Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever experienced that feeling like you’re in over your head? Like you’re about to be found out that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING? Whether it’s at work, or at home, or playing sport? I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. I bet every single one of you has experienced this feeling at least once, but probably a lot more. Well it’s called Imposter Syndrome, which makes sense since it really boils down to feeling as though you don’t belong.

I have experienced Imposter Syndrome in almost every area of my life. From teaching, to writing, to motherhood. Even recently when learning how to paddle board, I thought to myself – ‘what are you even doing here, you fool! You don’t know what you’re doing, you look like an idiot. Just give up already!’ And in the past I would’ve done just that. Given up and skulked away, back to the safety of…where? Just somewhere else. Away from the countless people I imagine who are mocking me. The problem is, you can never escape from your own damn brain, and that little voice follows you everywhere. If you let it.

Neil Gaiman during his commencement speech at the University of the Arts in 2012 put it this way:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome…I was convinced there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard…would be there, to tell me it was all over, they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job.

Neil Gaiman

My problem is that I’ve always allowed Imposter Syndrome to sink my boat before it’s even afloat. I’d give up on whatever idea I’d had before I’d put pen to paper because:

Obviously everyone can write better than I can. Their ideas are better. Their commitment is stronger. Sometimes I read things that other people write and I don’t even understand half the words they’ve used. What kind of writer am I if I feel like that? My vocabulary must be terrible. My writing must only appeal to the lowest common denominator. If it appeals to anyone at all. 

K. Portier 2020

This is how I used to feel. Well, I still feel it but I am refusing to allow this ridiculous notion thwart my growth any longer. Instead I am harnessing the power of Imposter Syndrome to propel me to learn and grow and practise my craft. So I stretch myself to be the best writer, and best person, I can be.

In my role as a teacher, I’ve heard a lot of educators say things like ‘I’m just not a writer.’ To me, this is Imposter Syndrome infiltrating the classroom. We are all writers really, if we want to be. We just have to actually write, not allow the feeling of being a fraud derail us, and be brave enough to ask for help in order to grow.

In his TED talk on Imposter Syndrome, Mike Cannon Brooks said:

Most successful people don’t question themselves. But they do regularly question their ideas and knowledge…they know when to ask for help and they don’t see that as a bad thing.’

Mike Cannon Brooks

This is where we need to get to as educators. We need to be able to write with the students without allowing the feeling of Imposter Syndrome to impede our growth. To scare us off and whisper ‘I’m just not a writer’. We need to look to colleagues who can help us, or ask to go on a particular PD, in order to practise what we expect our students to do.

I wonder whether there are teachers who feel Imposter Syndrome everyday, regardless of what they’re teaching? If, at times, they think – ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’, and feel suffocated by this notion. Other teachers do it so much better. Other teachers know so much more than I do. Other teachers are more organised. More creative. And the rest. How empowering would it be if instead of telling ourselves that we are no good, that we are merely frauds who’ve snuck in the backdoor somehow, we told ourselves that we have room to grow here. And then set about doing what we need to do, to facilitate that growth.

Consider a doctor who has a patient with symptoms they’ve never seen before. Would that G.P tell themselves ‘Urgh – I’m such a fraud for not being able to diagnose this instantly. I must give up practising medicine immediately’? Of course not. Rather, they may tell themselves – ‘Well this is something new. I’d better do some research and speak to some other people for their ideas’. And that’s what we, as teachers and writers, must also do. Not question ourselves, but our ideas and knowledge.

If Imposter Syndrome has ever infiltrated your consciousness or if it exists there permanently, I urge to think about it in this new way. Instead of allowing that little voice to talk you out of something, let it propel you into something. New learning, growth, practise, development. Let it push you towards the writer and educator you know you can be.

If you have a moment, here is the link to the TED talk I mentioned earlier.

I’m learning to harness Imposter Syndrome and it is empowering. I know you can do it too. Tea time now. Until tomorrow xx

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