“Expect very little and hopefully I won’t disappoint.” That was my opening bit for most people I met after I was given the lofty position of News Editor (a.k.a. overseer of all information, knower of all human knowledge, etc. etc.). I said it partly to get people used to my type of humour – a unique blend of unfunny jokes and dry slagging that you’ll only find bearable after I break you down, body and soul. More than that though, I was trying to cultivate a very low opinion of me and have people be ready to step in when I inevitably fucked it all up.
I didn’t know any of these people. Somehow, my articles had been mixed up with those of some actually decent writer and I’d been given a golden ticket into a group I’d always secretly thought was intimidatingly cool and witty. They knew about music, art, culture, politics. I was just me. If you relate to any of this, you may too have ‘impostor syndrome’.
It’s much less exciting than it sounds. Basically, impostor syndrome is ‘an inability to internalize […] accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”’. It’s linked to low self-esteem amongst high achieving individuals, and is especially found in women. As well as feeling generally very shitty about yourself, you’re convinced that the people who think you’re actually quite good have been tricked and that at some point, they’ll see the real you.
This can apply to most things in life. You might worry that you’re actually not as good at that part time job as people reckon (honest to god, I had a real anxiety about whether my mopping skills were up to scratch). Maybe you self-sabotage relationships because ‘why would they like me?’ Making friends is a minefield because you need to act cool enough that the potential new pals will want to hang out with you, but not too fake cool that you feel like it’s an act. Feeling like you’ve blagged your way into university, and that you’re not smart enough to pass your course is a big one. In fact, most people get it. Once you realise that a shit ton of people feel the same way, at least a little bit, it can help you stop feeling like a massive phoney.
The thing to remember is that you made it here for a reason. This isn’t a clichéd comedy, there hasn’t been a mix up, you are capable. Yeah, everyone gets stressed, and sometimes things do get overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean that you’re the class dunce in disguise. Although it can feel like most of your fellow students are more prepared, more confident, more able to cope and just plain better, chances are they’re not. We’re all in the same boat here.
An estimated 70% of people feel like impostors at some point or another in their lives. That includes people who are hugely successful in their field – Emma Watson, Chuck Lorre, and Tommy Cooper have all reportedly experienced impostor syndrome. Neil Gaiman has even spoken about his belief that a man with a clipboard would come and tell him his time as a writer was up, and that he had to get a real job.
People who have impostor syndrome often don’t try to reach their potential because they just don’t feel like they deserve it. When I left school, a few teachers said to me that they expected big things. I determined to fail completely and utterly at life just to prove them wrong. How dare they have misplaced faith in me! I wanted to be able to stop faking being a smart cookie and just to sink to the level where I knew I belonged. Talk about cutting your nose off.
Thankfully I didn’t quite do that. I found out that I was happier being happy than I would have been sabotaging myself in a mental attempt to disappoint some well-meaning teachers. Instead I went to university, made some friends, passed my classes, made some more friends and stopped waiting quite as much for that tap on the shoulder that would say ‘nah, this isn’t meant for you.’
At the end of the day, we’re all imperfect, and thank fuck for that. Life would be boring as shit otherwise. And unless you’re actively catfishing someone, then you’re probably not a fraud. No-one knows what’s going on, and anyone who claims they do is probably lowkey a bit of a wanker. Take me advice and give yourself a break. Or don’t, after all, I’m no expert.