The Real Deal
I went through several months with a pretty good "life coach" and left without any idea of what I wanted to do with my life.
I thought that I was just lost.
Turns out, I've been lost for over 30 years. And suddenly, I'm not.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the stairs in my house with a book on my lap, crying.
"What's the matter, honey?" asks my mom.
"I can't do it! I can't read!" I wail, despairing that the teacher will hate me, that I've let my family down.
I was 5 years old.
By fourth grade, the anxiety was so high that when I was placed in a "gifted" group where we got together with students from the local college once a week to write and read original stories, I was copying stories from the school library over by hand to turn in as "my" work, terrified they would find out I wasn't really as smart as they thought I was. I remember my internal humiliation when my mother told her father all about the great stories I was writing.
That was the same year I panicked going into a geography test, and got caught cheating. For the rest of the year at that school, my nickname was "Cheater." That scarring experience drilled into me that cheating wasn't a good choice for faking high performance, so it never happened again.
And I never let my parents find out.
Throughout high school, college, grad school, I knew that my good grades and success weren't real - I had just successfully fooled people into thinking that I was good. Every good grade brought temporary relief; every new assignment brought dread that I would fail and be revealed, and a life-or-deat effort to maintain the illusion I had so carefully built, that I was competent.
It sounds corny, but it was actually an Oprah magazine that changed all this.
The latest issue has an entire section on figuring out what career is right for you, what's holding you back, how to find your skills, etc. I never buy magazines, but this one caught my eye. Why not? $4.50 is cheaper than what I spent on the life coach, right?
In taking the "what's holding you back" quiz, my answers were all over the place - turns out, it was everything. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing control, fear of disapproval. Sheesh.
But it was there that I first read the phrase "imposter syndrome" - a psychological condition in which a successful person feels, down to their core, that their very competence and ability are a complete illusion they've been carefully maintaining, that any failure will reveal.
That's me, I thought.
I googled it. I read. I was set free.
Within an hour, I felt happier than I had in years. I looked around the room - that man over there, he really loved me. ME, not just the illusion of me I had been projecting. Those projects I did, I really did them. It wasn't just a pretense that I could do them.
That successful writing, editing, childraising, friend-supporting, etc etc etc - I owned it.
To someone who has never suffered from imposter syndrome, this probably sounds ridiculous. But to me, it was the weight of the world lifting off my shoulders.
As Stuart Smiley would say, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like me!"
If you know someone smart, accomplished, creative, who has a hard time taking compliments, takes every mistake or failure to heart, and dismisses her achievements, show her this article. It will rock her world.