Imposter syndrome is that super fun feeling of incompetence despite obvious qualifications and success (which is dismissed as dumb luck) in your field. It was first used to describe how high achieving women often felt anxious about their status because (duh, the Patriarchy sucks) society trained them to believe that high powered jobs are meant for men. But more and more people are realizing that regardless of your gender, success level, or field, anyone can experience this dreadful phenomenon (because duh, Capitalism’s pressure for high achievement sucks).
While it’s important to note that it is not considered a mental illness by the DSM-5, its effect is still great enough to exacerbate symptoms of other disorders. And for anyone without mental illness, the experience of Imposter Syndrome is still incredibly troubling and taxing.
Now, if we’re going to be particularly technical about the scientific measures used to determine the severity of Imposter Syndrome then I have frequent Imposter feelings. But I think its significant to note that I took the test while feeling super fraudulent (hence me writing this post in the first place), so it’s probably an inaccurate measure.
The truth is I’ve done a lot of work to grow as a person and improve my mental health, and a big part of that was letting go of perfectionism. I was raised to be a straight A student. Anything less was okay, but not really praised. My frequent combination of A’s and B’s was seen as “what was expected” and not something to reward. I had a great fear of failing and anxiety around making sure I was doing my very best in every subject and task.
This is a common thread in people with Imposter Syndrome. Being raised to be a perfectionist isn’t exactly healthy and leaves you vulnerable to develop anxiety around success and failure.
But I have done a lot of work in the last few years to let go of the idea of pursuing a conventional career path (a fine pursuit, but it caused me major anxiety) and doing everything “right.” I instead learned to focus on doing what made me feel well. For a while that meant doing nothing. My depression and anxiety had pushed my mind and body to a breaking point. I needed a deep rest, as Jim Carry would call it, and I had the privilege of allowing myself to have it.
After some time of inactivity I slowly began doing other things that brought me a sense of joy and/or fulfillment while not taking away from my feeling of wellness. The major component there was knowing that I didn’t need to complete the tasks I set out to do. I only had to answer to myself, not some supervisor. And there were ebbs and flows of activity, times where I had to pull back and rest, and times where I had energy to push forward.
And after even more time I began pursuing my old passion of art and writing as a career. And that’s where the little Imposter beastie weaseled its way back into my mind.
I was hand picked by RAW Natural Born Artists to show my work at the Miami showcase. I am over the moon with excitement, but the closer I get to the show the more I feel like I’m no where near good enough to present my work there. I haven’t been doing this that long. I don’t have a lot of serious training in the field (only minors in Art and Creative Writing). I clearly see where my work needs improvement. And the more I think about all of this, the harder it becomes to actually perform well with new art pieces and writing. My work just isn’t coming out how I want it to.
So what am I going to do about it?
Well, I’ve been doing my best to balance work and relaxation. When I feel like my performance is faltering, I step away, take a break, and come back to it later. And I’m reminding myself that there is no “right way” to make art. All that matters is that I keep doing what brings me joy while balancing work and rest.
Here’s the rubbish with my solution: I have the privilege of resting when I need to. I have the privilege of not needing to worry about making enough money. I have the privilege of only answering to myself if I don’t make the deadlines I set. I am given those privileges by my extremely supportive husband who is the primary bread winner and understands that I can’t be a workhorse like our society expects. He can, so he does. And he takes care of me. But not everyone is so lucky.
This is the issue with our merit-based society. Everyone is expected to work as hard or harder than the next person, and if you fall behind you’re left behind. Unless you have people on your side who are willing to help you, you’ll be left begging for scraps or working to the point of breaking (like I used to). It isn’t sustainable. It isn’t kind. And it isn’t right to deny people their basic human rights (food, water, shelter) just because they can’t keep up with the rest of society. We push and push and push until we break. And all the while we feel like we’re imposters, not doing enough to deserve the success we’ve gained.