How imposter syndrome nearly destroyed my marriage
And my three-step process for alleviating the fear of being a fraud
For someone I just met, she has lots of opinions about my credentials.
“I’ve been involved in many emergency activations,” she tells me in her raspy smoker’s voice while tugging on the hem of a misshapen cardigan—mousy brown, in a loose weave, and something that Clinton and Stacy in What Not to Wear would have pitched into the trash. I suppress the urge to kick her in the shins with my Coach print wedge heels when she adds:
“Just because you read it in a book doesn’t mean you know how this room works.”
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It’s one thing to believe you’re an imposter. It’s another to have a colleague verbally dismiss your accomplishments like they’re discussing the weather. Somehow I summon the strength to take the high road: agree that she’s the more experienced one and encourage her to grab a scone on her way out; before excusing myself to my cubicle to fume in silence. Screw what she thinks, I think to myself while doing a revolution in my Aeron chair. I’ll show her.
I didn’t know it then. But for me, imposter syndrome shows up as overwork because I feel like I have something to prove. Which I did, quickly gaining a reputation in the office for getting things done, resulting in a promotion the following year. Awards, accolades, and meeting invites followed.
Unfortunately, I almost got divorced as a result—only leaving behind my toxic work habits after my husband’s cancer diagnosis and losing a parent.
Luckily, I’ve had six years to self-reflect and realize three very important lessons:
Spending thousands of dollars on a degree, certificate, course, or mastermind doesn’t guarantee people will take you seriously.
Naysayers aren’t criticizing you, they’re criticizing themselves (otherwise known as a psychological projection).
When death is staring you in the face, caring what people think is the last thing on your mind.
So the next time you get hit with a paralyzing case of imposter’s syndrome, remember of all of us are “imposters” at something. I practically break out into hives whenever I have to supervise the art room at my daughter’s school because of a paper mache puppet gone wrong in 6th grade. (Turns out tapioca starch doesn’t work the same as all-purpose flour.)
Instead, follow this three-step process:
Get clear about what skill or competency you’re lacking.
Ask yourself if it’s a constraint from achieving a goal.
If not, move on. If so, start checking out books and watching videos or finding people to interview to fill those knowledge gaps.
I’m not minimizing the pain of learning a new skill. But think back to a time where you didn’t know how to do something, and how you overcame it. A year and a half ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of doing yoga 7 days a week. Two years ago, I had nothing but an idea and a few draft chapters for a book. Four years ago, I didn’t know how to get my infant to latch onto my breast without excruciating pain, let alone produce enough milk to sustain her for two years. And in every “I don’t know WTF I’m doing moment,” I kept returning to what Tony Horton says during his P90X workouts:
Don't say “I can't.” Say “I presently struggle with.”
Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? What techniques have you used to silence the inner (or outer) critics? Leave me a comment and let me know.
I may have sent a few dozen hand-waving emojis to my editor and critique partners when I finally navigated my way out of a plot hole! It’s the most complex revision I’ve ever done, requiring me to stitch multiple scenes together to create a brand new chapter.
Except now I have a different problem: Figuring out my schedule to finish 4-5 more chapters to hit the Midpoint (or 50% mark of the book) before…
Summer break starts at the beginning of June 😱 I may have had a mini panic attack when a parent in our WhatsApp group asked for day camp recommendations. How can someone be thinking about summer when it’s hailing outside?! I’m simply trying to power through the to-do list for the next few weeks. For me, March Madness has nothing to do with college basketball and everything to do with the amount of birthdays—including my daughter’s.
It was only a few months ago that I was panicking at the idea of going to dinner with my husband minus my daughter. Now I’m texting the babysitter weeks in advance to schedule date nights! And I’m still riding the high from the five solo days I spent in the woods to write. To any mama who thinks this isn’t possible: It is if you want it to be.
(Many more thoughts on this, but til then, I leave you with my friend Alyssa Jarrett’s recommendation for Eve Rodsky’s book, Find Your Unicorn Space.)
Simu Liu’s We Were Dreamers. This memoir had been on my TBR list for a while, and I’m kicking myself for not getting it on audiobook. Liu is a hilarious storyteller—I cackled many times during my plane ride. However, I’m still trying to reconcile his tumultuous relationship with his parents, mostly centering on his decision to make it as an actor instead of continuing his career as an accountant. It makes me reflect on the times I’ve purposefully withheld information from my parents (like quitting my job) in fear of judgment or ridicule. As Liu puts it:
There was no room for doubt and certainly no room for honesty. I would not be rewarded for coming clean, nor would I be commended for owning up and telling the truth. Keep my parents happy at all costs or risk their wrath—that was the name of the game now.
Liu states that their relationship is much better now, but it makes me wonder: Is it because his parents have learned healthier ways to communicate their love, or is it because they can claim he’s successful?
Daisy Jones and the Six’s Aurora. I didn’t have high expectations for an album from a fictional band. Then again, I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up the accompanying book three years ago, officially kicking off a love affair with Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing. Kudos to Amazon for bringing one of my all-time favorite books to the screen.
Cashew chicken from The Woks of Life. Let’s just say I took many liberties with the recipe—swapping bell pepper and water chestnuts for zucchini and baby corn, using Braggs amino acid and tamari for the light and dark soy sauces, and omitting the hoisin and oyster sauces because my pantry is still being replenished from being on vacation. Pay close attention to the chicken marinade preparation—I was skeptical of Bill’s tip of adding the water to keep the meat moist and tender, but it worked like a charm!
P.S. Stay tuned for an upcoming special audio edition of The Write-Life Balance, featuring Lisa Rose of The Write Rose! We’ll be discussing the different stages of editing, her recent talk at the Women in Publishing Summit, the biggest mistake she sees people making when working on their manuscripts, and more.