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Apr 24 2015

Let Me Tell You About…Impostor Syndrome

Let Me Tell You About...Impostor Syndrome

If you’ve spent any time in gifted circles, or read about gifted adults, or checked out any websites on self-care in the last few years, chances are better than average that you’ve run across the term Impostor Syndrome. It’s that Lying McLiarpants voice in your head that never, ever shuts up. You know the one…it’s the one whispering that you’re a fraud, that you’re going to be “found out,” that you’re going to fail because you’re nowhere near as good as you appear.

hate this voice. I’ve tried for years to gag it, but as it communicates with me internally it just ignores the gag and keeps on yappin’. Every time I think I’ve got it under control it just laughs at me and yaps louder. Let’s review what it says, shall we?

  • I wrote a book. I am told it is very good (see the Impostor Syndrome yappin’ in that phrase?), and nearly three years later (and how the hell did the time pass that quickly?) it is still selling well. I’m under contract to write a second one on the needs and self-care of parents as they raise gifted and 2e kids. Yet I still think the first book is a fluke, and I’ll be shown up as a fraud with the second because what the hell do I know about self-care? For Chrissake, I’ve barely got my own shit together right now. At this point the book is going to be a list of ways I’ve managed to totally bork up caring for myself.
  • This week I learned I was included in a list of 50 resources for the parents and teachers of gifted kids. Jaw-droppingly floored doesn’t begin to cover it. While I’m honored to be on a resource list that includes others such as Hoagies Gifted and SENG and Gifted Parenting Support and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, don’t these people realize that I don’t know anything? I’m not an expert. At best I’m the parenting version of the FDA Black Box Warning, complete with skull and crossbones…only my skull and crossbones will be holding a wine glass and the eye sockets will be slightly crossed and there will be a very deep furrow in the brow of the skull in which grapevines are growing for the wine and that’s why the eyes are crossed. If I had mad Photoshop skillz I’d make one up. (Note to self: get younger son with promising mad Photoshop skillz on this…)
  • I’ve taught flute lessons for close to 25 years, off and on. Most of that time I’ve focused on elementary and middle school students. My rationale was that very few teachers focus on that age (which is true), that I love that age when I’m teaching one on one (which I do), and that I can be my true ridiculous self with that age when I teach (and boy howdy I am). And then this fall I started giving lessons one day a week at a high school, and some other, very vocal thoughts came yappin’ out. I’ve avoided teaching high school flutists because I don’t think I’m worthy to teach that level, that I will be found out as a teaching fraud, that I’m only good for repeating fingerings over and over and over again. Advanced students require guidance in musicality and interpretation and who am I to be that guide? Never mind that masters degree in flute performance and 30+ years playing, of course.
  • I’m principal flute of the North Suburban Wind Ensemble, and next weekend I’m soloing with the group. I hear the other flutists in the ensemble and wonder why the hell I’m sitting where I am, and when are they all going to figure out that I suck and shouldn’t be there? It’s just luck and timing that I am where I am (though if you try to take it from me I will fight and fight hard).
  • People have told me for at least the last year that I should be a consultant of some sort, that I know so much about parenting gifted kids and homeschooling, with resources out the wazoo. That’s something I’d love to do, however please see previous bullet point on my very own parenting Black Box Warning. The corollary to this is “Who would ever hire me? I’m only a homeschooling mom who has been out of the official workforce for 15 years, with little experience in the areas of competence/expertise and overqualified for the entry-level positions that would hire me.”
  • I’m an Ambassador for GHF, which is an honor. Why me again? Surely I’m not qualified for that gig.

And these are just the ones that are loudest in my mind. I’m a riot at parties.

How exhausting it is, having this voice yappin’ all the time, and then how crazy it looks written out, like one big HumbleBrag. It’s not. It’s an incessant jab to my self-esteem and it won’t shut up. What’s the point? Do we ever grow out of this soul-numbing one-sided conversation? Nothing good ever comes of it, and it only serves to make life harder. I don’t often admit it, but I’m a good flutist and a pretty good teacher. It’s even harder to admit that I’m a writer, and nearly impossible to add any positive descriptor to that title.

I know I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. I know many people, mainly women, have this same yap-yap-yap in their heads as well, and it is distracting and annoying and damaging to our very selves. So let me tell you about Impostor Syndrome. It lies. It lies to keep us from believing in ourselves and admitting that we’re good at what we do, that our success comes from hard work and taking advantage of opportunities that come our way. It tries to convince us that the rest of the world is unkind, hoping for our failures and waiting to attack, like vultures on a wire. And we believe that shit, because god forbid we believe something awesome about ourselves.

So here it is. I’m a flutist, and a teacher, and a writer, and a gifted advocate, and a resource to others on this journey. And I’m pretty good at all of those.

Baby steps. It’s a start.

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  1. lucy

    Love this. I’ve been facing my own Imposter Syndrome lately. Then I think, it’s okay: I’m one voice in a whole field of voices, and if something likes my song, who am I to tell them they’re tone deaf? No one’s stopping them from turning to a different singer.

    Wishing you MUCH improved health, too. It’s frighteningly easy to come down hard on yourself when you’re already in a weakened state. Looking for a joke about “culling the herd” and not offing yourself…but can’t…find…it…. :-/

    1. Jen

      It is easy to get down on yourself when you already don’t feel well. Then it just spirals out of control. I appear to be Exhibit A for that. 😉

  2. Jenny

    As a 41 yo gifted adult who studies biochemistry because it’s interesting, and who also writes poetry and plays oboe (and a Virgo to boot!), I can tell you, I’ve heard this voice my whole life. Soul-numbing is a perfect description for how it makes me feel. I’ve shut it up off and on over the years, and continue to push through in spite of it, but it’s gotten significantly worse over the past several years. I’m a single mom of 4 gifted kids, 3 of whom also have autism. Talk about black box warning for other parents! I do ok, and I know a lot, but most days, I feel like I’ve been dragged into this gig kicking and screaming, and am completely unqualified for the job. The more I learn, the less I feel like I know, and yet, just by the sheer fact that I’e been doing it a long time, people ask me for advice I don’t feel like I will ever be qualified to give. Oh, And I homeschool…because I’m insane…or is it the other way around? 🙂

    Anyway, I’ve gone back to read some of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, because I’m desperately looking for some guidance in finding my path toward peace in all of it. I’m still not there yet, and feel like I’ve been disintegrating my whole life, but I’m hopeful that one of these days, it’s gonna click. Regarding outside compliments, it’s not so much that I don’t appreciate them, or don’t sometimes see accomplishment, I just really don’t like the attention, good or bad. I’d rather work quietly in the background, which is hard to do when I’m good at making decisions, have a strong personality, and am determined to maintain a high level of quality in everything I do. It puts a spotlight on me than makes me anxious, like I’m under a magnifying glass. And I think the voice plays on my desire to be humble…and twists it into something perverse. Pisses me off because I can see it, and yet often feel powerless against it.

    1. Jen

      Sounds very, very familiar here, Jenny. The desire to be humble that then gets twisted out of control. That is exactly it!
      But dang. Single mom homeschooling four GT kids, three of them 2e. Damn, woman. Cheers to you. You’ve earned it.

  3. Natalie

    Oh yes I hear you. I’m 51 years old and that voice has kept me from achieving much at all in my life. I have a co-worker of average intelligence and I constantly marvel at her utter conviction in herself….. how I’d love some of that for myself 🙁

    1. Jen

      I hear ya, Natalie. :/

  4. Jim Doyle

    Thank you so much. I’ve been reading some books on gift,and though good,it seems like a far away author and its
    ‘only me’ putting my own view to fit the author’s. Somehow,this,on line, and my actually writing about it brings
    more authenticity and I may yet believe it. So,I have a real heavy imposter syndrome,always have had.
    Perhaps now I’ve found you and others online,I might get rid of the bugger!
    Thanks Again,
    Jim.

  5. Sarah

    That voice is debilitating, crippling, painfully vocal. Shouts and screams and only sometimes gets quieted. And even the attempts to quiet it feel like impostor syndrome because I don’t deserve to be worthy of having impostor syndrome in the first place so I must just be going mad, right? Gifted? Give me normal any day! And now DS7 has it too 🙁 I hope I can help him find it and squash it before it gets bigger than him. It is so limiting. Thank you for posting. Makes me feel slightly less crazy. Or crazy amongst equals. Or something! Good luck all x

  6. ChaosRu

    Yep, often. What the hell am I doing? Why did they hire me? I was accepted into the program, WTH? I graduated? What? I am supposed to raise these kids? Me teach? HA!

    I always thought it was just part of being human and in particular, female. I also felt it was part of being the way youngest of siblings who all have advanced ivy-league degrees (and at least one parent and sibling who would never let me forget it). I just put my head down and keep on working, trying my best to quiet the voices. I also work on focusing on the things I know to be empirically true: I enjoy what I do, I try hard and I like the people/kids I work with.

    1. Jen

      I don’t even know where to begin here Ruth! You are fantastic at what you do! I’ve seen you work with these kids (and mine in particular) and they learn. Not just that, but they are engaged and curious and work. Half the time I have no clue what you’re even saying! LOL! But the kids do. 🙂 You’re brilliant and I can’t believe how much you pack into one day; I can barely get 1/8 of that in.
      That said, I know that little voice right now is telling you to ignore everything I just wrote. :p

  7. Julie Cortez

    Kudos to you for sitting down to analyze all the times/places that impostor syndrome has reared it head in your life. I honestly think that the process of analyzing and writing it all down is akin to playing “whack-a-mole” with Impostor Syndrome’s resilient little head.

    Thanks for the inspiration and motivation. Now it is about time that I grab my mallet and get to whacking!

  8. Diana Pitstick

    Dear Jen:
    Trying to remember the train on links that brought me to this particular post. I have seen posts by you before. I believe I started tonight on Hoagies Gifted FB, re: the Today Show post, saw your comment about a Chicago bakery, started reading your posts here, saw your reference to N. Sub. Wind Ensemble and followed that link. I grew up in D128 and please say hello and give a high five, or hug, from “pit” (nickname) to Mr. Shupe, although I knew Ms. G. better. As a very late mom to DS almost 7 who has just spent two years in school having to practice ABCs and 123s and add up to 10 repeatedly, I wouldn’t get up and keep going without the support of posts, blogs and websites like yours that focus on gifted kiddos, nd grownups. And I understand the tired thing, totally. Anyway, really enjoy your articles. Thanks.

    1. Jen

      That is a very roundabout way to get here. LOL! Small (musical) world. 😉

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