Does anyone else ever feel like an imposter in their own life? Seriously, I am really asking…. I don’t know if it is the endless hours of pandemic life or the non-stop party that 2020 has turned out to be but I find myself questioning if I am really qualified to be doing X, Y or Z constantly.
Let me define this for any of your lucky people who do not suffer from this:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
This is not a new phenomenon for me. I have, for as long as I can remember, questioned whether or not I am good enough, qualified enough, talented, enough, brave enough, strong enough, fit enough, old/young enough, etc. for the job at hand. This started at a very young age. I think being the youngest of seven children I came into this world trying to be older, louder, wiser, more emotional, better, cuter, smarter, faster, funnier… anything to get noticed. This was not because I was neglected, in fact, my brothers and sisters would be quick to say that I was spoiled and got plenty of attention. However, MY reality was I was born into a constant competition to be seen and heard, valued and understood, by whatever means I had at my disposal. This mental comparison of “am I enough” was, and honestly still is, a constant script running through my mind like a ticker tape. Though I have learned to quiet it over the years it is always there, beckoning me to look, to take notice and start down the path of doubt, shame and guilt, and feelings of truly being an imposter in my own self.
I am sure this is anxiety. Though I have never been formally diagnosed I have read enough about it and studied up some. Most of us live with some level of anxiety right, but it is what we do with it, how we deal that forces us to confront it. I force it down until I wake up, like this morning, with an overwhelming urge to verbally spew my thoughts to the void about my insecurities and try to process how I feel. Sometimes I talk with girlfriends, family, therapists, or co-workers or sometimes I cry over a good book, movie, song, commercial that I feel a connection to. Which ever way I choose to process, I usually process. But this year, this shit-storm of a year, that will forever be followed by a collective eye-roll and heavy sigh by all who have lived through it, and honestly I believe will be footnoted as such in history books from here forward, has me feeling more and more like an imposter in all the facets of my life.
Example of History Book Footnote of the Future*** 2020 [insert] eye-roll-heavy-sigh
The biggest of all is teaching this year has me really feeling like an imposter. First of all let me be really clear, teaching online sucks! This does not mean I am ready to go back until there is a vaccine. I do value my life and those lives around me, I just do not like teaching in a virtual world. I teach because I love to be with kids, feel their collective energy see the learning happen in person. I love to move around, NOT sit at a computer all day, create in the moment, organically go where the students learning path takes me. Online, sitting at a computer staring at 25-50 kids daily, with them all muted except for the one talking makes me feel like a fraud of a teacher. It make me feel very inadequate and extremely ineffective at a job I love to do. Yet, if I am being honest, even in a normal classroom in-person setting, I often feel like an imposter. After 9 years in a classroom I still feel like I am brand new to this game. I compare myself daily to those around me. The ticker tape reads: Am I doing enough? Am I helping THAT kid? Did I teach that right? Could I have done that better? Is that student okay? Will I get through the curriculum? Did I give enough praise? Did I give too much praise? Did that feedback help? What are they doing in that classroom? Will the students remember this as a good year, a fun year, a challenging year, a learning year???? And this is just the tip of the iceberg. But at least in a regular classroom I have support of colleagues and the experience of what has worked in the past. I have immediate feedback from kids that they are getting it, that they are enjoying and learning and things are going well. This is not the case this year.
This year is bad because, well it’s 2020 (***2020 eye-roll-heavy-sigh). I could stop here but verbal diarrhea to process remember. Imposter syndrome is high, wildfire high.
As a kid I remember driving back and forth from California to Oregon often to visit friends and family. Now as an adult, every summer we drive to visit family in California from our home in Washington. A constant landmark that I have seen since I was a kid has been the FIRE DANGER sign. The one with the gauge that goes from low to extreme. Do you know that one I mean (see photo above for reference)? This is how I feel in my life right now, like a wildfire of fraud is raging in my brain from moderate to extreme on any given day, never on low. My control center is way out of whack. It has gotten worse as this year has progressed. Some days I feel like I really am doing pretty good, hovering around moderate imposter level and many days I feel like a complete charlatan. But let me be clear, every day I feel like I am faking it on some level. Every. Single. Day. What the it is changes day to day. But it is exhausting. What gets me though, is the tagline from the sign, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.
This I understand. It is in my power and my power only. It is my ticker tape alone…I need to read it, evaluate it, analyze it, and deal with it or ignore it. It will not be going away. What is hard about this is, it is 2020 (remember ***2020 [insert] eye-roll-heavy-sigh). 2020 has me re-visiting ALL my roles/jobs in life: mother, friend, actor, singer, writer, care-giver, creative spirit… and applying my ticker tape to them all. Too much time alone thinking and evaluating, damn you 2020 (fist shaking cursing at the sky). This is just fuel for the imposter wild fire.
Why though? Why can’t I feel the success of completion and joy from the highs of the roles/jobs without dwelling in the missteps or what-if’s of the past? Why do I force myself to re-live things that have long since been processed by others involved? Why does my brain fold back on itself to vacillate from moderate to extreme about whether or not I was, or am qualified to have done, or should be doing a job in the first place? If I have been hired, selected, chosen, or been volun-told, etc. for a role/job then somehow I have qualified for it, right? These qualifications are the water or fire extinguisher in this metaphor. Why are they so hard to remember, recall and focus on? Why does the imposter wild fire rage so easily?
Oh, imposter syndrome you are a wretched beast. My ticker tape will continue and my anxiety will ebb and flow from (hopefully) low to extreme. But as the sign says, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires, so I will work at seeking the water, remembering where I put the fire extinguisher when the fire rages. I will breath deeply and recall that I was in fact hired, selected, chosen, or volun-told based on my unique qualifications and talents (in most cases) and therefore this imposter wildfire threat should ease if I carefully try to prevent starting it in the first place. At least in theory.