Gentle Reader, I am experiencing Impostor Syndrome right now, as I just typed “Imposter Syndrome” and realized I spelled “Impostor” wrong. I fixed it, of course, but then, the waves of failure rushed over me, wondering, what else have I gotten wrong over the years? and, what if I’m not as smart as people think I am?
All because I misspelled one word.
That’s Impostor Syndrome. CalTech’s Counseling Center gives a great definition of Impostor Syndrome, and in particular, what’s interesting is that it is often found in high-achieving female children. I was a high-achieving child, an only child, an adopted child, and I say all of those things to help add to the mix that is me.
Some of my Impostor Syndrome, I think, comes directly from being adopted. I never regretted being adopted, never wondered much about my birth family, except perhaps what they looked like. I look nothing like my parents, and I always wondered what it would be like to look like someone else, to see my eyes in someone else’s face. Even now, the concept of siblings and especially twins fascinates me. My husband is the oldest of three siblings, and you can see the parents in each of their faces. It’s fascinating to me. However, the point of the matter is that there still is a core part of me that remembers, “I’m adopted,” and it is that knowledge that makes me question.
Being a high-achieving child, especially as an only child, meant that I got a lot of encouragement from parents, from family, from friends, from teachers. But when I struggled with anything–math, always math–it made me feel not only like I was letting them down, but that I wasn’t as smart as perhaps they thought I was. That I wasn’t as good as I pretended to be.
That’s so much of what Impostor Syndrome comes down to: what are you pretending to be? I’m not pretending; I am me; I am who I am. But at the same time, the idea of pretense haunts me. It haunted me through college, especially through graduate school, and now, well into my career. That someone will Find Out that I’m not as good as they thought I was. That the letter will come, saying, “Sorry, I meant the OTHER Amy Montz, not you,” or, someone will discredit my work, or…
The list goes on and on.
The problem, ultimately, with Impostor Syndrome, is that there never is an end to it. There’s never a moment when I can say, “there. I’ve achieved what I needed to achieve. I’ve published this book, I’ve written these articles, I’ve achieved tenure.” Because even then, there will be another hurdle. There will be another hurdle to jump, another mountain to climb. And still, with the judgment. Even if it’s not there, it is, because deep down, I believe that it is.
So part of this is an exercise to Put It Out There, to see if I can dispel my demons by making them public. But also, part of this exercise is about reaching someone, anyone, who perhaps is experiencing the same thing. To say, “you’re not alone. I don’t have the answers, but here. You can hold my hand and we’ll face it together.”