I had this whole fantastic post on Impostor Syndrome written in my head, but I’ll level with you: I’m tired. The only words I seem capable to stringing together intelligently sound a lot like fart noises, so I’m not even going to try to be deep or profound. In the last week, I’ve gained a lot of recognition for my hard work as a writer. I mentioned the jaw-dropping comment my speech professor left on my outline, but since then, I’ve learned that another speech professor told the Communication Club that, essentially, I’m the person to beat in the competition. I was honored, of course, and more than a little intimidated; this pedestal is getting a bit high for my comfort. But the final thing that rocked my noggin’ was being approached by my daughter’s English teacher to ask if I would come in and speak to the class.
Glass shattered. Tires squealed. A cat screamed. A record scratched.
I make jokes like “Hi, I’m awesome and you’re lucky to know me,” but I think I qualify as a humble person. I would much rather highlight something awesome someone else has done than have a spotlight shone on myself, so I always get a little uncomfortable at praise. But an overabundance of praise practically has me crawling out of my skin. No matter what I’ve accomplished with my life, I don’t feel like I deserve a fuss to be made. I don’t do anything anyone else couldn’t do if they wanted it–there’s absolutely nothing special about me in that regard–so I feel weird being told that I’ve done something outstanding. The worst part, though, is the fear that people are going to figure out that I’m an impostor, and that I really rely on luck more than talent or skill to get where I am. Eventually that luck will run out, and I’ll be exposed as a fraud.
Since this anxiety has kicked into full gear, I have been trying to work through to find the root of my Impostor Syndrome. So far, I’ve located three sources.
- A belief that I don’t have a right to be here. I’ve mentioned before that, despite being told I could be anything I want to be when I grow up, there was also the message that women are best suited for two jobs: being a teacher and being a nurse. I have no interest in being either, but instead chose a career path where women have had to change their names to gender-neutral initials to be published. Some ideas are just deeply ingrained, even awful ones. I try to follow the advice Elizabeth Gilbert laid out in Big Magic, to have the “arrogance of belonging,” and hold my head high as if I’ve already earned my keep. But sometimes that just feeds the idea that I’m a fraud.
- I’ve had more than a few friends in my life (“friends”) who have been eager to see me fail. I was never allowed to actually accomplish anything because these friends would immediately tear away at the validity of anything I would accomplish. Picture the step-sisters in Cinderella after the mice and birds made her a dress. Yeah, like that. These people’s cynical natures wouldn’t allow me victories, no matter how hard I worked to earn them. They were determined that I would always be a failure, and refused to consider any evidence that I might actually do something with my life. Sadly, I’ve internalized more than a few of their jabs over the years, and when something good happens, I have a moment where their voices replay in my head “You’re going to screw it up, anyway.”
- This one is a bit trickier to explain. People who already know the story will know what I’m getting at, but for those who are learning this for the first time, hang with me while I try to explain this briefly. My name is not Nicole. However, for my entire life, I have been called some variation of Nicole (Nicki, Nikki, Nik, etc.) The only exceptions to calling me by my assumed name are medical and legal professionals. For everything I can be called Nicole for, I request to be called Nicole. The problem this causes is that everything I have done my entire life has either been done by someone I’m not (my real name) or someone I’m not (my assumed name.) To put it another way, I have a bit of an identity crisis. My 99% math exam was done by *real name* but *name I have been called since before birth* is running for Student Senate. *Real name* wrote a really great speech about Poe, but *assumed name* was asked to speak to AP English students. The duality is enough to make anyone dizzy, and I’ve been spinning in these circles for nearly 40 years. No matter who I am, I’m never who I really am.
So, that’s my sob-story. I’m a published writer, a former senior editor, and an honor student with a talent for words. I can say all of that and know it’s true. That doesn’t stop the Impostor Syndrome from creeping up and making me want to hide under the table until it’s all over. I have no intention of slowing down or getting lax in my own personal standards, so I’m gonna have to get over this anxiety. Because I’m Nicole and I’m awesome.
Andyou’reluckytoknowme. : )