I was six when I realized I was a fraud.
Somehow at the young age of five I had tricked the school district into believing I qualified for the gifted and talented program. By the second grade I was struggling with spelling simple words, vocabulary assignments and reading out-loud. I realized the jig would be up soon, everyone would know that I was really a dumb kid.
Desperate, I tired to think of a plan to get out before I was exposed. So I asked my Mom one night as she tucked my in, “Why am I in the special gifted classes? I think it is a mistake. I’m not as smart as my friends.” She looked at me surprised and insisted I was as smart as my friends and that I did belong there.
I knew in my heart she was wrong. How did my mom not see it? Somehow even she had been fooled.
Meanwhile across the country two researchers were coining the term Imposture Syndrome…
In 1978 Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes published The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. They observed that …” impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women…Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
There are even tests you can take like the Clance IP Scale.
I don’t need a test; neither do most women I know. When I read my CV or sit for a job interview I know and remember doing the things sited, but lack any emotional connection. I hear my friends and colleagues say the same thing. How can so many of us feel so disconnected from our achievements? With all this self-knowledge, why does the imposture syndrome persist?
For most of us, the origins are in our childhood and up bringing.
In my specific case I know the reasons. I am dyslexic. School was hard for me and I went to school with a lot of really smart people for which school appeared to be easier. As I progressed through school and into a career life grew more and more complex and so did my imposture syndrome. There are always more things to conceal and hide.
By the time I was an adult I was mistaken for a classic “Type A” personality. The truth is I am just terribly insecure and don’t want you or anyone else to know my weaknesses and faults – which there are many.
Everyone has stories they tell themselves to make sense of the world and their place in it, especially children. My little six-year-old child brain made up a story it could understand. This helped shape my perception and my role in the world vis-a-vis other people. This story was meant to help and protect little me. But the story is not the truth and never was.
It is time to hang up the impostor. She hasn’t served a good purpose in a long long time. While the struggles have helped me become the person I am today, it is not a story I want to live in.
So I have tried something new. When asked recently by an old friend how a punk rock girl for our dingy hometown got a life living aboard and going to school in Europe. I reflected and answered honestly, through hard work, a lot of sacrifice and, yes, a little bit of luck.
The struggles, pain, sacrifice, successes and joys are all part of my story.
It’s time to own it,