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Wiki describes Imposter Syndrome like this:
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”
“Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achievers, but it is said that 70% of us will experience it at some point in our lives, so it is more common than first thought. It is true though that those who are more brilliant tend to suffer from it more extremely.
I can only speak for myself, but imposter syndrome is something I have encountered at every step of my life. In every job I have ever had I have never been able to shake the feeling that they are going to rumble me, and that I will be fired for not being good enough. That one day someone will request a meeting with me and say “You shouldn’t be here.” Every time that I receive praise on how well I am doing I smile awkwardly and try to give them an excuse as to why I “appear” to be doing so well.
When I first started my therapy practice it plagued me more than ever. I was convinced that one day a client would look across at me and say, “Who the hell do you think you are, trying to help me with my problems? You are a liar and you are going to jail for being a fraud!”
That was my honest thought on the subject. I seriously believed that I was going to get into trouble for setting up my business, despite being fully qualified, and achieving high results on all my studies, because I felt like a total fraud. It is a feeling that I still haven’t quite shifted to this day, but one that I manage a lot better.
If we take my therapy practice for an example (I even have trouble typing the words and calling it that because a little voice in the back of my head says “it’s not really though is it? It’s not a real one is it so you can’t call it that.”) I actually found that my attitude was starting to sabotage sessions. It was minute, almost imperceptible little things, but I noticed. My lack of confidence in myself was communicating to certain clients, who I could see starting to shift in sessions, no doubt unconsciously picking up on this and implanting that doubt in their own minds. I realised that if I wasn’t careful and didn’t deal with this issue, I could turn my irrational thought into a truth. I wouldn’t be good enough to do my job, and it wouldn’t be through lack of knowledge or training, or not being able to do the job well, but it would be through letting my own mental processes interfere with the work that I was supposed to be doing. I had to do something about it, but what is there to do?
I began trying to talk to myself and motivate myself before sessions. I began “rehearsing” sessions with a non-existent client. I re-read study materials (that I knew like the back of my hand) and did old exercises from modules. I even sometimes would ask a client to close their eyes to do an exercise because their inability to watch me doing what I was doing helped me relax. I began going to any little course, seminar etc to make myself feel as though I was doing something, reigniting and maintaining my frame of mind. It helped, and little by little I didn’t need to do quite so much to feel more at ease. I still go on courses and to seminars etc as I feel that really helps to keep my mind keyed in to what I am doing and boosts my confidence.
I am really good at what I do, and always have been. It was only my own mind I had to prove that to.
I know that it won’t be the last time I encounter this problem, and I know that I am not the only one who does. I think thoughts like these can rot away at the base of your brain, undermining everything you do and ruining your chance to be happier and perhaps to excel. I know I have been afraid in the past of trying something, of pushing myself, because I thought I would fail because I wasn’t good enough. But through trying different things I have found ways that help me, and if more of us spoke about these things, maybe they wouldn’t knaw away at us, and maybe more people could feel happier.
On Monday I started a new job.
It was a relief after spending 7 1/2 weeks unemployed. I still can’t afford to pay the bills that have piled up angrily through my letterbox, but I will soon.
I hadn’t planned on being unemployed, it was sprung upon me last minute, and unfortunately unemployment isn’t something I handle very well.
I spent my first few days in my new house waking early, getting coffee and sitting at the laptop full of productivity and enthusiasm for job hunting and getting things done that I hadn’t had time for whilst working. 7 days later I was heading out to Berlin and spent six days chilling out, and simply enjoying existing. It was wonderful and I didn’t want to go home. A few days after getting back home I suffered 9 days of excruciating toothache, and I mean bad. It was pain the likes of which I have never felt which reduced me to a whimpering crying wreck. Needless to say that during this time I got absolutely nothing done other than laying on the couch trying to distract myself with Netflix and feeling incredibly sorry for myself. Then I was off to Lollapolooza in Berlin, and despite experiencing some pain the first night and day, I was relatively pain free for the rest of my time there and able to enjoy myself.
Once back home again the crushing reality of the nothingness ahead started to creep in. I applied for jobs, watched Netflix, wandered around aimlessly, all the while refusing to acknowledge the bills that I was powerless to deal with.
Having said all that, and considering my situation, I wasn’t depressed, sad, unmotivated, or hopeless. I was confident, strong, unaffected and relaxed. I realised that there was a lot of fat that needed cutting from my life, and began to see clearly all the things I hadn’t had time to contemplate when working. I began listing (I do love a list) and created a Bullet Journal, inspired by many Pinterest boards, and a plan started to form. Once I knew I had got the job, I continued with the planning, examining, listing. I stopped taking the pill as it numbs me completely, despite the fact that I know “un-numbed” I can be unpredictable and wild.
It seems as though I will really enjoy this job, it is different and already I am feeling excited about possibilities.
Combined with my planning for the future, I am feeling very positive and motivated, slightly more whole than usual, and content. The time away from work has given me the space I needed to sort out some much needed mental spring cleaning, so as much as I hate unemployment, it would seem to have its unexpected benefits!
Perhaps I am just destined to live my life feeling vaguely frustrated and agitated and not being able to put my finger on it and fill it.
Lately I have been feeling a creative block. Inspiration has been at my fingertips but just out of reach.
I find it so easy to slip into a numb yet frustrated melancholy when this occurs, and give up on things too easily, because I just don’t have the will power or incentive to try anything. All too often I will be struck by some inspiration or motivation but when I’m busy doing something else, and by the time I am free to do whatever it was I was feeling excited about, that feeling has gone and I end up doing nothing. That is exactly why I am writing this at this moment in time, I arrived at work today and was suddenly filled with positivity and inspiration and motivation and sunshine, but I can’t do any of the things that I truly want to be doing because I am stuck at work for the next 8.5 hours. So instead I am channeling that feeling into writing, that energy has to go somewhere, and no, I don’t want to channel it into my work, thanks. My work is uninspiring and suffocating, so let’s leave that there.
But I find it so hard to be creative and motivated at home!!
I notice though that despite now feeling the inspiration and motivation, it has not got rid of the frustration. Perhaps I am just destined to live my life feeling vaguely frustrated and agitated and not being able to put my finger on it and fill it.
When I have no motivation I find myself filled with doubt, insecurities, self-dissatisfaction, self-berating thoughts which push me further into the hole that I am in, but I seem quite incapable of stopping myself from doing it. I have no internal locus of evaluation, which is pathetic, and probably why I can’t commit to anything or get my arse in gear and do things.
So today I feel pumped and I want to go to a yoga class and a Zumba class and go find a beer garden near a river and fall asleep on some grass and sit under a tree and read a book, and I want to write, and get on with some of my projects and take pictures of weird tiny objects and make a cool thing and organise my belongings and maybe hang some pictures….
I resent my work because I don’t want to be here. When these moods strike me I want to be free to do something about it. By the time I have finished work and got home my enthusiasm for doing things has waned considerably, and I tend to dick around, or hang out with people, instead of doing something productive, and I can’t keep beating myself up about it, because I have been doing something productive for 9 hours, it was just for someone else’s benefit, not mine.
So maybe I can’t control my swings of motivation vs hedonism, but I should probably try to be nicer to myself about it and stop beating myself up and holding myself to such a ridiculously high standard, or at least I can hold myself to that standard but not expect myself to meet it every second of every day. It is ok to have blips and emotions and not be feeling it.
These days I see increasing pressure to be a fantastic all round person and it is killing my friends. People are trying to do too much, and it’s not healthy.
[I would like to note that this is written from a female perspective, concentrating on women, simply because this is my own personal experience as a woman. However, this happens to men too, so I welcome comments and experiences from men.]
The 1950’s gave us the modern model of perfect family. A man had a good job and provided well for his family, expected to uphold certain social requirements and maintain networks and look smart. The women were expected to be women who not only looked impeccable, but were also accomplished in many things. They were expected to follow the latest fashions and trends, spending time ensuring their aesthetic portrayed the perfect housewife, they were expected to be good cooks, good at crafts, good at being a mother, good at sports, good at dancing and singing, good at being a wife, good at entertaining, good at being entertaining, good at socialising, good at being a friend, good at maintaining a home. Trying to do it all and be perfect.
We may be in 2017, but this attitude hasn’t left us. Women still strive to do all of these things, but on top of that they are now expected to go out and get a career on top of all of that. I see countless friends who have full time jobs trying to portray an image of themselves on social media of someone who eats healthily, who manages to go for a run or to the gym, who tries and succeeds at many crafts, who is a wonderful mother, who has a social life, and who cares about social justice and politics.
Gym, crafts, food, design, social life, film, pop culture, beauty, work, education, growing veg, meditating, career, friendships, current affairs, global affairs, local affairs, all these things flood my news feed but not because I have amassed a collection of friends with massively varied interests, they are all coming from the same people. People are exhausting themselves to try and be a polished “someone” and no facet can be left unturned. Then away from the spotlight of the news feed I receive personal messages, texts from friends saying “I’m exhausted, I’m so stressed, any chance we can chat, do you have time for a coffee sometime? I can squeeze you in between 11:13 and 11:49 on 28th July this year.”
So I find myself surrounded by friends that I never see, unless we actively arrange to meet up and do an awesome thing that can be tagged on Facebook. I don’t mean to imply that all my friends are social media obsessed, but it is becoming an increasingly important factor in people’s lives and in the way they express themselves or define themselves.
I am guilty of trying to do too much. I was dissatisfied in my job so tried to build an empire of self-employed avenues to enable me to leave the job I was currently in. I also decided to do a degree at the same time, and lose weight and maintain my meditation practices and groups on top of all the other things. It wasn’t possible and something had to give. Fortunately, just before I was the thing that broke, I decided to cut down on my list of “current activities”. The only thing I achieved in doing all of these things was not looking after myself.
Self care is so important. It is not selfish, it is necessary, and something that everyone should do every day. One thing a day for you that has no purpose other than to make you happy. It doesn’t matter whether that one thing is awesome or not. It is not to be judged, just enjoyed.
Here are some of the “self-care” things I have done for myself over the last week.
Mon 8th May – had a pint by myself in a nice pub.
Sun 7th May – had a good cry after sorting through memories
Sat 6th May – Got a tattoo
Fri 5th May – indulged in some of my favourite foods
Thurs 4th May – dyed my hair and watched drag queens
Weds 3rd May – went to yoga
Tues 2nd May – wrote a letter to my penpal and drew him a stupid picture
These aren’t massive things. They are things I enjoyed and did purposefully. Everyone’s self care is different. Sometimes it is just saying “No” to something you don’t really want to do, or saying “Yes” to something you would ordinarily turn down, but want to do. Sometimes it is just embracing your flaws and spending time with them rather than trying to hide them.
So many people are chasing the image of a perfect person, believing that being this person will make them happy. For me happiness is not the goal. Happiness is another thing we chase that is killing us. We are not meant to be perfect, and we never will be.
The Quest for Happiness
(originally posted by the author in July 2016 on another blog)
It is increasingly common these days for people, (especially those under the age of 40) to be on an eternal quest for happiness. Now I could easily write 10,000 words on the subject and have still only scratched the surface, but for now I will tell you about my “quest”.
The quest can be categorised as the search for the object or situation that will finally bring you lasting happiness. It could be a job, a romantic partner, an ideal weight or any other “event” that will trigger the eternal happiness, and then that person thinks that a switch will be flicked on and they will wake up every morning feeling happy. But, the thing is, the Quest itself is the main thing stopping you from achieving that happy, contented feeling. I, myself, have pursued the discovery of the one thing that will “flick that switch” for me and it took years to realise that what I was looking for, I had all along.
Whilst on my quest for happiness I believed that it was my career that would unlock the key to happiness for me. I was stuck in dead end jobs and believed that once I got an office job, I would be happy. But I wasn’t. I got the office job and I still wasn’t happy. Then I thought I needed more money, so I got a better office job. But that didn’t work either. Then I thought I needed recognition of position. Yep, did it and that didn’t work either. So I thought the answer was obvious. I had always wanted to have my own business and work for myself. Surely that freedom would unlock the key to my eternal happiness. Luckily before I drove myself insane, I managed to realise that what I was chasing didn’t exist.
Mindfulness. It is a word that is very popular at the minute, although not many know the true concept. I interviewed over 30 people who expressed an interest in mindfulness and only 4 truly knew what it meant. Mindfulness is being touted as the new cure-all for depression, obesity, stress, heart disease and more. And don’t get me wrong, it is incredibly good for you, if you are practising it properly, but there are so many people out there teaching their own interpretations of mindfulness that, unfortunately, it just sets people off on new quest for happiness. They will finally be happy once they “master” mindfulness. This is a contradiction of enormous proportions. It is impossible to be happy all of the time. But it is possible to be at peace with your situation and existence. Read “The Guide to Happiness”, written through interviews with the Dalai Llama. Read “What’s in the Way, is the Way” by Mary O’Malley. These books tip the western thinking of “pursuing” or “achieving” happiness on it’s head.
Now happiness is different for all individuals, what may make you happy may terrify me and vice versa, and the many self-help books that tell you the “magic recipe” to happiness, to confidence etc don’t work. Some of them have great ideas, but unfortunately the results are seldom long term. There is no magic cure, no step by step guide that will change your life into a happily ever after. It is not something that can be taught like history. It is not a permanent state that can be accessed and inhabited. Happiness is a fleeting or lingering emotion. It will come and it will go. We cannot be happy all of the time. We cannot control happiness. It is unique to the individual, but there are certain premises and techniques that help most people maintain a peace within themselves that eradicates this incessant need to seek happiness.
- Let things go
- Realise that upsetting things will happen to you in life
- Realise that you are going to die
- Prioritise your life
- Enjoy life
- Be mindful
- Do not expect anything
- Learn to accept others
- Learn to understand others
And that was it. Instead of chasing the items, situations and objects I needed to be happy, I realised I could just accept life in that moment and choose to be happy. Now you may think it is easy for someone, who’s life is pretty good in the first place, to say that. Well here’s the thing. My life isn’t pretty good. It is rife with struggle, grief, and trauma. But I am ok. When something awful happens, I can choose to be ok. But I can also choose to really feel all the bad bits as well. Because that is what life is. It is the good and the bad. And there is no point in pretending otherwise. Accept that there will be bad times. Accept that there will be good times. Accept that there will be boring times. Most importantly accept that eternally chasing a fairytale is the most sure route to misery.
Now do nothing. Stop and appreciate the world around you. Appreciate the wonder of you being alive right this moment. It is tiring, trying to keep up with everything society thinks we should be doing, a career, a great family life, a successful relationship, constant personal growth. Chasing a perpetual dream will leave you exhausted, especially if it is one that doesn’t really exist. Don’t judge anyone, don’t judge yourself, don’t compare yourself to others. Do nothing. You are a human being. You don’t need to meditate to a point of ultimate Zen, or run away from your true feelings, just embrace your true nature. Don’t try to change yourself, just change the way you approach life. It is not a race. It is a wonderful, amazing, impossible thing happening to you right now! Stop waiting for the thing that will trigger eternal happiness and enjoy being alive.
Who Am I? What Am I?
I have always struggled with these kinds of questions. I literally have no clue how other people perceive me. My usual answer to these questions is “quiet, a bit weird” or “laid-back, friendly?”.
I recently did an art piece using words to describe me, words that I had come up with and words I had asked other about. When it was finished I was pleased that I had come up with so many words, and I started going through them, but I realised that whilst the words written in front of me did in fact describe me, they could also describe billions of other people on the planet. Yes I was looking at an accurate description of myself, but not one that anyone would look at and guess immediately, “That’s got to be “L”!”.
So what would make someone say that? What could I put onto paper, that wasn’t a picture of myself, that would make someone say, “That’s you, definitely you.”
Is that what makes us, us? The bits in the middle, the bits that don’t seem important but that are unique to you.
I sat staring at it, feeling deflated, and wondering what I was missing. What was I?!
I am a
girl woman who refers to herself as a girl when she really isn’t one anymore.
I am a woman who traces facial features, clothing hems and outlines, signs, traffic, and subtitled punctuation with her thumb obsessively, constantly and unconsciously.
I am a woman who drinks weak black decaf coffee and strong green tea. I drink weak gin and tonics and strong commercial beer.
I am full of regret and sadness.
I am full of hope and ideas.
I am a disillusioned Disney Princess who likes a drink.
I am a childless mother.
I am a walking existential crisis.
I am a health conscious smoker.
I am a workshy workaholic.
I am a depressed therapist.
I am the socially awkward life of the party.
I am a walking fucking contradiction, and I still don’t know if any of this is something people would read and say, that’s “L” right there.
What do you think constitutes as making someone “Who they are”?