Blog, Mental Health, Self Discovery

The Ultimate Imposter

The Ultimate Imposter. 

In my head, it’s a fact that I’m not as good as other people. I’ve spent years honing my inner ‘rating’ scale, comparing myself to everyone I meet, noting all the ways that they’re better than me.

At uni, I know that I’m nowhere near as good as the other people studying there. There’s no way I could become a lecturer, no way I could put myself forward for anything. I’m just not good enough yet. It’s just a fact.

When I worked in retail, there was no way I was the sort of person that could progress to upper management. I just wasn’t good enough at that job. I wasn’t the sort of person that could succeed in that environment.

When I looked at jobs that paid a decent salary, I told myself that those type of jobs were for other people. I’ve never earned anything near the UK average wage. I kind of felt that I didn’t deserve that kind of money. Even now, I look at a £30K job with a kind of abstract wonder. Who are these people who earn that much?

Now I blog, there’s no way I’m as good as other bloggers. My blog is small and will stay that way. People won’t want to read a newsletter from me. I haven’t got anything to say, really. I don’t even write about minimalism that much any more. I’m not the sort of person who will be successful doing this. I’ll just stay in the background and keep quiet.

This voice is constant, calm and factual. I’ve spent 37 years believing every single thing it has told me. I’ve never thought it could be wrong. Imposter syndrome? Ha, no way. I know about that, and I don’t feel like an imposter – I’m just not as good as other people. I don’t feel I shouldn’t be here… well, I do, but… It’s not a syndrome. It’s a fact…

This is hitting me, more so as I write this. A few weeks ago, I took part in Dr Marc Reid’s Imposter Phenomenon Research, where, after analysis of your answers, you get a personalised score. Mine was 84%, ‘intense and frequent imposter experiences’ (You can find out about the study on Twitter). I’d spent all this time thinking that imposter syndrome didn’t apply to me.

I didn’t feel that I was about to be ‘found out’ as an imposter. It was just that I wasn’t good enough to be there in the first place. I fade into the background. I see everything in terms of this invisible popularity contest in my head. And just now, I’m realising it might not be real after all.

I’m not sure how to explain my inner Popularity Rating System™. It’s some sort of inner monologue, heavily weighted against me to start off with. As soon as I feel someone is ‘better’ than me, then that’s it. I quieten down and shrink, for want of a better word. I listen intently and shape my speech, humour, everything to align with them. Finding myself agreeing, even with things I actually don’t agree with. But, of course, I am flimsy. Fake. A shell. It is exhausting.

It takes a long time for me to drop this shell. What if people actually see the ‘real’ me? The one that is so much worse than everybody else? I wonder where this came from. Maybe that’s something to talk over with someone qualified to delve into those murky depths, and not for me to mull over and over…

One thing is for sure though – it’s really held me back from experiencing life to the full, and probably from achieving some of that ‘success’ that I regularly gaze on from the sidelines. I’d never really stepped back and viewed myself from someone else’s point of view. I have these huge, heart-wrenching waves of guilt, of uselessness. The world closes in, and everything is terrible. It’s all my fault. I’m a drain, a shell of a human, a nothing.

But I’m not. It’s just my brain telling me lies.

My mentor for uni mentioned something a few months back. ‘You’re kind of cool, you know’, they said. I laughed it off because, well, of course I’m not. I’m just one small person in amongst all these amazingly brainy, high achieving people. But then they said I was high-achieving too. Was I? Am I? It set me thinking.

I want to be the best. I want huge, shiny success, and if I feel that it’s achievable, I’ll work myself to the bone to feel like I’ve made it. By definition, I am a high-achiever. I don’t want to settle for good enough. I want instant feedback. There’s this deep need to feel I belong, a need to feel successful that seems deep-seated and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I’ll discard anything that isn’t in my narrow ‘successful’ definition. The problem is that these days I don’t feel that anything is achievable. Along the way, this has become a big problem.

My blog is small, so it isn’t successful – disregard the joy it’s brought me, the lovely people I’ve met through it, the opportunities I’ve had. I don’t have an income, so I’m not successful – disregard the free time I have, the privileged lifestyle I lead, the fact I spent the last few years severely depressed and battling a chronic illness. I’m bad at organising myself and remembering information, so I’ll never be able to achieve anything academic – disregarding the fact I have a degree, an MSc, and am studying a PhD, along with a bunch of other qualifications. I came second in a management competition at work nearly a decade ago, so I failed as a manager – disregarding everything else I achieved during that time (OK let’s definitely disregard the breakdown though).

Now I write it, it makes me sad. All the things I have actually achieved, all that effort, just thrown by the wayside in a vain attempt to grab onto that successful feeling. That feeling that I’m actually good at something. But I am good at something. Lots of things, actually. But it feels so wrong to type that.

There’s a phenomenon called confirmation bias. This is basically used to describe the social media echo chamber, and is also commonly mentioned when looking at conspiracy theorists, too. Basically, if you have a strong belief, then you will view events or information as being in support of that belief. Information that invalidates that belief is ignored. Think of the ‘flat earthers’ measuring the curvature of the earth, but disregarding the results as the ‘equipment being broken’ rather than confirmation that the earth is, indeed, not flat.

I am convinced that I am not as good as other people – and have spent a long, long time finding ‘evidence’ to back that up. Once my belief is firmly entrenched – and firmly entrenched it most definitely is – everything seems to validate it.

How do I break out of this cycle, this lifelong circle of breaking myself down? To start to let go of that endless, endless comparison? It’s been so long now. But I’m so tired. I’m utterly exhausted by this relentless negative comparison. I want to reclaim my self, my achievements. It’s been a long time coming. But I’m really looking forward to it.



7 thoughts on “The Ultimate Imposter

  1. Well the old saying “ to compare is to despair” is a challenge for most of us. I am over 60 and still occasionally struggle with imposter syndrome but it’s become significantly smaller in my life. How did I shrink it? I learned to ignore it.
    Someone once told me to act as if it wasn’t there and eventually it would not be and that is mostly true. I also discovered through therapy whose voice was really my inner critic (in my case my father’s). That knowledge helped me get a distance from it.
    If you can also internalise the good feedback, responses and pleasures you have in what you do, that helps too but truthfully it’s the hardest part of breaking the habit of constant self criticism and comparison.
    You write wonderfully well. I always look forward to reading whatever you have to say. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much Helen 🙂 it really means a lot! I’ve never thought of who that inner critic might be, that’s a really interesting way of looking at it and something I will probably take forward! I can imagine that it really helps to put a ‘name’ to it – it’s more like it isn’t ‘you’ then, I imagine?
      That cycle is going to be hard to break, but I think I’m ready to give it a go – onwards! 😉
      Sal x

  2. I’m so glad that you’re seeing through the negativity. I told myself years ago there’s only one me; whatever my strengths or failings are, comparison is pointless because we’re all unique. I tell my kids when the inner critic pipes up, to make a kind though firm statement then ignore it. The mind’s behaviour reminds me of the boundless energy of a child – it just needs some guidance on where to focus the energy. Give it something better to do, set it to work on something else hehe We create ruts in our thinking, so neural pathways are often firing out of habit. By changing to a different response, “I don’t care about that, what I would like to work out is how to….” and posing a question that directs the mind towards creativity or solutions, it then makes new pathways to traverse. Just be relentless in re-directing it and in time, things will feel much better 🙂

    1. This is so helpful Lou! It’s catching the mind in the act of doing it that’s hard – but I’m starting to make headway with it, I think. I’ve become better at observing over the last few years so it helps when my brain is having a funk. Ready to start creating those new pathways!
      Sal x

  3. Well I think you are excellent and am often in awe of your talents, especially the musical ones.
    I recently didn’t apply for 3 jobs that I’m absolutely qualified for and would give me security I desperately need … because ‘the voice’ had me convinced before I began that there are definitely better people for the job out there and I really wouldn’t stand a chance. The older I get, the harder that voice is to ignore, especially now the majority of people around me are so young and confident.

    1. Argh thank you Trina! And ditto, by the way… Art and mountains and dogs and soul and strength and determination…to start with…
      Yes that voice entirely sucks, and it’s a massive liar, but it’s still very insistent and seems to drown out everything else sometimes… even when we know it’s a liar! Whyyyyy
      Sal x

  4. Well, 2020 certainly was a year for introspection and evaluation.
    And embarking on a PhD project is usually a challenge to the ego and self-image. Almost everyone I know who’s doing on (or has done one) has found it to be tough on many levels.
    Great post – hope you’re feeling good about this year.

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