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We're all idiots here: how to tackle Imposter Syndrome and flourish in life

Let me start with this by Montaigne:

“Kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies” (Michel de Montaigne).

I do apologise if this is a little vulgar... but I feel it's the right introduction to today's topic.

Today I want to talk about the so-called Imposter Syndrome. I think the above quote surprisingly comes to the crux of the matter. Let's begin with...

What the hell is 'Imposter Syndrome' (sounds like a disease...)?

It's important we start with how 'Imposter Syndrome' is defined. The word 'syndrome' itself evokes a sense of isolation, that it's somehow a rare and abnormal 'problem'. In actuality, it's a commonplace feeling amongst many. Even those we consider to the be the highest achievers, the people that seem far out of reach, have spoken on their fears of not having earnt their achievements and of being largely overestimated. In my own journey of development I also noticed this pervasive feeling:

Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments (Healthline).

There's something constantly gnawing at you, that it's not enough. People have got you wrong. Different to good, old ambition, chasing achievements feel like a lifeline to keep your self-worth. You climb higher and higher to get the feeling of satisfaction but somehow you're unable to abate the thirst. Others tell you that you should be proud of yourself, but sadly you are unable to accept this. You work harder and harder to live up to this 'over-inflated image'.

Do note, it's also different to others *literally* making you feel like you don't belong, as if you are unworthy to be here because of your gender, race, sexual orientation etc., Imposter Syndrome is when you, yourself feel like you're living a double-life despite constant contrary evidence.

It's taken me a very long journey to get to the other side, first wading through the issues and how it came about and then working towards deconstructing it. Like most paths towards growth, it has been messy to say the least. But now I feel stronger, more powerful and confident than I ever have been... I don't even need constant achievements to validate myself anymore. Imagine that (!) - what a time to be alive.

Okay, fine... but how did I get here?

Next valid question would be, why do I have this? Why am I constantly doubting myself? Why do I feel like this, where others feel satisfied? To be honest with you, I couldn't give you a straight answer. This is why people over the ages have passed on a wisdom of spending time alone to reflect. We are complex and so is our past. My best advice will always be meditating on yourself and the past. Not to dwell on it, but to learn from it. 'Oh, this is why I'm like this'. But of course there are some interesting factors that have a relationship with Imposter Syndrome (please note: there is no direct cause and effect and this list is not definitive):

  • Family expectations

  • Overprotective parents

  • Racial identities

  • Low self-esteem

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Perfectionism

  • Excessive self-monitoring

This is why we may find Imposter Syndrome more prevalent with ethnic minorities, lower socioeconomic backgrounds and children of immigrants. The constant realisation and weight of how much you have been given can be very heavy indeed. The belief that you are in a much better position than your loved ones, that you have received a good education, being referred to as the good one or the smart one, allows guilt to fester within you and reinforce 'Imposter Syndrome'. Not to mention, the constant highlight reel from those around you on just your success or intelligence (well-meaning or not) is a slippery slope to Imposter Syndrome.

So, what's the antidote?

Everyone else is revelling in the reflection of their sparkly trophies, why can't I? Why am I the only one acting like this?

See there's the rub. That's the antidote. It's this 'everyone' thing.

Short answer: it's not everyone, it's just what you assumed. We're all idiots here.

Don't be so quick to say 'everyone' does not feel the way you do. It's an unfortunate side-effect of being human. We feel ourselves intensely but we only see what others choose to show us. Therefore, we forget that everyone has anxieties, insecurities, weird habits, things that are 'too f*cked up'. It's only exacerbated by social media and everyone pretending like they're perfect (sometimes I feel like write these to hurt my own feelings, masochism masquerading as personal development... but I digress).

This comes to the heart of Imposter Syndrome. We are comparing our insides to other people's outsides. This is a recipe for disaster.

We're all idiots here, but uniquely talented ones

If we can look at our own flaws and embrace them, if we can look at others below their veneers and see that they are flawed too... we realise that these expectations and ideals are just a construct. That's when we can be truly free, when achievements are just a unneeded side-effect of a life well-lived.

As Montaigne said: Kings and Philosophers shit, and so do ladies.

We need to unsubscribe from this notion that people we look up to or envy are fundamentally different from us. By getting to know people more, their vulnerabilities, the reality of their life, how they got to where they are it shatters these unfair illusions that we have. We need to separate what we're feeling and thinking to reality.

So now, before I even get to the solutions, I make sure my audience understands that people who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or capable than the rest of us. The only difference between them and us is that during that same situation that triggers an impostor feeling in us, they think different thoughts. That’s it, folks (Valerie Young)

To end with, do me a favour. Play the below song, close your eyes and listen to the lyrics. Whether, you are idealising another person and contributing to their precarious pedestal or you are the person suffocating from the weight of expectations, it will help us all:

You put me on a pedestal and tell me I'm the best

Raise me up into the sky until I'm short of breath, yeah

Fill me up with confidence, I say what's in my chest

Spill my words and tear me down until there's nothin' left

Rearrange the pieces just to fit me with the rest, yeah

But what if I, what if I trip?

What if I, what if I fall?

Then am I the monster?

Just let me know

And what if I, what if I sin?

And what if I, what if I break? Yeah

Then am I the monster? Yeah

Just let me know...


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