Musings on Impostor Syndrome

Ian and I had an interesting conversation yesterday about self-assessments and quizzes that one can find nowadays.

These assessments and quizzes range from purportedly shedding light on your type of personality, to more mundane stuff like what burger best represents you and what it means.

Through dumb luck, I’ve found a few online assessments this week that have allowed me to gain a greater understanding of how my mind works.  Ian and I discussed the sometime pitfalls to the abundance of self-assessments that are readily available.  More so, if one is not diligent and proactive, it is easy to fall into the habit of not working with the information that is provided, and rather just continuing to go along with whatever the assessment revealed.

On one of the sites that I regularly frequent, I came across an interesting article on something called Impostor Syndrome.  Impostor Syndrome first came to my attention earlier this summer, when another article referenced it.  At that time I had never heard of it before, and admittedly after reading through that first article, I was amazed that this was actually a thing.  I know there is some push-back today about everything having a label, and I also acknowledge that for some, labels don’t work.

When I worked in Kenora for several years, supporting children and youth with developmental disabilities I was able to be a part of some really thought provoking and honest discussions with parents who weren’t in favour of having a label attached to their child.  While in some instances, a diagnosis might mean more funding and support, it could also bring with it imposed limitations from everyone around the child, on the child.  Instead of viewing the particular diagnosis as a piece of information to work with, in many instances a diagnosis could result in a child’s being limited to that diagnosis, and seen as that diagnosis, rather than a very capable human being with a set of strengths unique to them.

It’s a similar thing with the assessments, and I think was the point Ian was driving at yesterday.  If an assessment comes back with results stating that one is poor in math, that result can often be used as a crutch-I can’t apply for that job, because the assessment told me my math skills aren’t great.  I can’t except that promotion as it will involve more work with numbers, and the assessment says my math skills suck.

All of that is to say, that while I was initially surprised that there was such a thing called Impostor Syndrome, having the label provides me with something concrete to work from and gives me a better understanding of why I have some of the thoughts I do.

For as long as I can remember, I have always carried around the feeling of being a fake, and the fear that people-everyone, really-will eventually find me out.  I experienced this in university, and teachers college.  It stayed with me throughout my 6 years of teaching in Grassy.  I’ve had it these last 3 years now, in the various positions I have acquired in Ottawa.  I experience it when it comes to my photography.  On a perhaps more superficial level, I think it is also a clue into why I’ve never been comfortable in lots of make-up.  I already feel like a fraud, so literally painting myself into more of one seems to exacerbate the issue.  I’m not knocking make-up here, nor those who enjoy wearing it.  I know for me though, feeling like I am already wearing a costume, slapping some lipstick on it doesn’t help things.

The only period of my life where I didn’t experience this fear was during the time I spent in Kenora working in the job I referenced earlier.  I can’t explain why I didn’t seem to go through it then.  I worked with an incredible team of women, who instantly included me and made me feel a part of something great.  There was Carol, my office mate who I thought was so cool.  Carol was this amazing woman who was a bit of a hippy and had a great sense of humour.  She also didn’t put up with any bullshit.  Carol was a bit like my really cool, surrogate auntie.  There were the other women I worked with too-Melanie who like Carol had a wicked sense of humour and was kind and so smart and also called stuff for what it was.  Jess, who I still count as one of my very close friends, even though there is some 2400 kilometres separating us.  Theresa who was a firecracker and was able to see the laughter in everything, but was also someone with whom I had some really deep conversations.  These women were so amazing, and there was never a point where I felt fake or inauthentic around them.  Aside from my teaching position in Grassy, the work I did in Kenora with these women was hands down, my second favourite job.  Ever.

That was it though-those few years that I spent in Kenora were the only ones where I felt sure of my capabilities and what I contributed to the team.  In all of my other jobs, and my relationships and experiences, I have always had a lingering feeling of being a fake.  Couple that with a fear of being found out and, unbeknownst to me I was a textbook definition of someone with Impostor Syndrome.

Knowing that this thing I experience has a label, and that I didn’t just will it up to a lack of confidence or an ignorance of knowing my true self has helped, although I still don’t really understand why and how I came to fall into this category.  I just know I do.  I’ve asked myself many times what, specifically, I am afraid that others will find out about me and the answer is incredibly vague and general: I’m just afraid of being found out.  That someone is going to turn to me and say “You really are terrible at this job”, or “You don’t actually know what you’re doing”.

For me, knowing that this exists helps me feel less alone.  I told Ian yesterday that so many of my insecurities and my lesser qualities are things I have always just chalked up to me being me.  Up until very recently, I figured I was someone who had been dealt a bad card when it came to confidence.  All of my negative thoughts, and negative self-talk were things that I believed I had willed up and as such, were unique to me.  It was up to me, likewise, to figure out a means to get out of them and start living a better life.

Knowing now, though that I am someone who gets tremendous motivation from outside sources, but struggles to find it intrinsically, and that I am someone who experiences a crippling self doubt and fear of being found out and that others experience this too, helps.  It doesn’t serve as an excuse, nor is it information that I box myself into.  Like a diagnosis, it helps me understand better how I work and allows me the chance to explore options and methods that will be more successful in helping me create and live the life I want to.

In our chat yesterday, I mentioned to Ian that as I have been struggling with employing some of the things I have learned now over these last several months, I thought I was someone who had grown lazy and apathetic.  I now understand that I work better with accountability and external motivators-things and people to help me get done what I want to.

Information and insight are powerful things, if we let them be.  For me, they end up being the best of road maps.

With Love,

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Olivia Shaw

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