Impostor Syndrome

I mentioned this earlier, but in case you couldn’t tell, I have a few issues. Neuroses, if you will. Psychological hangups that are a quiet but ever-present part of quotidian life inside my head. For example: I have trouble seeing my accomplishments for what they are, tooting my own horn (literally and figuratively), and claiming the confidence which should be my right through long work and experience.

I’m talking about feeling like an impostor.

Impostor Syndrome, according to Wikipedia (those hallowed halls of always-factual and never-biased of reference), is “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” For me, this manifests as a creeping suspicion that I haven’t made it to where I am with genuine skill, but have instead relied on sheer luck and the absolute minimum amount of effort as possible. Whether that’s school, fighting, or even writing, there’s always the fear that I will be found out as a fraud.

These internal voices can be strong enough that they easily drown out dissenting opinions from outside. In other words, other people can remind you of your accomplishments as much as they like to no avail. In my case, this is often because I can clearly see people who are better than me, have put in more effort, or are farther along than me. They could be me, thus I have no reason to celebrate. I have trouble seeing how far I’ve come because I automatically focus on how far I still have yet to go.

Take my fighting in Crown Tournament, for instance. I have ten years’ experience with SCA heavy combat, and at least 10 years of Taekwondo experience before that. Twenty years of martial arts should impart some level of skill, even passively. But I still find myself nervous about things. Whether I’ll be out in two rounds. Whether my kit will look presentable enough. Whether I will be able to do anything but die and make a fool of myself. But then I am reminded (usually by others) that I can fight, that I’m not exactly a slouch when it comes to combat or even comportment. It’s almost as if I’m too close to the issue to see clearly.

Don’t get me wrong: this is in no way a rational or logical process. In moments of clarity, I remember that. But for the most part, I feel like I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But like I touched on before, I’m starting to realize that I’m not alone in this mental dungeon. In fact, I would be confident in saying that no one truly knows what they’re doing. The ones that appear the most competent are just the ones who are best at faking it.

In a way, it’s a self perpetuating curse: the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Ignorance truly is bliss, since when your worldview is tiny it is very easy to fill it up. But as it expands, it does so at a greater rate than you can accumulate knowledge. But it is a comforting thought, to think that we are all just as clueless. Stumbling through life without a roadmap, making it up as we go along.

3 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome

  1. Mark

    As I’ve said before, I’m seeing a lot of myself in this blog. One the one hand, it’s very helpful, because it puts down into words a lot of what I feel, and gives me a more concrete idea of what my own issues are. This post was a perfect example; I didn’t know Impostor Syndrome was even a thing, but it perfectly describes how I feel about my own life in numerous ways.

    On the other hand, by solidifying those problems, it serves as a reminder that being able to work through these issues is amazingly challenging, if not impossible in some cases. I know everyone has issues, but instead of being encouraging knowing that other people go through the same things, it seems depressing that they’re not having any luck sorting through them either. I don’t mean for that to sound bad or offensive, but that seems to be the way it is.

  2. Joshua Post author

    Yeah, I felt a similar thing when I first found out about it as well. It isn’t that surprising, when you think about it, as we’re not exactly predisposed to talk about feelings of inadequacy (that might reveal the charade!). Having the words is the first step to being able to take care of things.

    I wish I had more encouragement to give you, I really do. But more and more I’m starting to think that facing these challenges is part of being human. Life is pain, in other words. A bleak outlook, some might say, but it can be comforting, after a fashion. We’re all in it together; there’s nothing special we’ve done to deserve punishment, no mistake we made that caused our suffering.

    So yeah, welcome to being an adult. The only advice I can really give is “Don’t Panic.” And if you need a mind eraser, maybe go watch Charlie the Unicorn (not linked because I don’t want my girlfriend to kill me in my sleep).

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