You don't know what you're doing. You don't belong here. You're not good enough. Look at the people around you with their nice haircuts and their nice clothes, or maybe some of them don't have nice clothes or nice haircuts. But it doesn't matter cause they know what they're doing. It doesn't matter if some of them say stupid things or do really badly in school or get into fights all the time. It doesn't matter if they have been arrested and if you know they are alcoholics or sluts or drug addicts because the truth is that they get it and you don't! Face it. You don't belong here. What are you doing? You are clueless!
Does this voice sound familiar to you? Okay, so maybe the little demon in your head telling you these things isn't as vicious as this one, but maybe part of it does resonate with you. Well, you're not alone. In fact, there's a name for this little voice. It's called the imposter syndrome.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too.
That little italicized paragraph at the top--well, that's what my demon voice sounds like. It has ranted at me like that through most of my life. See, I was a good student, a really good student (at least in comparison to my peers). I got A's all through high school (except for one B in theater class because I was too shy and scared to be in the school play). I was the valedictorian of my senior class and the captain of my state-winning academic team. I graduated from college summa cum laude (that means I graduated with a 4.0, 4 years of A's in every class). I earned an MA in English and an MEd in library science. So with this substantial, impressive background, you'd think that I would be some sort of super-confident blonde girl who flipped her hair and had beautiful fingernails.
Well, no, that's not me at all. I still have feelings of doubt, and it's usually when I'm surrounded by my peers (i.e. other adults whom I perceive to be more "in the know" than I am). You probably get that feeling, too. In fact, I think most people do.
See that handsome guy who gets good grades and is an ace athlete? I bet he suffers from imposter syndrome. See that beautiful girl with straight A's who is the student council president? Yep, I bet she feels like an imposter too. The truth is that when you look at successful people around you and think they are super-competent, super-confident people, you're probably wrong. They probably feel as much like a schmuck as you do.
So what can you do when you feel like an imposter? I've listed some resources below, and along with that, I'll tell you what's worked for me--serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that regulates your mood--not enough of it, and you suffer from feelings of self worthlessness and depression. Well, I truly think that my brain is screwed up (a lot of writers have this problem), so I've learned to balance my brain chemistry with pharmaceutical remedies. Talk to your doctor about 5HTP, but more importantly, check out these resources below:
"Imposter Syndrome"--Wikipedia gives a guick and dirty understanding of imposter syndrome.
"The Imposter Syndrome"--Caltech gives a more comprehensive guide to imposter syndrome than does Wikipedia.
"Imposter Syndrome"--Geek Feminism Wiki targets women specifically, explaining how imposter syndrome manifests itself and what you can do to minimize its effects.
"21 Proven Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome"--Exactly as the title suggests, the article gives twenty-one tips for overcoming imposter syndrome. It also quotes and refers to famous people who suffer the affliction.
"The Imposter Syndrome: Mastering the Art of Pretending"--The author gives a personal account of her struggle to overcome imposter syndrome in the male-dominated world of computer programming and offers three pieces of advice she wishes she'd known when she was younger.
"Overcome the Imposter Syndrome"--Dr. Valerie Young blogs about imposter syndrome and wants you to buy her book about it. (Yeah, I didn't buy the book either and don't plan to.)
In my next blog piece, I'm going to talk about faking competence, for your own sake, not for anyone else's. In the mean time, remember that even the best of us have had the same self-defeating thoughts you've had. You're not alone.
If you're hip to this jive (translation--if you liked this post), please click the "like" and "tweet" buttons below to spread the word. Thanks, daddy-o. (Okay, so I didn't grow up in the 50's or 60's and don't actually talk this way...just so you know.)
Word and Book Lover.