A week and a half ago I could be found in a bar with a coworker, doing our best to avoid talking about work but failing miserably. We got on the topic of therapy, which led to a discussion about pets and emotional support animals, which eventually led to my stating that I would likely meet the qualifications for an emotional support animal if I was willing to do the homework my one-time therapist gave me. My coworker looked at me for a moment before saying “It’s not your emotional stability you need help with.” Humoring him, I asked what I did need help with. “Honestly? Empowerment. One day I hope you’re able to see yourself the way you present yourself to others.”
In the last year, I’ve come a long way in how I present myself in a room. At work, I look like an experienced returner with answers, or at least the knowledge of where to find them. In my writing I present myself as someone who has not only come to terms with her demons but can sit across the table from them, sipping from a coffee cup and idly discussing how pleasant the weather is. In my friendships, I present personal matters in a dispassionate tone, for all the world appearing to have a handle on what life’s thrown my way that day/week/month/whatever. I provide great advice, reflect often, and give passionate soliloquies about the causes that I find important and want other people to care about just as much. I’ve gotten a little bit better at hiding how unqualified and unprepared I feel at handling life.
I talk a big game.
But internally? Mentally I’m participating in an incessant dialogue with myself that is an endless stream of self doubt mingled with a relatively constant flow of anxiety and a sprinkle of depression that undermines all of my accomplishments. Despite the reality that I might really be all of these things — an experienced and knowledgeable returner, a person who has conquered demons and can examine them, a source of wisdom, an activist — I am also convinced that they simply can’t be true. I’m a hamster, stuck in the wheel, with confidence and serenity in reach.
If only I could get off the wheel.
I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was when I was 13 and started dating the wrong boy and ended up with some shitty life experiences. Maybe it was when I was 10 and became friends with a girl who was better than me at everything. Maybe it started when I was a little kid — an only child who had no older siblings to learn from or watch grow up or that I could ask questions of without fear of being judged for something that was probably normal. I’m not really sure. All I know is that I look back at the last 25 years of my life and can’t think of any time that I felt deserving of recognition or praise. And this — the imposter syndrome — shows up in everything.
Imposter syndrome shows up in my lack of blog posts because I question what knowledge I have to share with anyone.
Imposter syndrome shows up in my struggle to write a cover letter for a self nomination because I don’t think I do anything “outstanding,” despite my supervisor asking me to as she wants to nominate me for a regional profession award.
Imposter syndrome shows up in my fear to have children in the far off future because I have no faith in my ability to raise them well, let alone as well as my own mother raised me.
Imposter syndrome shows up in my inability to put pen to paper because I don’t believe I have a story worth telling despite being published in three different literary magazines.
Imposter syndrome shows up when I experience physical discomfort as a peer recognizes me in our weekly staff meeting for helping them out.
Imposter syndrome shows up when I question whether or not I’m actually intelligent enough to be in possession of the Master’s degree sitting in my office.
The list goes on. Tomorrow morning I’ll probably want to add at least ten more items to this list. 5 minutes after I publish this post (or even less) I’m going to sit and question myself about the content. “Should I have said that? Did I need to actually cite something for my post to be credible? Are my experiences valid enough for this post? Maybe I should just delete the whole thing.”
I know I’m not alone in experiencing this. I have friends who’ve stated they struggle with imposter syndrome. It’s become popular fodder for articles and books and counseling. Hell, even Maya Angelou, one of my favorite authors, stated that she felt like a fraud despite publishing numerous books. This clearly isn’t a unique concept or struggle by any means.
In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has this really great quote about taking the necessary step:
There’s a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint- please, please, please… give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son- please, please, please… buy a ticket.”
But where the hell do I buy my lottery ticket?
For 2017, I committed to the concept of “seek.” I want to seek out opportunities, challenges, answers, joy, adventure, change, love. I want to explore and discover so that maybe my word for 2018 can be clarity. And a huge part of my “seeking” journey is wrestling with my imposter syndrome. I want to find the solution — any solution, even a band-aid would do — to this constant plague of self doubt so that I can take my next step confidently in whatever direction I decide to go.
Not because the next step will be a sure thing, but because I’ll at least have the belief that the next step is one I’m qualified to take.