I'm an Imposter. You Too?

As a professional in the learning profession for, um, more than 20 years, I’ve been lucky to have been in many, many situations where people choose to lavish praise on me for what they say is a job well done. And yet, for longer than those 20 years I’ve been (inwardly) unable to accept their gift of praise.

Why is this? Where does it come from? What do I do to figure it out? This is what I really need to learn how to do.

Several of you who know me might also know that I trained for many years to be a singer. I don’t really remember what I planned to do with that degree, but that’s what I was about. Probably education. Ta Da! Here I am! J But I bring this up because I would often hide out following a performance just so I didn’t have to face the people in the audience and what they had to say about my performance. No way was I born with, nor equipped with the right mouth sounds and appropriate responses. On the occasions when I did face them, the battle raging in my head would go something like, “Was that response humble enough? Maybe they’re just being polite”. Hiding out was truly easier.

Fast forward a few years and I began speaking for groups and facilitating classes. Informally as a volunteer in the beginning and a while later I found out I could do it as a career. Who knew! People said they’d asked me because they thought I’d be great at it. Imagine this “thing” inside my head growing bigger exponentially with so many chances for my abilities to be judged. Yikes! Did you know they do these things called evaluations where people provide written feedback. Whoa! Way not ready for this. But I’m in it now, so what do I do? (insert a shoulder shrug; gulp) Soldier on, I guess.

Over the years, I’ve learned to turn the volume down on the voice inside my head when she’s performing her sabotage lectures. But make no mistake, she is still there. For you, I’ll call her, Doubt. But she has several other names in my world.

When discussing this with a close friend and confidante several years ago, she mentioned that I might suffer from something called, “imposter syndrome”. We had a chuckle over that, I likely cracked wise and continued our social event. She moved on. However, I’ve carried that metaphor around for years. Years! How in the heck did she hit the nail on the proverbial head so accurately? Huh.

I’ve been pondering writing a blog post on this for a while but it is so public. But….self-doubt and that really loud voice in my head kept me from doing it. After all, people will read it. I’ll be outted. The fraud I’ve been perpetrating revealed. What if it isn’t good enough? Why would someone bother to read it? Will they think less of me? (“Probably”, she says with her arms crossed and a snide look on her face. Mental head slaps for everyone!)

There is also this quiet voice I like to think of as Reason, who chooses to assert herself every once in a while. This time, she said, “so what if they don’t read it? Maybe it will help you.” Huh. So before I lost my nerve completely, I consulted with the great oracle Google searching “imposter syndrome”. Lo and behold, it is a real thing. For other people too! Some refer to it as “imposter phenomenon”, but it is the same thing. Huh, again.

 It remains to be seen what I’ll do with this new knowledge that I don’t suffer this alone. But I know I’ll do something with it. There are quizzes and recommendations and books. There has to be something in there that will resonate. I’m not convinced that Doubt can move aside to let Reason shine. But forging an alliance would be nice. I’m willing to try. I hope they are too.