Let’s keep it real. We all have felt completely out of our element, in over our heads, and tiny, more times than we want to admit. There seems to be this tiny to voluminous voice inside of us somewhere telling us “you don’t belong here” “do not pass go” “do not collect $200.” It’s the voice that says “how did you not fail this test,” “you don’t deserve love,” “you don’t deserve to be promoted,” “you weren’t built for motherhood,” “how did you get accepted to this school?” “they’re trusting you with a baby?” “oh, it’s your baby?” “but still, they’re trusting you with a baby?” “insert negative thought,” “insert negative thought,” “insert negative thought.”
And we can’t seem to shut it up. Mostly because it’s so normal to us that we don’t even realize it’s there.
This mysteriously familiar voice, we don’t hear it or notice it, but it’s always been around. We feel it and it hits us to our core. It propels us to question our intelligence, capability, and even our identity. Meet the Impostor Syndrome, heads up, it’s so not nice.
So, what is the Impostor Syndrome? In a nutshell, it’s our inability to accept personal accomplishments and success, thinking we’re incompetent, obsessively checking and re-checking our work, shying away from attention at work, over-internalizing, blaming ourselves for failures, and constantly fearing that people will figure out we’re frauds.
On the first day of law school orientation they sat all 147, or so, of us in the Moot Court Room for a lecture. Using the Socratic method, they randomly called on people by name to brief the cases that had been assigned to us the week prior, to test our critical thinking. Before this we were given about 20 minutes to discuss the cases within groups. I sat in my group and an older, male student, started spewing out words in a way that made me question whether or not I really understood the definitions of these words. The moment the professor began speaking, pure terror and paralysis set in. By the end of her first sentence I had mapped out all of the exits and began planning my escape route. The closest door was to my right and I just had to squeeze by FOUR people to get to it. The only problem was the paralysis, on top of not wanting to draw attention and embarrass myself further by standing up mid-lecture. Later on I realized that the older, male student, didn’t understand what he was saying either. I had just been too focused on covering up my cluelessness (my “fraud”) that I didn’t realize it.
It happens to us as women, in our career, and as mothers. I cannot begin to count the amount of times that I have felt inadequate as a mother and not-built for motherhood. It happens all too often to too many, if not all of us. Especially on days when our toddlers are totally winning. I am slightly embarrassed by the amount of times that I have let the stares of others make me feel like I’m doing something wrong as a parent. Nor can I tell you how many times that I feel slightly out of place and inexperienced as a young mother. Heads up, no one is experienced, we all learn as we go. Unless you have that complete parenting manual that I linked in my Thank You for your Two Cents post, you’re just as lost as the rest of us, buddy.
Despite my family motto, “We belong.” There’s an obnoxious voice always trying to tell me that I do not. It lingered with me through law school while I waited for the professors and my peers to realize that the school admitted me by mistake, and it creeps throughout motherhood and in areas in-between. That’s the syndrome.
Understanding what the syndrome is, will help you navigate your way through it. When you’re feeling like a “fraud”, understanding that the impression lacks foundation, is important in knowing where to build your house. Knowing that Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, and Sonia Sotomayor have thought of themselves as frauds, helps me feel better about having the same feeling.
So how do we deal with it?
Tell it to SHUT UP.
You belong. Whether you have to repeat it 2,345,894,375,903,847,592,384 times or not, YOU BELONG. Surround yourself as much as possible with positivity. Seek words of affirmation and put them up on your mirror or home screen. Listen to empowering music. Find yourself a mentor at work that will provide some direction in your career or a mom that you admire that will serve as a mentor in motherhood. It’s okay to admit that you feel out of your league. Imposter Syndrome thrives in isolation.
Do not just surround yourself with positive people, but positive thinking. Leaning on the opinions of others is like a folded napkin under the foot of a wobbly table, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets sued for a hot-coffee spill.
Re-direct your energy. Instead of finding ways to cover the alleged “fraud” direct your energy somewhere else. Your work, your kids, a bubble bath, a run. Do NOT dwell in negative thinking, the rent is high, the view is dark, and there are probably roaches.
Talk about it. Tell your mentor or friend how you feel but give yourself two minutes (seriously, time it) to talk about it and then move on. Say three nice things about yourself or list three of your accomplishments, whether in your career, your life, or in motherhood, out loud and then push yourself forward. Sometimes it’s hard to push out negativity but if it doesn’t fit in the space among your other thoughts, it loses its power. Force it out by filling your thoughts with positive ones. If you can’t think of any, I will give you three. Repeat them over and over until you can think of new ones on your own.
- You are an EXCEPTIONAL person and mother.
- You are smart, kind, and brave.
- You look damn good in those jeans.
If all else fails, literally repeat “I belong” 3,238,420,238,420,384,239,482 times and then believe it, because I believe it and I believe in you also.