How to Live With Imposter Syndrome
According to “The Imposter Phenomenon,” an article in the International Journal of Behavior Science, what we now know as “imposter syndrome” was originally thought to only happen to professional women.
“The Impostor Phenomenon was identified from clinical observations during therapeutic sessions with high achieving women by Dr Pauline Clance. Despite objective evidence of success, these women had a pervasive psychological experience believing that they were intellectual frauds and feared being recognised as impostors.”Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6
It is now widely understood that roughly 70 percent of humans will experience this phenomenon in their lifetime. It’s not a diagnosis, but rather a relentless torrent of negative thoughts that can put anyone into a depressive state of doubting themselves. Cases vary in each individual, of course. But, personally, I don’t always trust people that can’t empathize with the undeserving feeling that comes with Impostor Syndrome. I wish I had their confidence, but arrogance is all I see when I continue to doubt myself in a world of supposed experts.
This says more about me than it does about those I’m casting judgement on.
The worst part of Impostor Syndrome is that I don’t even think I deserve to have it. If I do have this syndrome, that would imply that I have actually achieved a level of success for me to feel fraudulent of. But, I don’t even feel that I have achieved such a level. Confusing right? Yeah, my Impostor Syndrome, itself, has Imposter Syndrome.
Perhaps the worst part is how many parts of my life this tumor of a thought bleeds on. In my professional world, I go to work in a newsroom full of artists, idealists, and writers.
Marek has such a firm grasp of the English language that any story he decides to write is worth reading. Having worked around him for years now, he is often compared to Hunter S. Thompson in chats with other writers. How am I—a struggling student—supposed to edit his stories?
Then there’s James. This man created his own style guide for Double Sided Media. That, alone, is astonishing. He has also been trudging through my grammatical mistakes as a copywriter since I started my journalism journey several years ago. Hell, he probably had to rearrange this whole paragraph.
The problem here should be obvious. I have to stop comparing myself to others. If only we could actually control our emotional thoughts that simply, right? It’s a process. Remember, everyone else has different goals and aspirations. We are all on separate paths, and mine may diverge from theirs, and there is nothing wrong with that.
I often describe finding my love for journalism as “I fell into it by accident.” With that statement, I left the back door open to a career change down the road when I might get bored of journalism. I would be able to leave the field if I wanted and just write it off as an experiment.
All that did was hold me back from fully committing myself to something I’ve come to love, and ultimately left me with these feelings of being dishonest.
I don’t think it’ll ever go away, and frankly, I don’t want it to at times. It keeps me accountable. There’s a part of me that feels driven to not be a fraud, as if I have to prove to myself that I’m not the fraud that I think I am.
These thoughts can create an illusion of an emotion. An emotion that tells you: “I am a puppy in a world of giants.” It’s hard not to when you compare yourself to others.
When I see my story in the same folder as Marek’s, how can I not feel like a fraud? There’s a man who can truly pride himself on his writing ability alone. Everyone knows one day we will see his name on our bookshelves.
Now, how am I supposed to see my story side by side with an award winning team of journalists?
I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m someone who discovered writing as a fun hobby and not as a passion. Now, that fun hobby is a rigid and structured part of my work day. Writing isn’t something I would describe as being in love with. I fell in love with the chaos of the newsroom. The late night pots of coffee to meet a deadline. The interesting people in absurd local stories. The comradery of journalists and wide breadth of topics everyone is an expert in. I fell in love with the chaos of the news, not the writing.
I wanted to be a freaking sportswriter! I love to write, but I just wanted to be a sportswriter. I have to remind myself of this when I get lost in all of the comparisons.
In times like these, when I feel trapped in my own thoughts, I always seek refuge in philosophy. This time, I landed on stoicism.
During the Antonine Plague, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in Book Five of Meditations, “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts. Color it with a run of thoughts like these… Things gravitate towards what they were intended for. What things gravitate toward is their goal.”
I’ll never forget how proud I was to see my name published in the newspaper of the crummy community college I love. It has always been my intention to be right where I am now. Sometimes we find ourselves so far removed from the initial plans we started with that it’s hard to remember what we wanted at the very beginning. But in the end, we gravitate toward our goals as long as we are consistent and honest in our intentions.
I hope we eventually realize we are where we are meant to be. Maybe sportswriting was the conduit I needed to the world of fast-paced news. I may not be the most talented editor but that’s not my goal.
My goal has always been to create honest news and prove that objective—but honest—news is possible. I will never pretend to have all the answers, but I can promise to keep trying to get closer to them.
If you are feeling like a fraud in your life, remember these three things: Stop comparing yourself to others with separate aspirations than your own, and remind yourself why you started your struggle.
Lastly, remember it can and will get better. I can’t promise you there will be some magic epiphany moment, but as long as you can look back and appreciate how far you have come, you’ll be alright.