Imposter Syndrome, Anxiety & Other People’s Angst

Hi. My name is Nephthys and I’m an imposter.

I’ve been an imposter for … oooh… the past sixteen or so years?

But I’m sick of it, and I want to stop.

Could you imagine? If everyone who felt like an imposter at any point in their life had to attend meetings, we’d never get any work done as a society!

I’m going to tell you the story of my imposter syndrome, where it came from, and why I’m really freaking over it.

poser sprayed in white on red brick wall

I have had three careers in my life. Two were trades that I had to work really hard to learn. The latest, digital marketer with a specialisation in social media marketing, was also hard to attain, but I earned that (mostly made up) title with blood, sweat and tears… a lot of tears. And a lot of self-doubt, negative thinking and over-compensation.

I started my working life as a hairdresser, and I was good. It took me a few years to get good, and some really terrible haircuts in the process, but I was good. I was “win apprentice competitions” good. I was “attend specialist training and beat people who have been in the game for twenty years” good. But, as luck would have it, I developed a chemical sensitivity and couldn’t work in hair salons anymore, having to ditch the career just before I was able to pass my final exam to qualify.

I was then a mother (which should qualify as its own damned career of sixteen years and counting) for a while, so was out of the work force.

By chance, I became friends with a well-regarded and highly trained professional body piecer, and I started doing reception and autoclave sterilisation technician work. This was my chance to segue not only back into the workforce, but into a new career. So I did. I trained and learned and worked my damned arse off, because I assure you body piercing is not easy work. I did my senior fist aid certificate, kept it up to date out my own pocket. I worked with the local government and health departments to educate their workers and inspectors on what safe skin penetration actually looked like in the field. I worked with child safety staff to ensure practices were put in place to safeguard young people and their bodies. I worked and worked and worked to be a shining example of my profession to people who looked at us with disdain and disgust. And I was good. I was really good. I was “I’ve flown all the way from England to Australia to be pierced by you” kind of good. I was “my mate on another warship told me about you so I waited until we were in port to get pierced by you” kind of good. I was “very high profile client base” kind of good. But a latex allergy, on top of my chemical intolerance, limited my time in the industry, as well as the long hours and being a single parent putting strain on my relationship with my child.

So, I started looking for my next move. Something that would allow me to actually possess a “magical piece of paper” that I hadn’t yet attained. See, there’s no certificate of trade for body piercing, and I hadn’t been able to qualify for my hair dressing certificate. So, as far as anyone could see I was unskilled and unqualified as a worker.

That changed when I entered university to attain my Bachelor of Arts in Internet Communications. And I worked hard. I worked really hard, but I was not good. I failed units. I burned the midnight oil to get assignments in on time. I took on more than I should have for someone with mental health issues and physical limitations. I felt, with every assignment, that I didn’t belong here and someone was going to find out I was a fake, and was going to kick me out. I self-sabotaged. I tried to drop-out. But, after three years, I passed and attained my Bachelors degree. Not only that, but I was accepted into the Honours program, and was the one person from my discipline that year to do so. And I worked hard. I researched. I did comparative analysis. I taught myself statistics. I taught myself some french, because I didn’t trust the translation of some of the Foucault texts I was basing my thesis on. Over the course of ten months, I must have written and re-written my thesis project five times. In November of 2014, I handed in my final thesis paper, having just finished final edits the night before.

It was not up to my standards. I knew that, but it passed and I am now able to attach an “Hons.” at the end of my degree.

So what happened to make me work so hard but not succeed?

My inner voice, the nasty one that tells me I’m not good enough and that people will find out and shun me, got the better of me. Previously, I was able to see the work I was producing, set it alongside work from others and see that mine was better. That’s not possible in university, so began to doubt my ability to overcome and produce good work.

Not only that, but one Very Important Person in my life at the time told me something that has haunted me since.

“You really are quite arrogant.”

This was from my best friend at the time. At the time, I thought she was giving me some hard love, and perhaps I needed the wake up call. It has taken me three years, a LOT of tears and heat ache and a stupid amount of introspection to realise she was jealous of my ability to root for myself. She had worked just as hard as I had. She was really good at her profession. But no one had ever rooted for her the same way I rooted for myself.

When you come from a dysfunctional family, have tumultuous relationships and have no one in your life long enough to rely on, there is no other choice but to rely on yourself. You have to rely on yourself to keep you safe, to boost you up when you need it. I was my own cheerleader because no one else would be. She had never had to do that for herself, so she didn’t understand why I so freely said, “Damn I’m good” with such regularity. She didn’t see why I patted myself on the back when I had done incredible work, because she had never needed to. There is a difference between self-congratulatory actions as a necessity and as a reward.

So, if you have ever doubted your own abilities, please hear me now: “You are awesome. You are slaying. You are so worthy of this praise that you deserve to tell yourself this each and every day.”

And to that person who slapped me in the face with my own coping mechanism, and to anyone else who does so, I am sorry that you can’t rely on yourself to be your own cheer squad. I’m sorry that you have never felt the warm glow of congratulations from yourself, to the point that you feel the need to dim the light of others. I hope you find a way to tell yourself that you’re awesome, because you deserve it just as much as I do. Because I’m awesome.