Be the Impostor. Written by Allison McWilliams for the Huffington Post, October 31, 2017.
The impostor syndrome is real. It happens to all of us, whether we’re kids trying to fit into a new school group, young adults trying to make it into the world, or seasoned professionals who seem like we should have it together, but in reality, don’t. The honest truth of the matter is that none of us know what we’re doing, not really. There is no magic moment that happens when you will think, “Aha! Now I’m a professional/adult/expert/success.” In fact, as you age, to some degree it gets worse (sorry about that), because people expect you to be the competent professional/adult human being. In your head, meanwhile, you will be somewhere around age 22, thinking about all of the things that you’re going to do and be when you grow up. You can see where some of the challenges with these conflicting mindsets can creep in.
There are some markers, of course. These include things like buying your first home, getting married, having kids, getting promoted, graduation, and so forth. These accomplishment moments are, in some ways, signals that you’ve done something, you’ve crossed some sort of imaginary threshold that’s puts both yourself and others on notice. But the reality is, that threshold is imaginary, and it really doesn’t mean anything. You, as a person, won’t be any different on the other side. And, because most of us don’t reach a certain place and just stay there, life is a series of impostor moments. You will change jobs, change relationships, change locations, have all sorts of things happen that will put you back into that impostor place. It’s normal.
The stress of feeling like an impostor comes from two sources. It comes from other people making us feel like we don’t belong, belittling us, giving us subtle clues that we don’t know what we’re doing. And, sometimes because of these other people (but not always) it comes from inside of us as well, when we give ourselves subtle little clues that we don’t know what we’re doing, that we don’t belong, that we’re “just” a student/entry-level employee/woman/whatever. Both sources can be completely damaging and demoralizing, and can keep us from moving forward in productive and positive ways.
There are some really great methods to get over the impostor syndrome, ranging from reflective practices like journaling, to finding a mentor, to employing positive self-talk. All of these are important and useful. But I would like to argue here that perhaps there is value in embracing your impostor status. If we all have our moments of feeling like an impostor, then maybe instead of trying to “get over it” we should instead “walk into it.” What can our impostor status allow us to do?
There are, without question, challenges and negative aspects to feeling like an impostor. But it’s possible, with a slight switch to one’s mindset, to turn that negative into a real positive and even into a competitive advantage. The next time you find yourself wanting to “get over” your impostor status, try instead to embrace it.