It’s so wonderful to see you. You look great! Did you get a haircut?
But I’m getting distracted. Friends, I want to talk to you about this great video I just watched.
If you’ve got fifteen minutes, watch this with your eyeballs. It’s pretty wonderful.
It’s a TedX talk by Tanya Geisler about “Impostor Syndrome.” You know – that feeling that you’ve somehow faked your way into every success you’ve ever had? That any minute now, someone is going to look at you and realize that you have no idea what you’re doing and that you’re not even supposed to be here, and everything is going to come crashing down?
Yeah, that one. It’s a terrible sort of anxiety, isn’t it? It makes us unwilling to speak up, even if we’re sure we know the answer. It makes us reluctant to throw ourselves into projects, to go after the things that we really, really want. About 50% of my self-sabotage is a result of Impostor Syndrome.
We’ve all felt it, I bet. Especially you friends who are women. Odds are you feel like this, well, pretty much all the time.
As Tanya Geisler points out in her video, the term “Impostor Phenomenon” was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe the inability of successful women, specifically, to internalize their own accomplishments.
She believes more women suffer from Impostor Syndrome than men because girls are socialized to apologize for everything, whereas boys (in a broad generalization) are socialized that apologizing is a sign of weakness. I’m a little dubious about that wording, to be honest, but I can think of about a million more reasons.
Boys are, by and large, allowed to compete much more openly. They’re allowed to be louder, to get messier, to assert their opinions more recklessly. Girls are taught to be hyper-concerned about others’ feelings at all times – we’re allowed to compete, but it’s supposed to be sneakier somehow. We’re not allowed to claim our own successes, not out loud.
I remember learning the hard way that if I got a good grade on a test, the correct response was not to display it proudly – that would be bragging, and get me labeled as “stuck-up.” The correct response was to downplay it, brush it off, assure anyone who might feel threatened that I just happen to be good at tests – I just got lucky. Over and over I assured people that I just got lucky, that my achievements were no big deal. Now, that response is automatic, ingrained. Even accepting a compliment feels conceited and wrong.
Need more examples? How about all. of. these. songs. (all of them radio hits) celebrating women who “don’t know” they’re beautiful and/or worthy of love? Hell, One Direction even comes out and says it: “You don’t know you’re beautiful/ And that’s what makes you beautiful!” Hear that, little girls? Never claim your own beauty, or One Direction won’t love you.
The pressure to downplay our achievements and insult ourselves is everywhere. It’s constant. It’s a form of social currency. And that very ubiquity renders it invisible, because it’s just “what you do.”
But friends, we need to stop doing it. We need to claim our own worth, loudly and repeatedly. We need to teach all of the children in our lives to do the same. To celebrate themselves – and each other, of course. But especially themselves. Because if you proclaim your own worthlessness over and over, you’re going to believe it.
So we know what we need to change. But we still have this problem – this lifelong self-insult hangover. This collective delusion of our own incompetence and unworthiness. This corrosive, self-sabotaging mindset that holds us back. And it’s worse, in general, for women. But it’s a problem for all of us beautiful humans. So what do we do about it?
Tanya Geisler has some great suggestions for overcoming Impostor Syndrome, starting at 07:02 in the video. Here’s what I suggest, for when you want to go after something but that voice in your head is yelling at you, telling you that you can’t:
Just do it anyway.
So you’re not good enough? You’re not qualified enough, prepared enough, worthy enough of whatever it is you want to jump for? So what? Do it anyway.
What’s the worst that will happen? Let your mind run wild. Maybe you will be revealed for a failure. Maybe you will lose a lot of money. Maybe everyone will laugh at you and you will never have friends again. Those are scary thoughts! But how true are they? How likely, really, is your worst-case scenario?
Think about your best friend – someone who has been there for you in the worst parts of your life. Will they really abandon you because you attempt something and fail? Even if it is the most spectacular, monumental of failures. Will the friend who held your hair while you learned about alcohol poisoning freshman year really turn their back on you? What about the friend who went through the awkward-hair-and-braces phase with you back in middle school? If those friends could hear the things your Impostor Syndrome voice is yelling at you, they would tell it to take a long walk off a short pier. Those friends, they have your back.
And besides. Even if the worstest of the worst case scenarios come to pass . . . one day you will be dead!
No, really. In the words of my hero Carsie Blanton, you’re gonna die one day, and none of that is going to matter. (Of course, whether or not you chase your dreams might not matter either. But doesn’t that take off some of the pressure? Your inevitable demise can be both motivating and comforting.)
And besides, what’s the best that could happen? What fantastic, delightful heights of accomplishment might you reach? Have you noticed how we almost never let ourselves think about that?
Thinking “What’s the best that could happen?” can make the Impostor Syndrome voice get really loud. It’s a liar, we know it’s a liar, but that doesn’t always keep it from being the loudest thing you can hear. And that, my friends, is the fun part. That’s when we get louder.
What’s your favorite psych song – the song that gets you riled up, makes you feel like you can take on the world? Is it Katy Perry’s “Firework?” Is it Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us?” Is it the theme song from Buffy?* Put it on and crank it up. Hearing loss is a problem for future you to deal with – right now you are getting psyched.
Take Tanya Geisler s advice and make yourself a “yay” list of all of the accomplishments you feel good about, every compliment you have received, anything that has ever lit you up and made you feel like a champion. They are not flukes, or luck, or irrelevant. They are the evidence of your badassery. They are the most goddamn relevant things in the world. Hug them in and let them warm you. And then go out and do what you need to do.
It’s not going to be easy! It’s going to be scary, and exhausting – not just the big leaps, but the little steps.
Let’s say maybe you want to be a writer. Maybe you’re taking a little step along that path – maybe you’re writing a post telling people to believe in themselves, and it’s stressful, because you feel like a cheesy goofball and who are you to be telling people to believe in themselves, anyways? You don’t even have a savings account.**
Scary moments like these are important times to take care of yourself. Maybe move from your judgmental, angular desk and sit in a cozy chair instead! Maybe drink some delicious tea. Maybe watch this pep talk from Kid President! (Be careful, though. Youtube is a rabbit’s hole of imposter-syndrome-inspired procrastination.)
I recommend calling a friend. Someone who you trust a lot, someone who will affirm you and tell you how fantastic you are. Maybe you and that friend can talk about your dreams together, and cheer each other on! Even if you aren’t suffering from impostor syndrome this is a great thing to do, because it’s fun and will make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
If you are not sure who you want to call, write to my friend Kerry and she will write you a letter of encouragement! Tape it up on your bathroom mirror and look at it every morning. You can do this thing you’re scared of. You can.
Thanks for listening, friends. I love you.
*All examples are rhetorical!
**Definitely, definitely rhetorical examples here.