about me, as a shamanic healer I tell myself it’s ok not to know what to do as it’s not me doing the work but my allies and guides, all I have to do is listen and give them space to work, as a writer I kid myself it’s not me, that I’m being guided and that helps (even if it’s true some of the time) …..I think what I’m trying to say is that if I can get myself out of the way I can overcome or at least bypass the imposter complex while I’m working anyway. It’s when I’m not it kicks in most. So nice to feel it’s not just me though

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