Imposter Syndrome and the 3 Worthless Questions

There are a lot of blog posts about Imposter Syndrome. Most of them are probably better-researched, more aptly worded, and have prettier pictures than this one. I’m not really sure why I think have anything to say about it. Certainly not anything in particular that is new, or thought provoking.

But it’s my blog, and I’m supposed to write about something, and the prompt I gave myself was “The Comparison Trap.” Funny thing: I’m not sure that was supposed to be an idea about Imposter Syndrome. But I wasn’t clever enough to write down what it was about – Past Me just assumed, erroneously, that Present Me would remember – and I’ve been running into Imposter Syndrome a lot this past week, and so…here are three worthless questions.

I say “worthless” because if you find yourself asking them, it’s very likely that it’s not a rational question, but rather something that your subconscious cooked up. I have some recommended answers to said questions, as well.

“If I do this, I might look stupid.”

Yeah, I used that word – or rather, the Imposter Syndrome fear will use that word, because it’s triggering in a lot of people. If you want, you can substitute foolish, silly, incompetent, take your pick. Basically it’s the fear that people (sometimes specific, sometimes general amorphous masses in your imagination) will see you trying something, and judge your performance.

Possible Answers:

  • “Might? I hope I do look stupid! That will make them underestimate me!”
  • “I’m the one in the Arena. Those spectators can say whatever the @#$% they want, until they get down here in the sand it’s nothing I have to listen to.”
  • “Yeah, I’ll look silly. But I’ll look silly with panache.”

“Everybody’s going to know I’m faking it.”

This reminds me of a scene in one of my favorite science fiction epics, when the main character, upon becoming an adult and an officer, has the horrifying realization that along with the title, the uniform, and the responsibility, he was not suddenly also issued the wisdom, experience, and knowledge to do his job. Worse, he realizes: no one else had it, either. I can’t find the quote, but it was something like “nobody actually knows what they’re doing. We’re all faking it. We’re all making it up as we go along!

Now, this is a horrifying thought when it comes to things like brain surgery and the Oval Office, but it’s also a liberating one. One has to remember that everyone was a beginner at some point, and the only way a few of them eventually started looking competent was by reflecting on their experience. 

And one of the definitions of “experience” is “making mistakes.”

Possible Answers:

  • “But no one will know that I know that they know I’m faking it. Or that I know they don’t know that they’re faking it too.”
  • “As soon as they find somebody to replace me, I’ll not only get a vacation, I’ll get to watch somebody else fake it. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the perks.”
  • “Fake it til you break it, that’s the Marine Corps motto. Wait, what?”

“Who am I, to think I can do this?”

Ah, hubris. It is not an attractive trait, and being “full of yourself” is a classic insult. I’ve always wondered: who else am I supposed to be full of

If you’re in a position of privilege and about to give some opinion or take some action that is “outside your lane”, then yes, you may want to take this question seriously. For example, if I decided that I was suddenly going to produce a podcast about indigenous cultures’ religious practices, this would be an appropriate question to ask.

But more often this is a way for the Demon That Eats Your Self-Esteem to try and use a good trait (humility) as a weapon of self-sabotage. It’s basically a diversionary tactic that has nothing to do with the thing you want to do. You are who you are – who else would you be? And what does that have to do with anything?

Possible Answers:

  • “What has that got to do with anything? I know who I am; let’s get to work.”
  • “I dunno, but I know who I’m gonna be: I’m gonna be the Me that Did This.”
  • “I’m the only person who can do this my way.”

Of course, none of these answers will stop Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know anyone – regardless of how talented or successful they are – who doesn’t feel this at some point. 

Perhaps, though, a snappy answer can function as a battle cry that will take you past the moment of doubt into the moment of action. And that’s the funny thing about Imposter Syndrome; once you’re doing the thing, there’s really no room in your head for these kinds of questions. You’re too busy to have time to pretend you’re not supposed to be doing it.

And that’s a feeling worth pursuing.

What tricks do you use to get past those moments when the Demon That Eats Self-Esteem is facing you head-on? I’ve heard everything from high-intensity interval training to blanket forts; share what works for you!

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