“I’m scared everyone is going to find out that I’m just a person in a dirty sweatshirt who writes better than she talks and might just seem a little underwhelming in person.”
Sometimes, when I write in my journal for long enough, in the dark early hours of the morning, deep truths peek past the filter of my shame and spill out onto the paper.
And so it was here, a wicked case of imposter syndrome, laid bare.
My experience of imposter syndrome in the past has felt distinctively different. When I went to work in pleated dress pants and high heels, I felt as though I were play-acting someone else’s life.
But this feeling was much, much edgier for me.
It was a fear of being found out.
It was a fear that perhaps those of you who have been following my work and reading my words might be disappointed to find that, in real life, I’m just stumbling my way through, wearing my husband’s dirty t-shirt, managing an outbreak of adult acne and yelling at my kids, often with no extra wisdom or grace to spare.
Sometimes, even, when I look at the words I’ve written and I reflect on what it feels like to type them out in the pre-dawn hours, I actually feel as though it’s not me writing at all, but rather that I am channeling some creative daemon. Like they come from me and not, at the same time.
The fear of being an imposter is really, really uncomfortable, and even more so for a person who spends all her time talking about authenticity and alignment.
Ever since I wrote those words in my journal, a few weeks ago, I’ve been tangling with these feelings.
Part of me knows that I feel this way because of the way I choose to portray my life and my work on social media. I’ve written before about the strong feelings I have about sharing dark, unprocessed thoughts and feelings on social media. I’ve made the distinctive choice to share only that which I have the resilience to share. I choose to be private about my private stuff, and I refuse to build my business through click-bait-y stories of my personal life that I am not, for many reasons, ready or able to share. But this decision has become increasingly unfathomable in a society that lives as pixelated representations of themselves.
But there’s more to it than that.
Imposter syndrome is what happens when we venture out onto a growing edge.
My friend and fellow coach Sas Petherick does research and coaching with women experiencing self-doubt. From her I learned that imposter syndrome is a key way that self-doubt shows up, and furthermore that self-doubt tends to raise its ugly head when we’re trying something new, when we’re growing and developing. It’s actually an adaptive strategy that helps us to deal with the psychological risk that learning and growth (and potential failure) represents.
Like so many women who are going through major life transitions, it feels like everything in my life is a growing edge right now. Though I’ve been running this business for two years, I’m mere months into trying to replace my income with this work. I’m moving to a new home, and balancing the work of full-time motherhood with my paid work. I am, in so many ways, a novice at my own life right now, and I feel a lot of uncertainty.
I have found that though there is very little place for the complexity of our lives and feelings on social media, or, perhaps, in the world in general…
…when I allow myself to sit in complexity, I can write pretty words and wear a dirty sweatshirt.
I can be building a home by the ocean and working for myself and be sad and terrified, too.
I can channel wisdom and forget to follow my own advice.
I can have wisdom, and experience feelings of self-doubt.
The fear of being found out – that feeling of imposter syndrome – felt very real to me as I wrote in my journal that morning.
But I’m starting to believe that anyone who is going through a major life transition, and who has to navigate the world of social media in a society that has a terribly difficult time holding space for complexity is likely to feel the prickly edges of imposter syndrome.
The other thing about complexity
is that I can feel imposter syndrome while also feeling confident
while also knowing I’m on the right path
while also deeply believing in myself and the work I’m doing.
I think, perhaps, that’s the greatest gift I can give myself; it’s the greatest gift anyone can give themselves or one another: the open-heartedness to see ourselves and others as whole, complex human beings who are more than their darknesses or their light, and who are most definitely more than who they are on social media. The true gift, of course, is not just to see that, but to be able to hold space for ourselves and each other, to not see complexity as a problem to be fixed, but a sign of the depth and beauty of one’s character.