Shit You Should Care About… Impostor Syndrome
“Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
I’ve really ummed and ahhhed about writing this piece.
And then when I wrote it I ummed and ahhhed again about posting it.
But I actually got writers block because I was trying so hard not to write this piece. I physically couldn’t write anything else.
“Impostor Syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be”
We didn’t start “Shit You Should Care About” to filter ourselves. It’s not called “Shit You Should Sugar Coat.” We started it to create an open space for anyone to talk about any shit that they care about. And Impostor Syndrome is something that I, and an estimated 70% of people, care about. Even if we really wish we didn’t.
Impostor Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. In their paper, they theorised that women were uniquely affected by it, but more recent research says that it leaves no-one out. It’s really shit when everyone is more proud of you than you are of yourself. Or when you feel like everyone except you – of course, expects you to succeed at something, but you’re sure you won’t. Over my 21 years, Impostor Syndrome has certainly not left me out. It has manifested itself in me in weird ways.
Some days it’s in hyper activity – an inability to relax. I constantly feel like I have to grind to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m worthy of the things that “happen to me.”
Other days I’m sure I’ve peaked. I’m sure I don’t deserve anything I have in my life. The pressure is far too much for me, and I’m swallowed up by the black hole that is “my potential.” That feeling used to last for months. I would disappear off the face of the planet for a while until something, or someone (usually my burdened friends) would pull me out of it. As I got older it got harder to get out of.
The most common way it manifests itself is in disbelief. In Year 8 I got a certificate that said “Lucky Blakiston,” and just last weekend my Uber driver said “Uber for ‘Lucky.’” If only my Year 8 Principal and lovely Uber driver had known how fitting that slip of the tongue was. What I mean by disbelief, is that on paper, it looks like I’ve achieved a lot, but I actually feel like I don’t know how to do shit. Most of the time I feel as though everything I’ve achieved has simply happened to me by some stroke of good luck.
“Impostor Syndrome doesn’t discriminate: people of every demographic suffer from feeling like a fraud, though minorities and women are hardest-hit.”
This year my Impostor Syndrome was sent into absolute oblivion, all in one weekend. In the space of 48 hours I finished uni forever, received a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to move to Colombia, and had my 21st birthday, where I was surrounded by all the people I love the most in the world. The weekend was hands down the best of my life, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of disbelief the whole time. Disbelief that by some stroke of good luck, this was my life. My speeches (from what I remember) were full of people talking about me in a way that I didn’t see myself, yet they contained all the evidence to prove that they were, in fact, about me. I was the character featuring in all of the stories, but they still sounded like fiction.
“The problem with Impostor Syndrome is that the experience of doing well at something does nothing to change your beliefs. Even though you might sail through a performance or have lunch with coworkers, the thought still nags in your head, “What gives me the right to be here?” The more you accomplish, the more you just feel like a fraud. It’s as though you can’t internalize your experiences of success.”
When I talked to Rubes about whether or not I should post this piece, we joked that “god forbid I had to write about all the scholarships I’d received,” which beautifully highlights one of my favourite coping mechanisms – making a joke of it all. You can guarantee that self deprecating jokes will frequent any conversation about achievements when I’m involved.
Even today, when people ask what I’m doing next year, I either let someone around me tell them what I’m doing, or I rush through the reasons why I’m moving away, but not without adding one of two jokes (both, if I’m feeling really uncomfortable.) I’ll either drop in something about the fact that I don’t speak a word of Spanish, or about how if all else fails I hear there’s a pretty well established drug industry over in Colombia.
“Impostor Syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications”
Here’s how Impostor Syndrome feels in a nutshell.
Take a shot every time you relate.
I’m never confident in assignments or tests, yet they’re always fine.
I’m constantly worried that I won’t live up to people’s expectations of me, yet I know no one has higher expectations of me than myself.
I get nervous at every new task I’m assigned because I feel like I have to be good at it, yet I know that it takes time to be good at things. (Starting a new job is the worst, because somehow I can’t comprehend that I’m not going to know the ins and outs of the job immediately.)
I can’t handle criticism, because I feel like the person who’s evaluating me is going to tell me what I’ve always known – that I’m totally faking it til I make it. Yet I constantly put myself in the face of criticism by publicly broadcasting 90% of my thoughts.
I think my life is based on an accumulation of “right place, right time moments,” yet I can look back and track how each of my actions has resulted in where I am today. (I do this all the time. It’s either super unhealthy or a good grounding exercise.)
I look around every lecture theatre or tutorial class and feel like the dumbest person in the room – especially in international relations, yet I constantly have things in my head that I’m too self conscious to say in front of all those “smart people.” Even when I know I’m right.
In fact, I feel like I’ve done a whole degree, and have simply fluked my way through it by drawing on only a few topics that are safe and by being given lucky questions, yet I’ve got the damn degree, and with bloody good grades.
And that’s all on me. There’s always a “yet,” but my dumb brain can’t seem to shake the “but.” As in, yeah, this I did this cool thing that I should probably be proud of it, “but…”
Anyway, I think you get it. Now I wanna try an exercise:
Times where I’ve experienced Impostor Syndrome:
Getting excellence in a history assignment that I copied from my friend and dumbed down significantly
Winning the science fair in year 10 after throwing it together the night before (actually, after Evie threw it together, I still can’t take credit for that)
Being named Head Girl of my high school
Getting a place on a trip to Asia & getting to chat about it in Parliament
Receiving funding to move to Colombia
Looking around the room at my 21st and trying to fathom that these people are all here for me
How I should’ve looked at each situation if I wan’t so busy thinking about how I didn’t deserve it:
History assignment: We all know I’m a stickler for the rules and I love words, I definitely changed the original assignment and added some quality vocab. Still probably should have done my own work though.
Science fair: Evie had to go home before the second round of judging, so I had to talk about our technological process on my own. I can talk a lot of shit, so I must have done ok.
Head Girl: I’m loud and pretty fun. I’m also short and non intimidating (couldn’t get through this one without a self deprecating joke.)
Going to Asia and the Parliament chat: I love talking and am good at it. I’m also good at writing applications for things.
Colombia: Still wild to me. I got good grades at uni and have done some work in a Latin American Company. Makes sense. Still wild though.
The people I have in my life: My friend Jake once told me that “your friends are a reflection of you.” I try to hold onto this as much as I can.
Ahhhhh yuck. Having to write these moments out feels like a therapy session. Actually this whole process has felt like a therapy session. A therapy session where all the confidentiality rules are broken because I’m about to post it online.
But I am getting better at all of this. These days I can pretty confidently gauge how an interview went, and I know the things that I’m good at, and that there are actually things that I’m good at. But, I don’t know if I’ll ever truly shake the feeling that my life is based on a string of good luck.
I’m fucking grateful to have done the things that I have done and to have the support around me that I have. And these days, I’m also really grateful to be who I am, a sentiment that’s been a long time in the making.
I hope this resonates with you. Actually I hope it doesn’t. Be proud of yourself, try to relax, cut yourself some slack. Unless you’re dressed in a disguise with a fake name and ID, you ain’t no imposter.
And if you see this whole piece as a weird flex, ok.