Thank you Bridie for introducing to us the imposing presence of the impostor syndrome. I was very much inspired by your unveiling of the insidious illness and I would like to introduce my own ideas of how people can have another source of resistance against self-negativity.
I call it a secret weapon, a weapon that has been cultivated for centuries at the hands of the very enemies who were/are loudest in proclaiming that someone is insipid, useless, unable or inferior. This weapon is a fathomless well of motivation and determination to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. This well has catastrophic powers, with the possible consequences of pushing people to take a sledge hammer to the glass ceiling, stampede down road blocks to equal rights, catapult over exceptions and to take a sharpie to the official rule book.
Now, what does this “well” (as I call it) have to do with the impostor, you may ask? Think of it as yin and yang. To every situation there is an equal and opposite force. In this case, where there is a voice telling you that you can’t, there is also a voice declaring that you can. When the impostor voice insists that you are not qualified, it feeds the well with reasons about why you are! (Besides that fact that you are a boss, of course). We are all different. For different people, perhaps this well isn’t gushing like Niagara Falls, but instead is the size of a raindrop. Or perhaps, that person takes their inspiration or motivation from a different source. My idea is just another illustration of where inspiration can spring and another way to visualize it. (Metaphors rock!) Also, I was raised specifically to think in terms of negative and positive energy. These terms have been called many things, from karma, to luck, to a whole plethora of other descriptions of parts of the human experience that affects not only our outlook but how we view and feel things ourselves.
Let me tell you a story in order to make clear how this is especially true for me.
I pride myself on being positive. It is the philosophy that keeps me at the grindstone when I do the thousand and one things I am involved in, and it is what keeps me up that extra hour in order to get the job done even if I am exhausted. All my friends know that when they are in feeling blue, I am shooting nuclear-sized blasts of positive energy in their direction because I truly believe that it is powerful. But for a week only just last week, I lost sight of that lifeline and fell into the dumps. And not just some stinky dumpster of bad energy, but the blackest pit of self-deprecation and doubt. It all revolved around my job at a non-profit. I have been volunteering there since September and was promised a salaried position. I started on a project that had a stipend and then I worked on important documents for another project that would give me the financial security to live my life without having to count each penny from my restaurant job. I very much am one of those meritocracy people, who believes that I will get what I deserve and my hard work will be paid back. Naïve I know, and not always true, but that sense of fairness is what has been ingrained in my head since forever.
So when I lost communication with the clients I was working with and my emails were going unnoticed and/or ignored, I got angry. And when the second round of emails were sent and not responded to…suddenly all I was doing was waking up exhausted. Exhausted in mind and body. Besides the fact that I was working more at my restaurant job, I had started to doubt myself. The voice in my head told me that I was being taken for a ride, that my hard work was only going to be used and I was going to see nothing of any sort of recognition or compensation. If they even got back to me. I saw myself as useless and lost all motivation to work on the one project I had the stipend for. And although I knew that this was not going to help my case – that I was only feeding into my feelings of uselessness by not doing anything – I could not find anything in me to fight back. Why should I do anything if it is not going to have any result?
To sum up: it was a bad case of the blues. To make it worse, I’m a bit of a private person, so I found it very hard to articulate how down I was.
The turning point came when I was contacted by my boss and offered an extremely flattering proposal but that would not actually give me much power/ability to directly work with clients. I was shocked. I had been ignored and suddenly I was their new “it” girl. This didn’t make sense. The fog in my brain cleared and I remembered why I had joined this organization in the first place. I had joined in order to help people by listening to their story and using the way they saw the world and applying it to the knowledge I had in order to find a sustainable solution. I had not joined in order to get elevated. And that was something I would not get through this new proposal. I would get that by working on the program with the small stipend and other smaller projects where I would have direct access to the people I was trying to serve.
But what really made the difference to this realization was when I talked it over with a friend, who not only spoke about how authentic all my feelings were, that they were ok to have felt but to “snap out of it” (minus the slap) and that I was not alone.
This personal experience for me is definitely not the proving point that positivity is the be-all-end-all panacea for all depression or bluesiness. As other lovely people have pointed out, this is no where near what people suffer from serious depression and I have no intention here of insulting them or making their experience insignificant. The intention here is to share my story. For me, speaking and writing my story is motivational for myself. Perhaps someone reading this has a similar story and will decide to tell it. Maybe not. Either way, I want to be sure that it is understood that I do not want to in any way undermine anyone else’s experiences. We are all different with different experiences.
For me, that empathy and my realization that I was not alone made me remember that well of positivity that was inside me, that is possibly inside every woman (and other groups who have felt the oppression against their identity and been restrained to be who they are). The next day I woke up (after only one 10 minute snooze) and started my day with a sunshine smile. I could feel the motivation inside me saying that the only person who could push me was myself and that the energy to do so has to come from me. A week later I read Bridie’s impostor syndrome and I had an aha(!) moment.
Just like Bridie and Tanya said in the awesome video, you need to just go out and do what you are dreaming of. Capture the feeling to do what you love and how it feels to do it and let it inspire you to actually “DO IT ANYWAY”.
Think of a roaring fireplace or bonfire. It’s so hot that marshmallows burst into flame instantaneously and it almost looks like that the flames will lick the sky. Now think of all that energy trapped into one coal or one piece of wood that glows. That is exactly what positivity is; it is ready to be a gigantic fire-disaster, but in the best of ways. It is the fuel to get you to the moon. The imposter or the hater may like to tell you otherwise but that glowing ember or bottomless well of motivation, determination, hope, positivity, energy, and confidence is always inside of you growing stronger every time you hear or think something negative. It eats away all the shadows of doubt and all you are left with is light.
Google images: bonfire, Rosie the Riviter, Terminator
Youtube: Bad Day – Daniel Powter. Snap out of it – Moonstruck
Bridie’s awesome post – Opposing the Impostor Syndrome