Presumed mastery, bad assumptions and the impostor’s syndrome
I just noticed something kind of fun: Expanding Inward is “officially” a year old now. The website and our Facebook group were both launched on August 1st, 2013. The anniversary sort of slipped by me, probably because I didn’t really look at that as when we really started. We had already put on a couple of events by then, after all (without having come up with a name for the group, which…well, I think we still owe the organizers of those events something for making the marketing job that much harder). Even before that, we had all been TALKING about this endeavor for some time. I suppose, then, that last August 1st was, in a sense, when the outside caught up with the inside.
Which brings up an interesting thought, at least for me. How do we mark the start of things, when there’s often a disconnect between what we feel inside compared to what we show to the world? When does a relationship really begin? When does one become a professional? When do I really become a grownup?
For me, these rather different questions kind of come down to a single deeper one: When do I stop feeling like an impostor? Because I have to say, I feel that way a lot. Particularly in community, when I’m so blessed to be surrounded by accomplished, talented, and gracious people. People who are share their skills, who connect with others on a deep and personal level, and above all who do all of this without being afraid of looking like an idiot, or feeling rejected, or worrying that they what they have to offer doesn’t really matter. Man, why can’t I be like them?
Of course, I’m doing something problematic here. I’m starting with what I see, which is fair enough. I really am surrounded by accomplished, talented, and gracious people in community. And those people DO share their skills freely and connect with others on a deep and personal level, it’s true. But notice how quickly I move from the things I can observe and into things that I not only don’t know, but things that I can’t know. By assuming that the people I admire don’t fear looking stupid, being rejected or being dismissed, I’m doing a disservice to everyone involved. To myself, of course, by falling into the trap of comparing my own mess of internal emotions and fears to the external face and actions of others. That’s a fool’s game, because I will never, ever feel adequate by making that comparison.
But as I think about it, I realize that I’m also doing a disservice to them in making these assumptions. What I’m really doing is telling myself that only I have these hurdles of inadequacy and the impostor’s syndrome to overcome. When I do that, I ultimately diminish what others are doing – after all, if they aren’t afraid or nervous the way I am, it must all just be easy for them, right? I’m reducing their accomplishments and talents to a two-dimensional cutout, while granting myself the full challenge of struggling and overcoming those doubts and fears that – if I’m really and truly honest – are probably not something completely unique to my experience in the world. So basically, I get to be on a life-long journey of improvement and overcoming my insecurities. You? You get to be a supporting character, at best. That seems…problematic.
The answer is, I think, pretty simple. Just stop assuming that I’m the only one who feels like an impostor. Just start admiring not only the visible gifts that others bring, but the inevitable challenges that they have (and continue) to overcome to manifest those gifts.
It’s such a simple answer, in fact, that I bet that most of you are already doing this, and doing it unconsciously. Naturally. Without any particular effort or challenge to speak of, in fact. I’m probably the only one who struggles with it at all.
Um…crap. Okay, I might have a little more work to do on this than I realized.
This post was written by Jason Frey