in a wayward wind it blew,
it lit on me
took root, and grew.
The soil was rich,
and fertile, too.
And from that seed
a vine did sprout-
a pesky weed,
a creeping doubt-
came winding in
and winding out.
It grew so fast
and so complete,
it bound my hands
and bound my feet-
I can’t advance,
I can’t retreat.
This pestilential plant I’ve found
has got me rooted to the ground,
but I can’t make a single sound.
I just let it take me down.
Doubt is such a tricky thing. Even the spelling is tricky. Pretty sneaky, silent b! Doubt is an uncertainty, a mistrusting. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean, I believe it’s important to face life with a healthy skepticism. You know, take everything with a grain of salt. What I have, and what this poem is referencing, is a crippling self-doubt. A doubt in my abilities, a doubt in my intelligence, a doubt in my worthiness. And this feeling persists regardless of any evidence to contrary. No amount of success has been able to erase it.
Apparently this feeling has a name- impostor syndrome. It’s the feeling that any achievement or success a person may experience is based on luck, or charm, or any other factor rather than actual knowledge, experience, competence, etc. I cannot believe or accept that I’ve earned or deserved any award or accomplishment I’ve received in my whole life ever. All my degrees and certificates are shoved in a box in the back of a closet somewhere because they aren’t real, they are meaningless, and I don’t deserve them. I always feel like I’m in over my head, but at the same time I have to keep pushing myself to do more and be more because I crave validation. Gold stars, pats on the back, affirmations, whatever. I’m a big black hole of need. So I work too much, I take on extra responsibilities, I over-prepare and yet the cycle continues. Nothing is ever enough, nothing satisfies. The voice in my head tells me, “You don’t deserve this.” “Don’t get a big head- nobody likes a know-it-all.” and the one that makes me the most sad, “Who are you to want this, to dream this?”
So in a weird way, impostor syndrome pushes me and holds me back at the same time. I feel like I excel at being mediocre. I’m afraid to try new things because I don’t think I’ll be successful, but even if I was successful it wouldn’t be good enough. I think even if I won a Nobel Prize, the voice in my head would say, “So what? Anybody could do that.”
OK, so you have a problem. But what to do about it? I did some reading and research (because of course I did…) and I found this article from The Muse to be helpful. I need to be more mindful of the way I think and speak about myself and my accomplishments. Stop seeking external validation, and learn to cultivate internal validation. Take risks, try new things, and focus more on the process, not the product. Screw up and be OK with it. And finally, make friends with that inner voice. If I can’t shut her up, at least I don’t have to listen to her.
To this end, I’ve decided every month to try something new, something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Something I might even (gasp!) NOT BE GOOD AT. Something at which I might even (gulp!) FAIL. I have no idea what this will look like or how it will unfold, because I’m so deeply entrenched in my comfort zone that I can’t even see beyond it. So in the coming days and weeks I’ll be doing some soul searching and reflecting. What is something I’ve always wanted to try? What would I love to do if I wasn’t afraid? Amazingly, these questions draw complete blanks. I have no idea. So I guess this month’s adventure is compiling a list. Which on the surface seems boring and stupid, but hey, you have to start somewhere.
And I’ll learn to embrace my inner impostor along the way.