Imposter Syndrome. You’re the real you!

December 6, 2011

An intelligent and talented friend of mine told me the other night that graduate school occasionally gives her imposter syndrome. I guess this phrase is, like, a thing. But I’d never heard it before, and it caused me to have a moment.

Imposter syndrome. You’re finally making the big leaps in life that you never imagined when you were seven or seventeen, and it’s so shocking that something feels false about it, like it’s not really you. This isn’t the real you. The real you sits in the basement and eats potato chips, until one day, you came out and kidnapped a real graduate student and stole his identity and took his place! There must be a Liam Neeson movie or two about this.

I understand the urge to believe only the stories that make us seem small. Sometimes I can scarcely believe that I just bowled a strike.

When positive changes are happening, I live most gracefully through them if I can somehow acquire two perspectives to juggle. Binocular vision, you know? There’s a part of me that can marvel at the wonder of Time and Progress and ponder “How did I get here?”, and a part of me that can classily dismiss it like it was inevitable, like it’s not completely unbelievable that I can get a job or a certain number of thousands of Facebook likes. As my friend puts it, “IDGAF”. I’m sure you can figure out what that stands for. Or the other perspective could be another person’s, who incidentally reports on what’s happening with you, but also takes part in your healthy, balanced life so you don’t have to overthink this kind of thing.

Imposter syndrome is a double whammy, because even if you accept that yes, this is really happening, you still don’t necessarily get past that it’s happening to you. You don’t have to change your perception of yourself and acknowledge that something is going on with you.

Which is ridiculous, when it’s a positive change. I don’t engorge myself on candy and think “Is this real life?” I think, “Woohoo!” Because the self that I know, he makes bad decisions on purpose. That’s what he does. If he does something right or achieves something, like working through the steps of a project at work or writing a blog post at work or helping a friend, well, it didn’t get on the news, so it’s not worth mentioning, or the time it would take my Stomach Of Self-Esteem to digest it.

Sigh. This needs to stop! Well, not for me, since I have to write blog posts about it, but for anyone else. This is gonna sound really grizzled and 1960s-movie-ending of me to say, but maybe the best way to deal with life is keep on living. Helpful, right?

You are the real you! You really nailed that presentation and totally tricked that entire audience into believing that you’re not a dope. You were really at that party, that late at night, and the next time you would get to brush your teeth was indeed uncertain. You really scored a goal after juking four defenders! Yes, with a sore hip! Those were real adventures. It’s just that you’re changing. Your Wikipedia entry is constantly being edited. You know that old adage about how you never step into the same river twice? That’s trivial. Because the same you is never coming back to even try.

So it is impossible to suffer imposter syndrome as we know it. Actually, I almost typed “be guilty of” there. Like it’s a crime to have these feelings. It’s not.

Anyway, I cured imposter syndrome. You’re welcome.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

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