Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

Did the title spook you? It was meant to.

A friend of mine had done the work of putting together a comprehensive resume listing all her skills. She confessed to me that when she read it back over, it was so impressive she couldn’t believe the resume was her own. I asked her if she lied or exaggerated. She had not lied.

I shouted “Then, snap out of it, woman!” and we had a laugh.

In truth, though, this is no laughing matter. We are talking about an inability to see the self in truth. It is said that butterflies can’t see their own wings and likewise humans seem to be afflicted with an inability to see the ways they are magnificent. The term that is being used to describe this affliction is “Imposter Syndrome”, an irrational fear of people finding out that you’re a fake or that you’re just making it up as you go along. In my lexicon of naming, I refer to this dynamic as “waiting for the tap”. I’m just hanging about here with these creditable experts, these responsible adults, these lovely people….until someone notices I am in the wrong place and comes over to give me a tap on the shoulder and tell me to move along.

Meryl Streep, a veteran actor who holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations (18) demonstrates her own susceptibility to this syndrome in this quote: “You think, why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

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An “Imposter” has an impossibly high standard set for their expertise. They often have an unreasonable expectation of infallibility which does not allow for them to make a single mistake. This attitude makes learning a new skill torturous as the Imposter is highly critical of their lack of coordination. The fear of appearing foolish or ignorant may prevent a person with Imposter Syndrome from learning new things.

Dr. Valerie Young, who has made a study of this syndrome, says that, “The thing about impostors is, they have unsustainably high standards for everything they do. The thinking here is, if I don’t know everything, then I know nothing. If it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s woefully deficient. If I’m not operating at the top of my game 24/7, then I’m incompetent.”

It’s an all or nothing at all world for the imposter who suffers their fear of inadequacy alone, anxious that everyone will know the true depth of their incompetence if they make one little slip. All their years of credibility and good faith could be swallowed up by a single mistake. They exaggerate internally, the level of risk represented in any new venture, often talking themselves out of new experiences for fear of showing themselves unsatisfactory or proving themselves to be charlatans.

Tara Sophia Mohr suggests in her article “Understanding How to Frame Your Creative Expertise”, that there are 4 types of experts. The Survivor has experienced something and now is moved to share that experience with others. The Cross-Trainer has a passion for more than one thing and is able to create conceptual bridges between their areas of expertise that help make sense of one or the other of those specialties. The Called are people who are deeply moved from within to bring their vision or knowledge to the rest of the world. Finally there is The Academic. This expert may have written a book or two and has academic credentials.

Imposters inevitably compare themselves with the Academics, feeling that they are not as qualified as Dr. Expert and therefore their position must be inferior. Setting that high standard, the Imposter disregards the wisdom of experience offered in the Survivor’s expertise, questions their own perceptions of their field when faced with a scrappy Cross-Trainer, or may be disdainful of the knowledge brought forth by the one who is Called.

The truth of it is that most people are just out there flying by the seat of their pants, weighing instinct against imprinting to make decisions, and learning all they can tolerate about the law of cause and effect. What all four types of experts have in common is that they believe in themselves enough to share their wisdom, skills and insight, be that by humorous observation, epiphanies, or revelation.

No fast remedy for the newly hatched syndrome but to set an intention to view the self with greater respect and kindness. Make a resume if you must, to list your assets. If you struggle with that, ask a close friend to extol your virtues. Your task will be to receive every compliment your friend speaks without bounce-back or denial. It may so happen that you, like my friend, are not an Academic style expert. Surprise! You don’t have to be. You just have to believe in yourself and the inspiration that moves you.

My point here is, “Snap out of it!”

~ Shaughna Born
Teacher, The Archetype and The Alchemist courses

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