Women & The Plague of Imposter Syndrome

I don’t have many fond memories of high school. I was bullied a couple of years, and then I simply became invisible. It took a great deal of effort to persuade myself to get out of bed every morning, especially since I wasn’t a good sleeper. No matter how heavy my mind was with worries, it wasn’t enough to weigh me down with sleep. So I’d say awake dreaming of what it would be like to be in college. Mostly though I’d think about ways to not draw attention to myself in class because I was intelligent and introverted, a bad combination in a popularity driven atmosphere.

The only memory I have kept with me occurred on the last day of high school. My homeroom teacher called us one by one to her desk to give us back our final essay and let us know what our final term grade would be. I had been in advanced English classes since 7th grade, but never really stood out among the mostly honor roll students. This particular teacher had always been fond of me, however, and when I took a seat next to her and she handed me back by A+ essay, she said a few words that changed my life forever:

“You have a talent. Don’t let it go to waste.”

Even after years of writing everything from blogs to press releases, aptitude tests and articles, I still see myself as an average writer. I’ll have those occasional moments of brilliance where I’ll string together a few sentences that amaze even me, but I almost always chalk it up to some divine joke. I imagine an angel who looks suspiciously like William Shakespeare touching the top of my head, infusing me with a tease of divine inspiration, and then pulling his hand away with a laugh.

As a result, it sometimes leaves me feeling like a fake, and wholly unsatisfied with almost everything I accomplish – and I’m not the only one who feels this way. That feeling of not deserving success or praise, of dismissing accomplishments even has a name: Impostor Syndrome.

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Here’s what those of us with Impostor Syndrome have in common:

  • We were above average performers in school
  • We have low self-esteem
  • We’re extreme perfectionists
  • We ignore or dismiss compliments and praise
  • We’re never satisfied with our work
  • We worry that others will discover that we’re not as talented as we appear to be

And 72% of us are women.

I find it unlikely that the day women obtained the right to vote, they chastised themselves for not making it happen sooner. I doubt Edith Wharton hid her Pulitzer Prize in the closet in disgust after becoming the first woman to win one. And I think it’s probably safe to say that Sandra Day didn’t bemoan the fact that President Reagan made her the first woman on the Supreme Court.

So what the heck happened to us? Why aren’t we proud of our successes anymore?

Because we lost sight of the fact that our sense of self-worth is not dependent on our accomplishments, whether we’re hard-working stay-at-home moms or CEO’s of a company.

Because we subscribed to the belief that perfection is the only thing that matters, and that our best effort doesn’t suffice.

Because we defied others when they told us we couldn’t accomplish something, but failed to, and continue to fail to, silence our own inner critic when we degrade ourselves.

Because we took other people’s disparagement and internalized it, infecting us with the belief that we’re simply not good enough.

Own your successes, whether you made a perfectly cooked omelet (I still celebrate with a little dance when I don’t burn my eggs), or single-handedly started your own business. Accept the fact that you will mess up from time to time, but that your mistakes are nothing more than a lesson on how not to do something. Aim for doing your best, and realize that your best is all you can ever really do, whether you achieve an objective or not. Most importantly, get it through your stubborn head that while others may have given you a hand from time to time to help you become who you are today, it’s only because you chose to be a better worker, wife, mother, daughter, friend and human in the first place. It’s all thanks to you.

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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