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Instead of Imposter Syndrome

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I never felt like an imposter until I heard of imposter syndrome.

Sure, I've felt a little out of place or downright uncomfortable in certain settings, even in those where I supposedly "belonged". But, imposter is a strong word.


noun: a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.

I never would have chosen such a word to describe those uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy or feeling out of place. But the ubiquitous use of the term inevitably made its way into my consciousness.

Alain de Botton's book Status Anxiety describes how the fall of fixed social ranks (think lords and ladies vs. peasants) gave rise to this idea that we could all achieve status, wealth, power, influence. This perceived attainability resulted in those who didn't achieve status to be viewed as less worthy - and in increased anxiety due to comparison.
Chances are, if you are a person who feels imposter syndrome, you have done some serious work to get where you are. This is not to minimize those feelings, because feelings demand to be felt. But it is worth taking a moment to consider how we give permission to certain concepts and ideas in popular culture to infiltrate our thought processes.
We have to be judicious in what we allow to become a part of our vocabulary. These concepts are tools that we use to navigate the world, and in turn, threaten to become a part of our outlook.
im·pos·tor syn·drome
noun: the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.

I sometimes come across a mediocre white male who believes his success is all his own doing. This individual stops just short of literally patting himself on the back. And yet, this mediocrity is often applauded. There are many reasons for this that I continue to untangle but I speculate that one of the factors at play is what we value as a group. Those vanity metrics that keep getting shoved in our faces - the size of house(s), number and make of cars, title, number of Instagram followers, net worth, and so on.

When I was a young'un, I used to think that people who had a lot of money had earned it (because, capitalism). But billionaires can exploit people and the environment in the name of business and can somehow be seen as intelligent humans. Large corporations can declare bankruptcy while owing millions of dollars to small businesses and individuals who lose out.

Questioning why we are feeling inadequate and thinking critically about this might be one way to combat imposter syndrome. As might thinking about what it is we value.

There is a lot that I still have to learn. Don't we all. A commitment to continuous learning, re-assessing, failing, and trying can go a long way. Combine this commitment to self-growth and reflection with a strong ethic and thinking about how this contributes beyond just your self is possibly even better at banishing imposter-like feelings.

After all, isn't it in the interest of those in positions of power to perpetuate this idea? What if womxn, Black, Indigenous and people of colour, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities, working-class and low-income peoples, and all the intersecting identities of people who have historically been marginalized didn't subscribe to this idea of imposter syndrome? It is worth challenging who is made to feel like an imposter and who isn't.

When confronted with our own insecurities, instead of reacting with feeling like an imposter, we can rally our people. We can question and think. We can respond with  "Do I have something valuable to contribute?"


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