Imposter syndrome is when you’re successful at a thing, but you secretly believe that someone is going to come and explain that they’ve figured you out, you’re a fraud, and they take away your ability to do that thing. Basically. In a very over-simplified nutshell.
Writers feel it, quite often (I say this based on the number of authors I follow who admit to having had some sense of the problem), but women are also large sufferers – especially professional women, apparently. I know young mothers who have worried about if they’re really a good enough mom, but I’m not sure if that quite falls under the same category or not.
My thing is, people somehow see me as confident in who I am, in a generalized sense. Now, usually, I attribute this to them not knowing me particularly well. They know a facet of me – Work Me, for example. Work Me often appears to either know what she’s doing, or at least know when she doesn’t know, and then she appears confident because she generally has an idea of who to go to ask for help.
But a couple of weeks ago, a fairly long term friend spoke the thought that I was not like other people, because I was confident. I knew who I was and I didn’t seem to care what People thought, and I was just as happy being me as pretending to be someone else.
I’d had a drink, which was stronger than I normally drink, and very little food, and I laughed at her, or at least, the assertion. She doubled-down. She was positive I was quire comfortable in my own skin, and I didn’t seem to have the desire to express bravada and drama in being more or less than who I was. It was reassuring to be around someone who was that centered in herself, she said. It made me feel safe and like someone that she and others could be themselves around.
I blinked and let the conversation move on. Because what else could I say at that point?How can people see me as confident in who I am when I don’t know who I am, half the time? I have doubts like anyone. There are moments where I’m confident, sure. And yes, I know how I feel about some topics. But I don’t profess to know myself particularly well on all things. I’m pretty sure I evolve and change on a fairly regular basis.
I try to be kind. I try to be the sort of human that a stray animal would trust, for example. Or that a small child who grabs a familiar color denim leg, upon discovering it doesn’t belong to their actual parent, won’t panic. They’ll simply look around for the correct leg. I guess that works for the centered and safe feelings she described? But I have serious doubts about other basic aspects of myself almost daily.
I worry that I’m honest enough or perhaps too honest. I worry that I’m too optimistic, but then perhaps I’m too negative, and I don’t achieve the middle ground realism that I want. On the other hand, a little bit of rainbows and sparkles can’t be so bad … can they? I wonder if I always recognize my inherent privilege in being a white cis woman, but then again, when in certain states, people will speak Spanish at me and assume I understand it. (I do, if they’re slow enough and enunciating very carefully, but no more than a 5 year old might. And it’s not because I was raised speaking the language. It’s barely a second language.) I worry that I come off as cold, or too warm. I worry that my sense of humor is so twisted as to be outré. I worry on a semi-constant state about something in the way I interact with the world at large, or don’t and perhaps I should.
I suspect in some ways, that this is part of being human, and maybe a feminine human, and maybe a feminine human who reads and thinks quite a lot. I also suspect it is an aspect of living in my head more than perhaps others do. I know though, that not all humans behave this way. I’ve got enough friends who I’ve asked tentatively that don’t have this in common with me. They aren’t all men. (Although quite a few are.) And quite a few read quite a lot.
So I just don’t know. I wish, sometimes, I could experience myself as they do. I don’t know if it would help, exactly. But it would be interesting to see. As it is, I get startled almost every time someone says something nice about myself. It’s not that I think I’m a horrible monster or internet troll! I just don’t necessarily think I’m worth acknowledging in thanks, either. I feel very much like someone who can fade into a wall and disappear unnoticed.
Which could easily lead into another blog post about other things. For now, I think I’ll just wrap up by opening this to you readers: do you ever have that dissonant moment, where you’re told something about yourself, and you don’t recognize the person being discussed AS yourself?
I am extremely good at being extremely hard on myself.
This can drive close friends and family crazy.
The good news is, I’m getting better at noticing when I’m doing it to myself. I’m also getting better at noticing when I’m getting snappy with loved ones as a result of being hard on myself.
For example: I often show love for my husband by cooking for him. Or baking for him. Or cleaning for him and otherwise doing household chores he’s completely capable of so he can relax when he gets home. I think, in part, I do it because it’s good to do things to help out and I like them done a certain way, so… it lessens arguments. I also do these things because my mom (and dad, sometimes) did them – an example was set. Also, I must admit I love the good feedback of compliments and gratitude. (This tastes good, sweetheart, thank you! The kitchen looks great! You worked really hard! Would you please make me X dessert soon?)
But. I also slowly start to resent it when good feedback doesn’t occur, or if the occasional turnabout doesn’t occur. And since I set up a sequence where I’m the one who does those things, it’s a jerk move to resent something when I haven’t communicated that I’d like a break in doing the things. (I think I missed the communication part between mom and dad, so in my head, partners just notice when the other person needs a break. And yeah, sometimes, but in real life it’s better if we communicate.) Now, luckily, doing a thing that sort of drives me crazy (scheduling the dinner menu for the week) has a nice side effect of being able to communicate that certain days might be more ripe for him to cook or us to go out to eat. It’s also better for budgeting for grocery items.
The thing is, I love that I can bake a consistently decent pumpkin pie. Even the one pumpkin pie I made in the last couple years that didn’t taste good had a perfect consistency. (Bad can of pumpkin. Didn’t taste like anything. Taught me to ALWAYS taste the pumpkin puree before I add anything else.) I love that Terry’s face dissolved into a big grin and I hear a woah-ho-ho! when he walks into the house to the smell of that or apple pie or molasses cookies. I don’t love that I get tired of doing it, and thus don’t want to. I don’t love that it adds to my waistline (and honestly, probably his).
So it’s complicated.
I have a similar love/hate with a very clean house. It doesn’t last long, will need redone quickly, and is a pointless exercise in those regards. But. Someone besides me can find things if they’re in their place (not everyone’s brain can handle organized chaos), it’s less anxiety-making to walk/live in a decluttered place, and it’s healthier for the cats.
I suspect everyone has things about the way they show love/caring for others they love and they hate. I don’t think it’s individual to me. But lately, when I really wish it was easier to lose weight and eat healthy – but comfort food is so reassuring after long stressful days, I really hate how I express love via food the most. And I blame myself for being stupid enough to express love that way, because in the end, I hate myself for being heavy.
What about you?
My brain is all over the map lately.
I’m lonely for people. I miss select ones. I want to see them in person. Or at least talk on a more regular basis. But if I reach out and am the recipient of a delayed response (or no response), my mind-set is that I’m a horrid person and should not bother people. It’s what I deserve.
Mom’s been gone 5 years. There’s a new life in the family who I wish so desperately to talk to her about, and I think she would adore. I think Daddy would too. I can’t even really grasp how that feels for my sister. I can imagine, but I’m not convinced it’s accurate.
I miss the memory of certain friends, and what they were like, even though I know they’re not like that now. I know, from Facebook or casual notes, that they are painfully different now.
I’m painfully different. And the same. I feel like Anne Shirley in that I feel too much, I suspect. And yet, I pass for a normal functioning adult most of the time.
I want to rescue all the cats. I want a giant home with self-cleaning litter boxes and nooks and crannies and libraries and studies and bedrooms and sun rooms to house myself and them in. It would never work, but if somehow I could do that, with maybe a small coffee and tea and pastries room, and a writing garret, I think I’d be very happy.
I adore my husband. And he loves me. And that’s very nice, for a change. It still doesn’t seem quite real, though. And it’s going on two years married, and ten years dating/living in the same state. (Going on eleven years since first date. Both of them. His first date was different than my first date.)
I wish for… a lot of things. More connection, more real connection. And yet, I do feel so different from so many people that I want less connection because that connection makes obvious how odd I am. How much the things I care about differ from people I might interact with on a daily basis. And it’s very upsetting to me, to realize that things I see as important, other people see as fringe and not important.
I don’t know. I just … wanted to write it out, in the hopes that it would calm my brain, slightly.
My degree (undergraduate, I never ended up getting a graduate degree), is an English degree. Worse (as people who like to point out that degree is worthless like to say), it’s a bachelor of arts, not even a bachelor of sciences degree. My minor which started out in Computer Science, ended up being an “Interdisciplinary” minor, consisting mostly of lower level programming languages and a number of technical theater courses (mostly design type – set and lighting specifically). (This was due to both my inability to learn and therefore pass “Statistics and Probability” taught by a math instructor who should have been forcibly retired, and an unwillingness on the part of a department head to grant an exception in curriculum to a different statistics class (ie: the one taught by the business department, rather than the math department).) My original plan was to write manuals for people who wanted to learn how to make their computers do cool things. I figured that even though those teach yourself books weren’t huge yet, there seemed to be a market for them. (Cue hysterical laughter from the peanut gallery.) The computer science professor who taught several of the lower level languages courses I’d done well in was confident enough in me that she’d allowed me to take Assembly concurrently with the stats course. I was getting a low A in Assembly, even though stats made no sense. She went to bat for me on the exception request. We just couldn’t get it. So I had to drop the Assembly class and subsequently the minor. Because I’d been taking various theater classes (mostly technical but some history and speech based ones in there as well), it was easy enough to merge those “electives” into my existing courses for my original minor. Between the change and a reduction in class hours during a time when my mom was sick and I was working full-time, I was pretty happy to only graduate two summer terms “late”, as opposed to the end of the spring term.
In my working career, I have not written anything seriously. No manuals, no newspaper articles, no journals. Nothing like that. I’ve written a few blogs or contributed to advertising copy, and I’ve cleaned up some cover letters and occasionally contributed my opinion to making contracts and other documents easier to understand. But I’ve held jobs as a shelver at a public library, a catering waitress, pizza baker (and seller), university police dispatcher, retail clerk (and lower management – all the responsibility and hardly any perks) at video and music stores, an independent HTML copy/paste contractor, an office support staff at a residential construction company, an office support staff at a company that provided supplies for drug testing, eventually an administrative assistant (and bookkeeper) for a residential construction company, an office support staff at a financial office, an office support staff at a property management company and an accounting clerk for an affiliate marketing firm.
The only jobs even remotely related to my degree are the office jobs, and even those are stretching it a bit. Mostly, what undergraduate degrees are still good for (when they’re BA’s especially, but even some BS’s) are to show that the student/applicant to the job will stick to a decision long enough to complete the goal they set for themselves. Some people might say that’s a very cynical way of looking at things, but for some hiring managers, it’s also the truth.
I held the jobs at the residential construction company from spring of 2002 through late summer of 2005, then from late summer of 2006 until now – mid-summer of 2015. Really, for the last 7 years or so, I’ve been in some sort of part-time situation of 80% time or less. For the last couple years, I even tried a few secondary part-time office jobs to try to help make up the percentage to get to “full time” (or slightly over for a short time where I came very close to burning myself out). I probably should have looked for a true full-time job many times in the last 7 years. I couldn’t and wouldn’t, because I really actually felt as though I could retire at the residential construction company – if it could just complete recovery from the recession. I believe in the quality of the product, to the degree that I’d build a home with the company if I could afford it myself. It still hasn’t recovered though, quite. A lot of similar companies in our area have gone out of business, and mine is still limping along.
But I was offered full-time at one of those other part-time jobs, and the package (salaried, benefits – health and potential for more financial benefits) was such that I felt like I had no choice but to accept it.
It’s been a very surreal two weeks. On the one hand, I made the choice. No one forced me to decide what I did. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I really had a choice because it was between the financially intelligent decision and the emotionally satisfying decision. I chose the financial one, because I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck, not having a true savings account, and having to pull money from what should be my retirement someday. I’m incredibly privileged to even HAVE that option. It isn’t even one I earned – it is entirely due to having lost my parents earlier than I would have liked.
Thursday was stressful, unnerving and exhausting as my final day. I feel like I’ve let people down who depend on me. It doesn’t help that more and more lately, people (clients, co-workers, subcontractors) would comment on how generalized my knowledge had become and how much I actually did. My co-workers are sad to see me go, and they’re probably a bit nervous about working together to take over my duties – but I know that after some awkward days coming – they will figure it out and be just fine. And they say it was a smart decision, and that they’re happy for me. They took me out to lunch and gave me a heartfelt card saying goodbye. And I believe that they want what’s best for me, but I’m still sad.
But, and, I’m also excited to see if the new job and it’s benefits will be all they are promised to be. I’m hopeful that by this time next year I will have amassed a small bit of savings. I’m even tentatively hopeful that we can be looking at buying a house. I’m already sure I’ll be thankful to have employer provided insurance (which will save me about $100 per month).
Overall, it will be a good choice. I will learn to find job satisfaction in things at the new job. It will be a different sort of satisfaction. It won’t be a satisfaction based in pleasing clients with a physical product, but I’m sure there will be something.
And maybe, since it uses such a different place in my brain, my creativity will flow better.
I haven’t been posting much original content anywhere, lately.
I had a brief spurt of creativity at the first of the month but it was mostly triggered by some character generation fixes with friends. I loved that. Those sort of moments make me think that maybe, just maybe, a writer’s group would be helpful.
And when I’m fairly mainline to positive, I know it would.
I’m not lately.
I’m not what I’d call seriously depressed (with a small d, denoting not diagnosed, not chronic), at this point. And I can pretty much pinpoint most of the reasons why I’m feeling down. There are triggery dates (when aren’t there triggery dates?). I feel bad about my body in general, but also; I feel as though I’m not doing well on my exercise plans, I feel as though I should be doing better on my food choices (although I wouldn’t say I’m doing horribly as we try to keep our eating out to a minimum), and I feel like my expectations for my body are too high. I feel stress related to work that is compounded by knowing the things I am stressing about are not things I can control. Sometimes, the drift down is definitely due to cyclical hormones and there’s not much that can be done about that for another decade or so (based on extremely limited family history).
A lot of the time, if you’ll notice (because I do), it’s me getting stuck in my own head and yammering for a way out. When there’s not a simple way out, I chase my own conversational tail in a very unhelpful way.
I have small things that I do to try to combat this. I’m doing one of them now. I’m writing something anyway, even though it’s an annoying self-update post, which isn’t really how I want to spend my time writing. I’d rather be writing something creative, or expressing an opinion about something going on in the world today.
I should go ahead and write on creative projects. I know that. But I’ve also convinced myself I will hate whatever dreck I manage to get on the screen, so why waste my time with that? I could write about things going on locally or on a larger world scale. I do have opinions. But most of them are succinct and news bite sized. I don’t really want to add to the weight of those on Twitter, Tumblr or any other social thread.
Instead, I’m doing more basic things. I’m trying to remind myself that even if I have to start over on exercise, it’s better than not exercising. Even if I have homemade nachos for dinner one night, it’s better than not eating anything, or having something like dessert only.
And I’m trying other less basic self-care things.
I reach out to friends to say hi and ask how they are. And I genuinely listen. I care about my friends, and everyone likes to be listened to if only for a little bit. And it sometimes takes my mind off stupid yammering petty frets in my head.
I make monthly massage appointments. I really love my massage therapist. She is a neat person, and she has a varied set of training that allows for different treatments depending on the appointment. Nothing hurt last night, so we just tried a cranial-sacral adjustment. (Basically, I lie very still and practice deep breathing while she works her hands up my spine and makes sure I’m all lined up nicely.) And then she massaged my neck and shoulders a bit. It sounds like a very boring massage, but I actually felt more mellow and calm (my brain was quiet!) than I have in a while.
I make a hair appointment about once every 5 weeks. It means that my hair gets tamed slightly as I grow it back out, and the color gets freshened up. Sometimes, if I have the extra money, I add in a fingernail or pedicure appointment. But I don’t always, because I’m already spending money.
Those last two things aren’t cheap. But I budget for them. They help.
I also look at friends’ art; sometimes it’s drawn, sometimes it’s written, and sometimes it’s photography. Sometimes, it influences me to actually draw something or write something. There’s a 5 minute study of a piece of driftwood with stones stacked on top and the hint of a frothy wave drifting up in my sketchbook right now that was influenced by a photo of a submerged branch my friend Ant shared on his Instagram. I even noted it on the page so I’d remember.
None of this fixes me feeling down and grouchy. But sometimes it takes the edge off enough that I can squeak by another day without biting too many people’s heads off, or hurting anyone’s feelings. And that’s good not just because I don’t want to be mean. When I’m mean, I feel instantly guilty afterward, and it just adds to the downward spiral. It’s better for ME to be nice, not just everyone in general.
And look. I’ve actually written quite a bit. Even if it is all boring belly-button gazing thoughts.