For the A-to-Z Challenge 2017 I’m writing all about myself. Every post will be some random fact or bit of information about me that you may or may not have already known. Maybe you’ll learn something! Feel free to let me know! ^_^
Show of hands: who here has ever heard of something called “Imposter Syndrome”? I know I certainly hadn’t, until maybe six or seven months ago, but like the anxiety that I mentioned coming to terms with back in my “A” post, once I knew that this was a thing, I realized immediately that I suffer from it in a big way.
Basically, what “Imposter Syndrome” is, is a mental condition in which high-achieving individuals are unable to internalize their own achievements and accomplishments and suffer from a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It tends to afflict adults who were “naturals” as children; the kinds of kids who got perfect grades with very little effort, or were just naturally talented at things like sports, the arts, and so on. As adults, those children feel, for whatever reason, that the things they accomplish are mere luck, that they aren’t truly accomplishing anything at all, and that one day the people around them are going to wake up and realize that they’ve just been tricking everyone into thinking they’re anything other than a charlatan.
It might sound weird to someone who has never experienced it, but the second I had someone explain to me what this phenomena is all about I knew that it described me perfectly, and it explained a great deal about the random bouts of anxiety and depression that I’ve had on a regular basis for the past decade or more.
As a kid I was a total nerd, naturally intelligent and moderately talented musically and artistically. I regularly had the highest grades in my classes, read the most books, won awards, and so on and so on. In that sense I held myself in high regard. I knew I was smart, I knew I was talented. I knew that I was going to be the kid who grew up to do great things, one way or the other. Even though I was teased for my geekiness, tormented for being a nerd, and was kinda socially awkward, I always had that knowledge in the back of my head that I was a winner.
And I can pretty much pinpoint the moment when that all fell apart.
Our school system does not properly prepare young people for college, in my opinion. There’s so much hand-holding and pushing-through in the K-12 system that once you hit college, where your decisions have real world consequences (fail class – lose money, etc), a lot of young people fall apart. For me the moment was second-semester Calculus. My program didn’t require Calculus, but after seeing my excellent Pre-Cal marks from high school, the dean suggested that I take the two semesters of Calculus rather than the four semesters of required “Technical Math” in order to save both time and money. I thought that sounded totally logical, so I went for it. Unfortunately, our university happened to have two of the worst Calculus teachers a student could possibly imagine, and they were the only options. My professor, in particular, refused to answer questions in class (because it would disturb his precious plan), and failed to ever be available outside of class hours to help students who were having trouble. I’d always been excellent at math – my high school marks averaged around 98 – so at first it wasn’t a problem, but by the time I hit the second semester the vast quantity of new information that was being thrown at me began to pile up, get confused in my head, and everything began to fall apart. All of a sudden I had no idea what the heck was going on. Math didn’t make sense anymore, and I couldn’t wrangle two seconds with my professor to help me figure things out. My fellow students were just as confused, so I had no one to help me, and I began flunking quizzes and doing miserably on assignments. I wrote several tests that I barely passed by the skin of my teeth. It was all going to hell in a handbasket.
And then the moment of truth happened. It was the night before the final exam. I was cramming like crazy, but it didn’t seem like anything was sinking in. At some point I took a break and looked through all my quiz/assignment/test scores to figure out what kind of score I needed on the exam in order to pass the course. I don’t remember what the exact number was, but it was higher than I thought I could manage. In that moment, my brain kinda broke. I know now that it was hardly the end of the world, but as someone who had never failed anything before in her life up until that point, I had a total nervous breakdown.
I won’t go into the details about what happened after that, but in the end I just managed to pass Calculus with a mark of 52, and I considered it both the biggest failure and biggest relief of my life.
And after that, my mindset just seemed to do a 180. I no longer considered myself to be a “winner”. From then on, in the back of my mind, I always had this little voice telling me that I’d only ever been lucky, that I’d never really been smart or talented, and that it had all come to a head with that Calculus class. Practically everything in my life after that seemed like I was just acting. In my work I’ve often considered myself to be the least-knowledgeable and least-useful member of the crew, even when I was doing good work. In my writing I’ve regularly told myself that everyone who ever liked my books was just lying to make me feel good. Even in day-to-day life I’ve found that voice telling me that my friends and family were just humoring me, and that someday everyone I’ve ever known would turn around and finally start treating me like the useless failure I really am.
Logically I know that this line of thinking is ridiculous. I’ve done some great things with my adult life, not the least of which has been raising a smart, beautiful daughter, publishing two books, and making a ton of awesome friends through my YouTube channel. But that voice is still there, all the time, whispering horrible things in my ear, telling me that I’m a fraud, a failure, and a miserable imposter, and that everyone around me can see it too. And every time I fail anything in the slightest or do something that my boss/a friend/a family member scolds me for, that voice gets twice as loud and twice as bold.
The good side to all of this? Once I knew what it was called, it became a hell of a lot easier to deal with. Because, for the past decade, it’s just been the voice in my brain, but now I know that it’s something that’s been studied, something that lots of people deal with every day, just like anxiety or depression. And knowing that takes some of the loneliness out of it, even if I know that I’ll probably always be this way.
What do you think of “Imposter Syndrome”? Have you ever suffered from it, or do you know someone who you think might suffer from it? Please feel free to leave a comment!