Naming Your Imposter Syndrome
It is a cold morning for this 1st December 2021 and I have just logged on for another day at work. I check my emails, go through my slack messages then suddenly it hits me. Thoughts begin to race through my head "Am I cut out for this?". The internal struggle in my head continues as the crazy monster that is imposter syndrome begins to awaken again. I call my imposter syndrome, Alan.
To understand Alan, we need to go back a few years to around 1985. 1985 was when I started school. I was never stupid as a kid, but I wasn't the most academic either - in fact, it is fair to say that I struggled with many subjects at school. In comparison, my best friend at the time was called Alan was a high performer. To avoid confusion with Alan the monster, I will refer to Alan (my friend) as Ross. Nothing seemed too difficult for Ross - he breezed everything he took on. It is fair to say that this is the first time I compared myself with Ross and to an extent looked up to him. I remember walking home from school one day and asked compared test results - of course, I got less than Ross. Once home, I told my Mum who angrily but positively told me to stop comparing myself to others - advice I struggle with today.
As I moved through my schooling years, I got to senior high school and started to take exams. Ross had already left school in his 5th year to start University early, as I plodded on at school. I relentlessly would study for exams, often at the expense of not going out to enjoy myself. On the day of the exam, I would spend more time worrying about the creaking old desk that probably would have been around since the 1960s, collapsing on the floor. As such, I finished school with no qualifications. Something that means little in reality, but would have a long-lasting effect on feeding Alan in the future.
I did manage to go to University, something my Dad had wanted me to do as a kid - it just took me a little longer to get there. A spot of fortune from the Fife College giving me an unconditional offer in 1996 set me on my way and was flying. During these years' Alan was suppressed until comments started feeding Alan. One, in particular, was significant - when a senior lecturer said - "You will never make it as a software engineer". Either way, I managed to achieve my 2.1 in Software Engineering.
Today Alan is still very much in control of me. I seek a lot of external validation around and receive very little. I love seeing people progress and receive shoutouts, and yet I very often get anything myself. This hurts a lot, not because I need it to function but because without external validation Alan continues to grow in strength. Alan uses this lack of external validation to grow in strength and tells me - "Why are you here you cannot do this" - "You are not accepted here", "People think you are a joke". I am sure you will agree that is a pretty tough internal dialogue to battle with daily.
We all have our coping strategies in dealing with Imposter Syndrome. One strategy I have traditionally done to help cope with Alan's negative destruction is to put on a facade. This facade comes in two forms:
- I very often speak up in fear of not being correct.
- I put up a wall to stop people from getting to know me.
I know this is simply plastering over the cracks. The reality is it means people often do not get to know the "real" Matt - they get a closed-off "lite" version of me.
Imposter Syndrome is real, and I am sure whoever is reading this has their version of Alan. You might not give it a name, but I have found labelling Alan is a new way to cope. It allows me to attach a persona to it that lets me acknowledge its existence. I read recently that even the highest performing individuals suffer from Imposter Syndrome. The difference is they went forward with their head held high anyway - one step at a time - this turned out to be a lightbulb moment - could it be that simple?
I am not going to pretend I know all the answers - I don't. I am not going to pretend that I am in the same league as some of the highest performing - I am not. This realisation allows me means despite the negative inner dialogue - I continue to put one foot in front of the other every day. It is about the compound effect of taking small steps every day and allowing Imposter Syndrome to challenge you. There will be days you won't feel cut out for it but keep going.
You are not a fraudster - you are every bit as talented as you believe you are.
If you relate to this, you understand that whilst external validation may not come in the way you would like it to, and when it does, it might not be what you want to hear. Accept this does not define you - believe that taking each day, step by step is how you have achieved everything you have achieved. It is not luck or good fortune. You are not a fraudster - you are every bit as talented as you believe you are.
The lesson is not to create a belief system based on others. It is to create a belief system on self-affirmation and give yourself credit for the great things you have achieved - for which there may be many. Keep building on it step by step and remind yourself that your Alan will keep challenging you.
Trust your talents, trust your ideas and trust the way you do things.