Monday, November 9, 2015

The ongoing struggle w Imposter Syndrome

I originally wrote this in 2010 and came across it today. I really needed to read it. My life has changed a lot in the past five years, but for better or worse,  I'm still the same. So I updated this post to reflect my current reality in the hopes that someone else might feel better knowing they're not the only one out there pretending at life.

Ever since I was a kid, I've felt like a faker. A big phony, as Holden Caulfield would put it. And that feeling persists. Throughout my life, on the occasions that I’ve done well or had people praise me for something, one part of me has always sort of felt like: “Well thanks, but if you had any idea of what I was really like…”  Let's be honest - I'm not what I seem.

I've always been awkward like that. I wore the wrong clothes, and I always said something completely random that made people wonder if I'd recently suffered some sort of head trauma.  I tried too hard when that wasn't cool, and I didn't care when I was supposed to.

But every couple of years, something happens that makes me aware that I’m not the only one who feels like this. Fifteen years ago, I cried in a professor’s office that I didn’t belong in grad school because I wasn’t good enough to be there. She told me that everyone - including her - felt that way and that the key was to shut up about it so that other people didn’t start to believe it, too. That was good advice. She’s now the chair of the Department.

But that was a long time ago and in another state.  And lately I’ve been sort of overwhelmed by the degree to which everyone else has confidence in what they’re doing. They all seem so cocksure and certain that they’re right all the time.  That must be exhausting.  Just watching them in a constant state of "often wrong but never in doubt" is getting kind of tedious.  But I shouldn't judge because there are days when I feel so deep in The Blur that I have trouble making a single declarative statement or remembering my own phone number.

Last week an acquaintance of mine, a lady that I respect and admire, said in conversation: “I have Imposter Syndrome.  I look like I’m right here, but in reality – I’m on the fringes looking in.”  I was like “WHUCK. DID. YOU. JUST. SAY?”  This woman (who’s maybe 20 years my senior) is attractive, articulate, reserved and intelligent.  She might as well have had a patrician English accent.  Basically, the opposite of me.  

A normal person would’ve thought: “How unfortunate that this model of grace and composure feels like an imposter”. But I was like: “WOO HOO!” and went from being slightly in awe of her to wanting to jump in her lap and snuggle like a Pomeranian.  I tried to pretend I was a normal person for a minute and thanked her for her honesty and told her it was something that I really needed to hear at that moment.

I was reminded that I’m not alone in being a big phony.  I was reminded of my mother’s advice when I worried I would never make it as a grown-up in a grown-up world: “Just fake it with good manners. That’s all any of us can do.”  But I think I can do more.  I think I can tell the truth about all the ways I am not what I seem.  I can categorize some of the particulars of my I.S. (Imposter Syndrome - not to be confused with IBS, which has to do with Jamie Lee Curtis and yogurt).

I am a good mother.  No, I’m not. It's just I only work part-time instead of going to an office all day, so I volunteer for stuff.  You see me at my children’s school all the time and assume that because the teachers call me by my first name and my kids usually remember to say please, that I am a good mother.  That I’m involved in my kids’ lives. But actually, I still spend a few minutes at the end of each night reliving all the stupid things I said and did that I wish I could take back. Not a single day goes by when I don't screw something up.

I am a nice person.  If you were telepathic like Edward Cullen or Sookie Stackhouse, you would read my thoughts and know that I am actually an evil, horrible person and that the inside of my head is sometimes a bag of cats. Occasionally, I wish that very bad things would happen to others, for example, people who cut me off in traffic or do not obey the rules of the kiss and ride line and make me late. Or set off fireworks across the street from my house at 3am.  Sigh... I can’t help it.  I yelled at my daughter today when she didn’t deserve it. I haven't called my father back in a month. I audibly giggled at a lady in church who sings very loud and sounds like a small farm animal. Nice people don’t do that.

I am a good friend.  Why don't you ask my actual friends that question. I'm an awesome at friendship provided you don't need me to return your phone calls, texts, or emails regularly.  Also if you're fine with me only making plans about 15 minutes in advance and then needing you to drive my kids home from practice. If your definition of friendship is limited to me liking the stuff you post on Facebook, then I'm your girl. This overall tendency is made more pathetic by the fact that when others don't return my texts or calls, I quickly spiral into a vortex of "but why aren't they calling me back/what did I do/why am I such a loser?" because that makes total sense.

I am generous. I am the most selfish person on the face of the earth. I might do things for other people, but it doesn't make me generous. My father in law was kindness itself. He would give you the shirt off his back and then feel bad because you wouldn’t take his shoes.  I’ll give you my shirt if you really need it, but I’ll want it back later and I probably won’t be happy about it.  And keep in mind, it’s not like it’s a nice shirt.  I probably bought it at Target and it probably has a boobstain and I’ll still be like: “Are you done with my shirt now?”

I have my shit together. It may appear that as my kids have gotten older that I've become progressively less of a train wreck. I now have a job traditionally held by together people (that job is teaching undergraduates). I shower a lot more and dress like a grown up approximately 3 times per week. I don't have to deal with diapers and I'm getting more sleep. Ok, so maybe things are slightly better. But don't be deceived, I'm dealing with all new challenges and failing to meet them in very exciting and often embarrassing ways, sometimes at the expense of my children.

When I was a child, I felt embarrassed of the fact that I was a fraud.  When I was a teenager, I sneered at those who were inauthentic phonies (while I was watching Beverly Hills 90210 and applying too much make-up).  Now that I’m an adult, I can be honest about who I am.  I have Imposter Syndrome, but I’m trying to get better.  Every day, I’m working at being a good mother and friend, at being generous and kind.

And every day, I fall short and then I fake it with good manners.

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