Notes on Imposter Syndrome: How to Stop It From Ruining Your Life
This is a post I’ve tried to write so many times before.
So it’s typical that even as I type this, I have that little voice in my head saying “Are you really in a position where you’re actually qualified to talk about this subject?” Well, technically no, but seeing as this voice has plagued me for the majority of my life, I’m going to go ahead and write it anyway.
I’m sure you know which voice I’m talking about. The one that tells you you’re not good enough. That everything you do sucks. It questions why you should ever bother doing things like showering, or leaving your house. According to it, you’re never going to know “real” success (whatever that word actually means) and you should just give up now.
I’m talking of course, about Imposter Syndrome.
If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, you’re one of the lucky 30% of human beings who don’t suffer from it and I am a little bit jealous of you. The rest of us are all too familiar with it. It’s the feeling that you’ve somehow cheated your way to where you are in life – that you’ve happened on this place through pure luck or privilege. Definitely not based on anything like “hard work” and “talent”. ESPECIALLY NOT TALENT – IT ISN’T FOR THE LIKES OF US.
You’re a fraud. And one day everyone is going to find out. And they will hate you.
I’ve been plagued by Imposter Syndrome my entire life. I often wonder where it first stemmed from. I think a lot of it has to do with culture, particularly coming from a country like Australia. Australia, New Zealand and the UK are notorious for a concept known as Tall Poppy Syndrome (what’s with all these syndromes, seriously?). In this, if you are perceived to be successful or have genuine merit, rather than held in awe, you will be attacked and/or criticised.
I think the Brits handle it quite differently to how we do – their entire psyche is deep rooted in self-deprecation. Australia on the other hand, loves an underdog and there is a certain respect for humility. Anyone who is seen as getting too big for their britches will be mercilessly and brutally cut down.
Although the special snowflake syndrome, which is quite prevalent in my own Generation Y goes some way to combat this (and brings with it, its own myriad of problems!), it’s deeply rooted into our culture and I think it will take quite a few more generations to shake it off, if that ever happens in its entirety.
I know my own Imposter Syndrome settled in sometime during high school. I peaked early in my academic career (at around age 9 or 10, not recommended) and quickly figured out I could get by quite easily, whilst doing the bare minimum of work. As the years passed, my marks steadily dropped and by the time I woke up to myself, it was too late to turn things around. High schools love people who excel at things – sports and academia, then art, if you were lucky. My one strength has always been making stuff up, better known as creative writing. I’m also a speed reader and can clap my hands together faster than anyone I know – these talents can only get you so far in life.
On top of this, and maybe it’s just me, but I always seem to make friends with overachievers. Seriously. My closest friends in high school (and now) regularly duxed subjects or the entire year, were artistic geniuses, could get through a P.E. class without running into a wall and near on knocking themselves out (guilty as charged), became school captain and were well-liked by everyone. I always felt like I was the bumbling sidekick – the Jar Jar Binks to their Anakin, the Willow to their Buffy, the Garth to their Wayne. DON’T WORRY. I’M OVER IT NOW.
I’m telling you all of this somewhat embarrassing history of mine, because I know for a fact that many of my brilliant friends later confessed to feeling exactly the same way that I did. Whilst being handed every accolade that society could possibly come up with, they stood there thinking “It’s only a matter of time before they all realise just how stupid I am.”
Imposter Syndrome left me alone for a few years, then reared its ugly head again, when I started this blog. Blogging is SCARY. You’re putting your work and often your thoughts out there for everyone and anyone to read. And we all know the Internet – or rather human beings, like to judge. Suddenly, you’re at risk of your own worst nightmare – every single dark thought you’ve had about yourself and your own abilities manifesting in the form of comments, emails and tweets. The pressure can be all too much.
Imposter Syndrome is in a word, stupid. I know this. You hopefully know this. And it shouldn’t stand in the way of our wants and desires. Our dreams. Or even just our hobbies.
So, how do you beat Imposter Syndrome? I don’t think there’s any easy way about it. You just have to grit your teeth and do the thing you’re most scared of. It’s been baby steps, for me. I was scared of putting my writing out there – now it’s second nature.
In summary, don’t let Imposter Syndrome hold you back in life. Don’t waste too much time thinking you’re not good enough.
Because you are. And usually, the only one who is holding you back from doing the things you want to do… is you.
Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome? Empathy coming your way, my friend.