I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t deserve this. I shouldn’t be here.   

Hi. My name is Jen and I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Badly. What is Impostor Syndrome, you ask? Well, you’re in the right place, ’cause I’m gonna tell ya. Striking women more often than men, and gifted women in particular, Impostor Syndrome is that lovely set of  lies the voices inside your head tell you when you are successful. That nasty little voice that whispers at you, sneering at your success, and is so persuasive that you believe it time and time and time again.

I didn’t suffer enough. I don’t deserve it.

With a flute performance background, you’d think I would have learned how to better cope with this. You’d be wrong. See, while I was naturally inclined to be better than average on the flute, I had to work my ass off to get past a certain level. I learned that toot sweet in college, and thankfully I had a wonderful and loving teacher/mentor to gently encourage me. It’s not a coincidence that I pretty much stopped playing at a professional level after he died several years later, but that’s neither here nor there and let’s continue. I knew I had worked hours upon hours upon hours and thus could say “thank you” when complimented on my performance. When, on rare occasion, I was less than prepared and skittled through a performance by the skin of my teeth, the Impostor Syndrome flared up. There would be much flushing and embarrassed thanks, as all I could hear through the hot roar in my ears was that nasty little whisper.

I’m a fraud. They’re going to see right through me.

But when something is difficult for me, and I work hard, and I succeed…well, I know I earned the praise. Music theory was my bugaboo in college. Hated it, struggled with it, was ever so glad to be done with it. And because I hated it and struggled with it, my grad school entry tests indicated that I needed to take an additional theory class. I put that class off as long as possible, and when it came time to finally suffer through the mind-bending hell that is music theory, I found that my professor was no less than the husband of a dear friend. An outstanding professor, someone I knew socially, with a reputation for being a tough taskmaster. Crap. Schenkerian analysis was the main focus of the semester; I understood it in 1999, I have not a clue what the hell it’s all about now. But I studied it and I learned it and I mastered it and by God, I earned that A. I’m prouder of that class grade than giving birth without drugs eight years ago next month.

I’m not really all that. What will they think when I’m found out?

On the other end of the spectrum, when something comes easily to me, well…I get embarrassed, I don’t want to bring attention to it, I wish for the floor to suddenly discover hunger and have me for its very first morsel. I may have worked at it, but it was easy and mostly enjoyable and why do I deserve any recognition for that?

This was too easy and I can’t let anyone know that and I really should go now.

That I’m grappling with an oh-so-delightful patch of Impostor Syndrome right now is no coincidence. Next month Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press is publishing my book. And I am thrilled and embarrassed and proud and terrified and the whispers just keep getting louder and louder and is the floor hungry yet? I wanted to be a writer long before I wanted to be a musician, so this is a dream come true. But I know how long and hard I worked on one and I know how long and hard I worked on the other, and the numbers aren’t even close.

I was just lucky. I’m really not that good. 

To the best of my knowledge there is no cure for Impostor Syndrome; I believe it’s just something you have to learn to live with. Coupled with Perfectionism it makes for an interesting evening of internal voices duking it out (don’t even ask how long it took to write this post). I’m just tired of its whispered lies.
When Jen can shut out the lying whispers, she writes over at Laughing at Chaos.

25 thoughts on “Impostor. Me.

  1. OMG. No words. Because you just wrote something right outta my head. For real. Lying whispers. We dream for things to happen, when they do, we think it was a mistake. I have never thought about this before, until now, and it’s glaringly real – it almost feels like I wrote this. Soooooo– how can I stomp on the whispers and quiet them? 😉

  2. I wonder if this is another way homeschooling can help kids. I think part of my problem has to do with the fact that if you get grades, you can rely on them to tell you if you earned it or deserve it or not, like you said above. So you don’t have to form the ability to tell for yourself, someone else tells you. You get the gold star, the award, the A. Now, in Real Life, you have to rely more on your own internal ratings. You may be more vulnerable to being taken advantage of by employers because you don’t know what you’re worth. You’re so happy just to get a job. You don’t publish the book because clearly, it can’t possibly be good. And the idea of putting yourself out there so publicly so everyone can see you’re a fraud? Ugh.

    So, maybe, just maybe, by homeschooling my kids and making them learn from an early age to evaluate their own performance (and fail or not) they can learn to do things for themselves instead of the Gold Star.

    1. You may be right. But don’t you think, even if homeschooled, kids would compare their work to that of others’ and then reevaluate their performance, even if they thought it was good before? Something I’ve thought about as I’ve homeschooled one kid and sent the other off on the big yellow bus.

    2. I am a harsh critic of myself. I don’t think, for ME, this would have been a kinder inner voice had I been homeschooled. In fact, I have been working on a novel that I am a perfectionist about, and it’s hard to finish, and it’s only after I survey all the Stuff published out there and look at the writing of those in my writing program, that I can tell myself, okay just finish the darn thing, and it will be Good Enough.

      Yet I do have the imposter syndrome. I got a scholarship to a good school and I still think, Boy Did I Fool Them. They Thought I Was Going to Do Something Amazing With My Life. But I Didn’t. I Suck.

      Stuff like that.

      1. If anyone spoke to me the way these whispers speak to me, my very own nasty whispers, I’d rip his/her head off and play bocce. Just sayin’. 😉 So very hard on myself.

  3. I call it “poser syndrome” and keep waiting for the world to say, “YOU SUCK!” I think it goes hand in hand with being creative too. Jenn.. YOU ARE WORTHY!!! 😉

    1. I wonder if it hits creative women harder than less creative women. I know most gifted women suffer through this, but I wonder if those who make their living or feed their heart through creativity suffer harder.

      1. I’m not gifted… I only play gifted on TV… but being a creative soul automatically opens your heart up to criticism. Yes, I think harder!

  4. I’m curious if this is only an issue for women. Many creative men I know just go and do and damn the consequences. There never seems to be any of the emotional backlash on their psyche the way it does on the creative women friends. Great post Jen, if I find a way to quiet the voices I’ll let you know!

    1. I’ve heard many male actors (and female too) talk about this, saying they’re just waiting for someone to come and say they’ve been found out and now they’re going to take “it” all away.

    2. I’m a guy and I have this a lot as well. I may not be “typical” and I can easily believe feeling like an impostor is more prominent in women who are gifted, but I certainly can testify to it happening to me. It’s difficult (impossible for me so far) to calm the inner dialogue down and accept praise easily. I felt broken in a way to not be able to appreciate the accolades and wondered if I was narcissistic with NEVER being happy enough with my self.
      It’s certainly not just a female thing. Now my wife would say I do it and “damn the consequences” but in reality it’s not like that. I just can’t stand the paralysis I get if I don’t just force myself to go forward.

  5. Hi Jenlaughs, I have been reading this book that might help with those annoying defeating messages. In Joel Osteen’ Every Day A Friday he describes throughout how we have to change out the annoying statements for ones that are positive basically reprogramimg ourselves with better messages. According to the book Who Switched Off My Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf “Good thoughts are like beautiful, lush and healthy green trees while negative thoughts are like ugly mangled snarling thorn trees…Healthy thoughts can lead to significant structural changes in the brain’s cortex in only four days” (page 114) other books talk about this too. We have been given much , maybe this is part of the cost of our acute awareness is a greater responsibility to be vigilent in our thought life so we can be positive for our own sakes and for those whose lives we touch. Everyone has to do this, we’re supposed to take every thought captive (The Bible). Its a hard struggle at first but from what I’m reading it seems to get easier with practice. I’m not there yet but cultivating an awareness of a cure within reach is reassuring. You are Intelligent Thoughtful, Interesting, funny and were made with a purpose and you have God’s favor working in your life even now. We live in an amazing time with countless possibilities. Be encouraged, and please do continue to write. Your writing could be spelling freedom for lots of people young and older with similar struggles.
    Good luck! 🙂
    Sincerely, Anna

  6. The story of our lives!
    THANKS, Jen! I am not sure that we should call it “Impostor Syndrome” – perhaps the “Gifted Woman Syndrome”????? or the “Twice-Excpetional Syndrome”??? (And I am a psychologist with NLD – so I should know???)

  7. I read this yesterday… and have only just now written a note. Because this was so close to home that it was painful. PAINFUL. And I’m still absorbing it. Thanks for your willingness to put your story out here, online.

  8. Ooooh. I can’t wait for your book!! ‘Cause, damn, girl, you fake it BRILLIANTLY!

    No really. That voice is not just in your head. I didn’t attend my graduation for my honours year because I felt that I had just lucked through it. I didn’t feel I deserved the ceremony, so I didn’t give it to myself. *sigh*

  9. Wow! I’m new to this blog but, boy, I think I could’ve written that. It is so true for me and I am seeing this in my beautiful son at just 5 1/2 years of age. The first week of school has been so difficult for him. Hoping for an empathetic and gifted teacher for him come fall. In the meantime, I’ll quit worrying about the typos I made here and whether or not the words I chose were just the right ones… ;0)

  10. I shared this on Facebook. It’s so true of so many of us. Just when you should be moving forward, you hold back because you’re scared that you can’t do it again, or that it was too easy and therefore not worth anything after all…..
    I am trying to back off of my own fear and let it flow through giving the credit to where it belongs anyway. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven.

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