mental health


Among Us Imposter
Image by Diego Alvarado from Pixabay

Everything starts sunny. You finish a piece of work, sit back, and admire your handiwork. This can be anything: a sketch, a sculpture, a short story, a section in a novel, a blog post, an article, a painting, lines of code, a page of editing, a new recipe; fill in the blank with whatever swells your chest with pride. You’re riding high on a wave of accomplishment. And then it happens: Someone walks in with a similar project – and you judge it better than yours. Suddenly, you don’t feel so hot. Maybe you delete your work – or destroy it. Or you might shove it into a closet somewhere. Then you slink to the back of the group, determined to avoid the notice of your peers. You clearly entered the room by mistake, and you need to escape before anyone catches sight of your miserable presence.

You’re nothing but an imposter.

Imposter syndrome dogs the feet of those in creative fields. (And I’m using a broad definition of “creative” here. If you produce ANYTHING out of nothing, you’re a creative) People with genuine talent invariably find themselves doubting their skills at various points in their lives. Confidence flags and they crash into pits of depression where nothing they produce feels worthwhile. Their peers are (obviously) laughing at them, no one will ever take them seriously, and they’ll end up living in a cardboard box on a street corner, forgotten by the rest of the world. It prevents them from recognizing their actual worth, and they can spend days, weeks, or even months trapped in wells of doubt. They look around, convinced they don’t belong in whatever circle they blundered into.

Ironically, people WITHOUT a specific talent – throwing shit at a wall because it sticks – don’t suffer from imposter syndrome. They happily put every piece of crap on display, making those with a gift feel worse and worse by comparison. (That’s an entirely different tirade, though)

It’s easy to find people discussing imposter syndrome in artists or writers or even technicians. The strike of waning self-confidence is typical, and enough people have overcome the problem to offer advice and support. But it’s trickier to unearth the fact that people feel like frauds in their everyday existence. And no one seems to want to extend their “tips and tricks” to their neighbors.

Because who feels like an imposter at home?

We forget that niggling self-doubt can pop ANYWHERE. How is a mother supposed to feel when she takes time out to make a healthy lunch of a sandwich, fruit, and vegetables only to have her child rush home to chatter about their friend’s carefully-packed bento box? Oh, sure, her lunch was nutritious. And she didn’t throw it together at the last minute. But is anyone going to snap a photo and turn it viral on social media? Probably not. (And if you’re not going viral these days, you’re an absolute failure) Suddenly, that mom wonders what she’s doing wrong. Her own child carries on for hours about another mother’s lunch-packing capabilities. Definitely time to turn in her “Mother” card.

You clean your house regularly. Nothing’s out of place, and no one will find a dust bunny in the corners or under the bed (even if you share a home with pets). It means sacrificing some of your idle hours to devote to scrubbing, dusting, and vacuuming, but you’re proud of the gleaming surfaces around you. Then your friends come over for a game night and gush over someone else’s hermetically-sealed home. They insist microbes run in fear from the front door. No one’s ever seen kitchens or bathrooms so shiny in their lives. You look around and wonder where you went wrong. Not one person congratulates you on your work. They don’t even notice. You obviously didn’t work hard enough – or you’re doing things wrong. You probably shouldn’t invite people over.

It goes on and on. Despite doing your best, you start to look around and question your work. Before you know it, you feel like an absolute fraud. You’re an imposter. And no one offers insight on how to defeat the negativity crowding into your mind. Instead, you notice all of the headlines on the newsstands telling you how to be a better parent or new ways to clean your home. The world seems to agree with the assessment you’ve made of yourself. And that imposter syndrome starts spiraling out of control.

Break out the cape and duck out the window.

The need for comparison is what lies at the root of imposter syndrome. And it’s a slippery slope. There’s ALWAYS someone better out there, especially to our eyes. We have idols and ideals. That’s how we learn and grow. But developing that scale allows us to slide to the bottom. If we can’t measure up to the top, we’re obviously complete shams. Time to slink away. Except the logic rings false. You ARE good at the things in your life. You wouldn’t do them, otherwise. (For instance, I don’t grow plants. They die every time. I have proof that gardening doesn’t work for me) And that’s the mental pep talk creatives use when they’re facing the anxiety of imposter syndrome. “You made it this far, dummy. Obviously, you’re doing something right.”

No matter where or what you feel useless at, the argument works. Fine, you don’t pack a lunch that wins photography prizes. Do your children get a meal? Hey! You’re ahead of some “parents” out there that don’t even care if their kids eat. And food doesn’t need to be viral-worthy to taste good. (Some of us grew up in the decades before cellphones. We survived) Is your home comfortable? Doesn’t that seem better than living in a cleanroom? (After all, your friends came over to YOUR place, not the BL5)

I fight imposter syndrome with my writing ALL THE TIME. And I have awards on my walls and a page of testimonials! It’s pure madness. Yet the doubt creeps in when I encounter other people’s success and brilliance with words. But I also find myself feeling like a fraud in other aspects of my life. I see wives who concoct elaborate birthday celebrations for their husbands. All I did was come up with a game night – and the cake I ordered got screwed up for delivery. (Actually, my husband helped me make the replacement. Talk about epic fails) Other kids organize stunning anniversary gifts for their parents. I come up with lame family photo ideas. It reinforces my belief that I’m an imposter of a creative. If I can’t be more imaginative about those ideas, how can I possibly write well?

Everyone’s different, though. What stands out in other families – and gains rave attention on social media – doesn’t really work in ours. We’re quiet and reserved. There’s nothing my mom loves more than family so that photo idea I kicked myself for? Yeah, it went over better than imagined. And my husband loved my intent (not like it was my fault the delivery went screwy) and enjoyed pitching in on making his cake. Little reminders that I’m not in those “rooms” by accident. And that’s what you look for when you feel like you slipped up and entered where you don’t belong.

There ARE imposters out there. But they’re the ones bragging and carrying on. People who belong and carry gifts with them? They don’t need to say so. If you feel doubts about yourself or what you’re accomplishing? Turn around and see how far you’ve come. Look at the people around you and what they say. Odds are you’re where you’re supposed to be.

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