The American public school system–or at least as the one I grew up in–teaches us the linear path. It’s built on black and white, yes and no answers. It’s to be expected with an American public school system that claims to be one size fits all. I’m not criticizing it by any means; I am aware of the education reform happening. All I’m intending here is to equip you with the knowledge that somewhere down the line, something we’ve learned in public school has impacted our way of thinking and viewing ourselves in relation to how we engage with our world and our relationships with those around us–for better and for worse.
It’s if/then statement thinking. If I get a C in Math, then I’m less successful than all the people in my class who received A’s and B’s. But to zoom out, the school system teaches us to think think that our self-worth and credibility is dependent on how we match up on paper based on our achievements (or lack there of).
To give you an example, I went to a high-achieving high school where Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes were a badge of honor, varsity sports on your resume were a trophy medal and whether or not you went out of state for college was the icing on the cake.
And this educational grooming didn’t go in one ear and out the other. It’s a sense of comparing ourselves to others that I haven’t been able to shake. It can lead to feelings of settling for what we receive and not fighting it when our intuition tells us we’re worth more. It’s settling for how we believe we match up in comparison to others.
That’s comfortable, that’s safe. And sometimes when we’re feeling like the world is chaotic, sure, complacency might be best.
But what about pushing the lid on what feels safe?
I got stuck in this rut for four years after college. Four years of settling. And four years of believing my fate was most inevitably where I would land.
It’s Darwin’s natural selection in practice in the workplace.
I believed that I couldn’t so I didn’t. I believed that I was less than, so I didn’t try to break that mould and fight to break that paradigm of locking myself into where I felt like I matched up with others in the invisible pecking order that has developed around this mentality.
I was stuck in a customer service related job at a doctor’s office for two years. And then another year serving in various administrative positions which felt “safe.”
It’s this meritocracy, reward-based system that makes us feel like we receive what we deserve even if it feels like sloppy seconds. When we let this mentality get the best of us, it’s actually like a plague. Both literally and figuratively. It’s parasitic. It’s thinking that corrupts your brain and rewires how you think of yourself.
So I found myself in a place where I was playing it safe. But I did change jobs. I went on to become an editor for a large online publication. I was a graduate of their online training school and therefore was skilled enough to be an assistant for that same teaching school. I learned the ropes. I was quiet. I was humble when it came to sticking up for what I knew and what I thought I knew. I didn’t overshoot my knowledge because it wasn’t my place.
But two months ago, I found myself in a situation. The program director of our teaching school left to pursue self-employment. And I was left quite literally at the helm of the program. A place where I didn’t want to be because I didn’t feel comfortable. I was anxious to escape from this spotlight. I felt like an impostor.
Impostor Syndrome is a term coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the late 1970's to describe people who feel like they aren’t worthy or deserving of their achievements. And no matter how strong your accomplishments are on paper, you just don’t feel like you match up.
As the prior assistant, I was fast tracked into leading a program for 25 plus students online from the around the world and I was clueless. I froze. I didn’t know the first place to start and felt like an impostor on the job. I felt like a stranger in a foreign land where leadership, coming up with lesson plans and program marketing and recruitment was a foreign language that shot shivers right up my spine.
And to add, the timing was abysmal. Right in the middle of the busiest part of the program with no time to feel like an impostor. There wasn’t time to be paralyzed by fear.
But I forked it over because, to put it bluntly, it was do or die. After spending plenty of timing feeling sorry for myself and feeling like I was less than adequate, I knew I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and stop the victimization.
Impostor Syndrome is a mindset. And it breeds off of how we consider ourselves in relation to the world around us. Our educational upbringing is not the only agent of these feelings but just one example. And it’s the one that caught me the most off guard.
Impostor Syndrome doesn’t go away over night but if reading this is ringing any bells, then you probably deserve more credit than you are giving yourself. When we’re in that mindset of feeling inadequate, we’re significantly hindered in our full ability to work with what we are successful at.
Feel into what is making you feel less than. Is it a situation at work? A role you’ve been asked to fill that you don’t feel comfortable in? Get a feel for what it is that makes you feel like you don’t belong.
Organize. Chaos scrambles our brains. Emotions scramble our ability to think clearly. Take a step back and organize. This may mean mental organization or physical organization. Get your thoughts collected. Clear up your work space. Take away all the clutter to get clear on what you do need to accomplish.
Remember what matters most. Why are you in the position you are in at work or a part of the relationship that’s making you feel like an impostor? Probably because it matters. It might matter because it pays the bills or there may be deeper reasons related to your destiny and your purpose in this world. Either way, you’re there for a reason and don’t need to suffer through it. You’re meant to shine.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. ~ Marianne Williamson
Kill it. Capitalize on your gifts and talents. This is what can truly help you break free of the impostor mindset.
To give an example. When I was dropped into the training school director role, I felt like a blind man walking through a wind tunnel, getting blown every which way. I had no clue what to start with in resuming my new role.
I felt like my worth paled in comparison intellectually and both as a leader compared to the prior director, who’s also a dear friend. This feeling of inadequacy was making me feel like an impostor.
I organized. I made more space in my day to get what I needed to do complete. I asked for help (and got it). Because I knew this wasn’t a one-woman job.
I remembered why I’m in this job. Because I love being immersed in the world of new media and teaching people about how to use social media and writing as a way to open their hearts. And I’m only human. We all fail. We all struggle. We all have hard times. So I gave myself some slack.
I realized I needed to stop comparing myself to the woman whose shoes I was filling. I have my own gifts and talents that I bring to this position. And what works for some may not work for others.
Impostor Syndrome is a mindset, but it’s very real and can be very limiting to our ability to let our light shine and break free of limiting behaviors. It’s time for the baby steps to stop comparing ourselves to others and bring it back to our own worth that we bring to the table.
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” ~ Abraham Maslow