According to Wikipedia, Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.
Developing Impostor Syndrome feels like an inescapable by-product of entering adulthood. Much like your wisdom teeth pushing through your gums and shattering your retainer, you can pretty much bank on the following developments occurring in the twilight of your youth. 1) You’ll be forced to give up Coco Pops and have to start eating adult cereals advertised by women in red swimsuits. 2) You’ll start experiencing the absolute horror of the two-day hangover. 3) You’ll begin to feel like a f*cking fraud 95% of the time.
Impostor Syndrome can bubble up at any moment. When your friend is running late and you have to go into the pub on your own. When you accidentally reveal that you thought Holland was an island. When you did a degree in English Literature, but still frequently misspell Literature (some variables I go for include Literiture, Litrature, and Litriture).
Your first job is guaranteed to be a hotbed of opportunities to feel like an inadequate, under-qualified phoney. It doesn’t help that our education system is seriously skewed, such that I can say ‘I am twelve years old’ in three different languages, but don’t know how to make a table in Excel. (NB: If you find yourself clubbing in Malaga, do not go up to people and say ‘Tengo doce años!’ because it’s the only Spanish phrase you remember. They will not be impressed by your language skills. You may be asked to leave the club.)
Despite having spent so many years in education, supposedly being prepared for the workplace, now that I’ve entered it, I find myself balking at the simplest task. Even something as easy as making a phone call is enough to send me into a panic; apparently I’m nothing more than a walking, talking millennial stereotype – utterly terrified by any form of communication that isn’t Facebook Messenger.
After months of quietly crying in company bathrooms, I reached a stage where I was determined to sort out my constant feeling of inadequacy. After all, I managed to get my eczema under control; surely there would be an ointment equivalent which could fix my dysfunctional psyche.
I came up with a strategy. I was going to whole-heartedly embrace my fraudulence. I decided it was okay to just pretend to be a functional, cultured and competent adult. And I’m no stranger to faking it – there are men wandering around London seriously thinking they found my G Spot.
I’ve now faked my way through phone calls, interviews, even entire internships. And before you know it, the pretence somehow turns into genuine ability. After going through the motions a few times and telling yourself you’re just an actor in a long, boring, improvised play called Life, eventually you start actually knowing what you’re doing.
Obviously, this approach doesn’t cure Impostor Syndrome entirely. It’ll still rear its head when someone starts talking about Brexit, or Ottolenghi, or you’re on an unfamiliar journey and your phone runs out of charge and you suddenly get the urge to find a policeman and declare yourself a lost child.
But, according to my extensive research (by which I mean asking my mum), we never totally get over that feeling of being a fraud. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a parent, the Prime Minister, or just someone trying to do a tax return, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t occasionally feel like a fish out of water.
So, whilst Impostor Syndrome can feel debilitating, it’s actually a lot like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Chronic, destined to return in uncomfortable bouts, but, ultimately, manageable.
Illustration by Georgia Turner.
Image by Geraldshields11 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32225049