I heard the term float around, but never felt it actually applied to me. “Impostor Syndrome.” It made sense, the idea of self-doubt, as it was something that was very familiar to me. I didn’t ever think about feeling like an impostor, though. That word seemed like it had intention, and implied some sort of purposeful deceit. Therefore, the thought of being an “impostor” was foreign to me, as excessive honesty, sometimes to my detriment, was my number one value.
Once I got promoted at my new job, the feelings of doubt began to set in. Thoughts like, I must be putting on a good front, nobody knows what a mess I am, soon they will realize that I’m not all that great, and even they only promoted me because of my looks.
Yes, despite all my hard work, my talent, and my strong work-ethic, the little goblin in my heart really tried to convince me that I only earned a promotion due to shallow, superficial qualities. After a bit of introspection on my increasing anxiety, I realized, I did in fact, have impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is characterized by a little internal voice telling you that you are not as competent, capable, or clever as others think you are, and you fear being “found” out, constantly doubting your own accomplishments. Some traits that folks with impostor syndrome may have are perfectionism, over-working, low self-esteem, and…
Sabotaging your own success.
Ah, yes, it finally all made sense to me. Why I never strived to do more, and if anything, one of the reasons why I chose to continue drinking even though I wanted to stop. On an unconscious level, I was sabotaging my future. Hearing things my whole life such as “you’re going to do great things” and “don’t waste your talent” were flattering, but honestly, they scared the shit out of me. With every comment like these, the list of expectations grew longer, and an internal pressure build up inside of me, constantly fearing I may be disappointing others if I didn’t actualize my potential.
After a horrific PTSD-incident, my drinking spiraled out of control. I used it to numb the pain, I knew that. Once I felt ready to heal, I continued to drink. “I’m an alcoholic,” I would say. “I’m recovering.” It was an easy out. Relapse, therapy, hangovers, drunken sorrow, PTSD flashbacks, all made a perfectly fine excuse for not shining like the star I was told I was. I never felt like an impostor when I was shit-faced or strung out. That little voice went away. Basic survival and getting through the menial tasks of the day began to be “enough”. I was “strong” for making it through the pain.
Once I decided to get sober though, I realized that isn’t what I wanted. I no-called in to work due to being in jail, the first day of my new position, (I was a mess, I know) and my employers put a lot of faith in me and gave me a second chance. I have not let them down, and I can confidently (now) say that they made a good choice, and I am infinitely grateful for their grace. But, as I was leaving work, I thanked one of them, and he said,
“You have a lot of potential.”
Already motivated by my entire committal to sobriety, I walked out of work that day, thankful, yet frustrated, deciding that I never wanted to hear that sentence again. I don’t want to be my potential anymore, I thought, I want to actualize myself. Reflecting on Aristotle’s principle of potentiality and actuality, I was reminded by him- “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” I realized there wasn’t a clear cut answer to what my “potential” could become, but that it was about making an effort, and showing up, and growing. I didn’t have to be perfect, or famous, or rich, I just had to share my spirit with others, and open my heart to a world of opportunities.
Do I still struggle with impostor syndrome? Absolutely. But at least now I know, and with that awareness, I can silence that damn goblin and praise myself for my hard-work, exclaim at the beautiful art I create, and talk shit to myself when I am not doing as much as I should, and I can make an effort every day to find a meaningful balance between failing and succeeding. One day at a time.