Coping with Imposter Syndrome

Every morning I wake up and read the small sign above my alarm clock: “One small, positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.” But the first thing I usually think, especially after looking at email and social media notifications praising my work or my teaching abilities is: Today will be the day everyone will find out I’m not who I say I am.

I then go about my morning trying to justify who I am, and usually while I’m staring at myself in the mirror, applying make-up to hide the imperfections. I am not a fraud, I repeat to myself. I’m a writer, and a good one. I am a great English instructor…but…

…and this is where my brain spirals.

This is where I think back to the meetings where a few co-workers told me I didn’t understand Bloom’s Taxonomy correctly when I had done more than one presentation on the subject, and I had studied for it in college. That one instance, so long ago, remains with me as opposed to the ones I heard from students yesterday, thanking me for my attention to their writing.

The anxiety increases, and my make-up is caked onto my face thicker: But what if I’m actually not the best writer and teacher that I think I am? What if I’m teaching everyone the wrong thing? Maybe I don’ write so well, and my ego is just too far up my own a** to see the reality of it all.

Unfortunately, while I wish these things were valid, just to end the torturous cycle, these thoughts are one of the many effects of Impostor Syndrome.

Unfortunately, while I wish these things were valid, just to end the torturous cycle, these thoughts are one of the many effects of Impostor Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, a scientific term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, remains a phenomena today. In fact, many of us who deem ourselves “perfectionists,” “overachievers,” and who generally overwork themselves in fear of failing, are of the many who suffer from this idea of being exposed as a “fraud.”

True, there are actual frauds in the world, but unless you’re actively working to be the dictionary definition of a fraud, chances are, you aren’t.

Sadly, while there is nothing wrong with wanting to work hard at what you do best, you cannot overcome Imposter Syndrome by working harder. By working harder, you are acknowledging the fear of failure, and reinforcing your own bad behaviors. However, there are a few, simple actions you can take to reassure yourself that you’re not a fraud.

…you cannot overcome Imposter Syndrome by working harder. By working harder, you are acknowledging the fear of failure, and reinforcing your own bad behaviors.

Mantra: Rewarding good behavior takes effort, but unless I reward myself for the things I do well, I will continue to run from failure.

Take a Compliment

It sounds easy, but so many people discount their successes. Especially the small ones.

Scenario 1:

Editor: Omg this chapter made me cry.
Me, a Writer: Thanks, but…what about the section after? I feel it was a little choppy.

Scenario 2:

Student: Professor, I understand writing so much better than before.
Me, an instructor: I glad you learned something because I just only learned that myself.

Whenever someone says something nice to you, especially about the thing you’re afraid of failing at, stop at “thank you.” Don’t allow yourself to start a conversation on a tangent about your imperfections, particularly when those tangents begin with “just” or “but.” Nothing but negativity will spiral from them. Revel in the moment when someone adores you, and internalize the positive vibes.

Reflect on Your Success

Take time to list the things you did well, and allow that list to be extensive. You’re not a narcissist if you have seen the results of your success and can write them down. Knowing that tangible proof exists, shows you that you are good at what you do. It also shows you the reality of your strengths and weaknesses. However, a weakness does not suggest failure.

Hang that list somewhere that you can read it daily, and smile at all of the things only YOU have uniquely accomplished. Work towards the improvements, but don’t obsess over trying to make yourself perfect. Aim for gradual success.

Accept Limitations and Imperfections

We’ve heard it before, but those suffering from IS have never applied it to our own well-being.

Overtime, I have realized that writing is never perfect, and nor is every lesson that I plan. Yes, I will have those days where students are sluggish and not eager to participate, but it is not a reflection on myself and my teaching, but the individual. As a teacher, I cannot control everyone’s success, only my own. It’s true, I should focus on student success, but not at the expense of my own sanity.

Similarly, just because my editor didn’t cry over the scene I thought was well-written, doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. It means that the way I presented the emotion didn’t align with how they feel, or perceive a certain situation. While I want to please my editor, I will probably also face similar issues with readers in the future. Does this mean I need to write this scene for EVERY reader? No. That is an impossible undertaking. I can only write the way I know how, and hope that someone shares a similar point of view.

Be Kind to Yourself

Unless you are actually getting several complaints from students, editors, readers, and other teachers, and they are noted without bias, you are not a fraud. Most people who feel like frauds don’t receive any extrinsic complaints, only intrinsic ones. Thus, in the end, you are the only one telling yourself you are an “imposter.”

Don’t beat yourself up over a flaw. Things aren’t permanent, and you can make adjustments to your writing and lesson plans in the future. Move forward, and don’t look back. If you do, the cycle will never end.

Final Thoughts

These changes aren’t easy. In the end, some of us may need cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Seeing psychologist is not a failure, either. Talking to someone who truly understands the psyche and can support you through these changes is vital to ending the fear.

Be gentle with how you handle failure in the future. Allow yourself to cry, and let people comfort you and boost your ego in those vulnerable moments. Work on the weaknesses later, and revel in the success you have now. Remind yourself, improvement is a gradual change, and that only you could have done all of these wonderful things in your lifetime.

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4 comments

  1. I always feel like transparency is a good strategy in life. It’s something I have come to live by, especially after my breakdown. Part of me worries when I see how little support you get when teaching, because that is one of the reasons I ended up in the hospital. The expectations are so high, and perfection seems to be expected. But, I am glad you’re processing your own struggles so carefully. It upsets me when I hear that things have not changed in the teaching world; you are supposed to “have your shit together” all the time. And, to me, that is not really a human characteristics. Maybe if you were a cat, though…
    PS: I’m so glad you’re blogging and just writing more in general. The world needs your voice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for reading, Dina. It’s unfortunate that most administrators don’t find how mentally demanding teaching can be. More importantly, they don’t realize it’s emotionally taxing, either. While I am be able to process my struggles, I do fall victim to Imposter Syndrome, but this is internalized behavior bestowed upon me by former administrators and the like. We need to treat ourselves, and the people we work for and with with a lot more kindness and understanding. By taking these steps, we can shift the view of what creatives and teachers “should be,” and instead, focus on who they are.

      Like

  2. Sorry it took me so long to read this! You explained it very well and offered tips that yes, we need to take more often. I will share this with a couple friends. I’m glad that chance (and Twitter) made our paths cross, and I look forward to seeing you as a published author (and maybe at some upcoming Frank Turner shows?)

    Like

    • Thanks, Analisa! It’s easier said than done sometimes, I know. But it’s good to have these reminders out there. I couldn’t be more thankful to find such wonderful people. Thanks again!

      Like

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