A note on imposter syndrome
Exactly four years ago was my first day at my first, post-grad job. I started four days before my actual university graduation ceremony. I remember actually asking my boss for the day off, so I could, you know, graduate.
I was a novice, I didn't feel like I deserved to be there or was even qualified, despite being offered the job because of my work during my internship at the same company.
I remember a brief interview, signing my contract and feeling relieved to have a job, any job after getting my degree.
For a lot of the time I worked at that company, I never quite felt like I fit, I felt, for much of the time, that someone would "find me out" and in dramatic fashion, point their finger at me, jump up and down and declare to everyone that I was a fraud. They'd exclaim I wasn't meant for this job, for this industry.
I even moved to a competing firm, doing the same job, this time I was paid more, maybe a reflection of what I was worth (though I never felt I was worth much.) I never went in for an interview because my job at the other company was basically my resume.
I still felt like a fraud.
Every time I make a mistake, I felt like it reinforced the fact that I wasn't supposed to be here and do this. It was like I was in costume and when I made a mistake, part of my mask broke off. For some reason I feared someone would soon rip off the rest of the mask, grab me by the collar and throw me in the town square, finger wagging, a smug detective smile on their face, telling the townspeople how I had them all fooled. A real Scooby Doo moment.
Even this year when I realized that I have a skillset that not many people have, to work in an industry with tough deadlines, that's fast-paced and in the public realm. Every day I create something that thousands of people can (and do) criticize publicly. They spend seconds glancing at what I spent hours on.
They cast it aside, spit on it, stomp on it, peel it apart, layer by layer.
Or they don't see it at all.
The next day I wake up and do it all again.
Four years. For years.
Fewer people want to do this job. I return to it, day after day.
I still feel like an imposter. If I'm Goldilocks, I don't quite feel at home, sitting in this chair. It's too much of this, but not enough that. Four years.
I think for two years, I never introduced myself as my title, only that I worked for X company.
When I got my business cards, I handed them out sheepishly. I still rarely hand out business cards.
To this day, I minimize my role, claiming I only do X, I'm no Y.
It's still not a lot of time compared to the veterans in this industry, who I learn from every day.
But I've been doing this for enough years to see this industry suck people in, throw them in the spin cycle and spit them out. Many stumble away, bedraggled, having lost something of themselves, but gaining something else too.
Some opt out willingly. But they return. When I see those people again, I smile, a genuine welcome back. They're so good at what they do they'll make my job harder, but it was getting boring in the meantime. A very welcome challenge.
That's another thing about this field. When it starts to feel routine, regimented, boring, something inevitably turns up curiously. Either externally or internally.
I still feel like an imposter, like I'm a substitute for a real person who will tag me out, jump in the ring and finish the match. Me on the outside of the ring, whooping and hollering for the REAL person. That REAL person. As I roar from my corner of the ring, I don't know if I'd ever stretch my arm, leaning into the ring, yelling and begging to be let back in.
Four years. No one's tagged me out.
I have read shit online about imposer syndrome. I wonder why I feel this way even after four years. I wonder if I'll still feel this way if I continue in this field after 10 years? 15 years? 20 years?
I know I am not defined solely by what I do for a living, but I spend so much of my life doing it, that how can it not be part of my personal description?
There have been instances over the four years which have affirmed my place in this industry but those affirmations are dwarfed by my doubts. My imposter syndrome stands tall, mammoth, swiping away affirmations like gnats. Feeding my doubts leg of lamb and a five course meal so that my doubts grow big and strong so they can crush my soul, crush my spirits.
But even as My Imposter Syndrome works on killing me from the inside out, I still don my costume. I still go to work. I still pull on the mask, patched from four years of mistakes that put holes through it.
I still go to work.
Sometimes I'll take out those affirmations, cast aside from My Imposter Syndrome, and I'll line them up neatly on my bookshelf. A comment, an email, a conversation with someone I respect. I'll look at them, dust them off and water them with my own affirmations before I put on my costume.
One day maybe I won't have to put on my costume and maybe it'll be just what I wear. It'll just be who I am.
What then can My Imposter Syndrome do?