A Lesson in Impostor Syndrome

This is a bit of a more personal post, but I’m pretty sure it’ll translate for a bunch of you. So instead of sitting on my hands I’m going to publish it and put it out there. Let’s start with something that you’ve probably experienced (statistically speaking, anyway), if you’ve been connected to grad school in any way. Impostor syndrome.

Yup. I’m going there. And if you’re a traveler who doesn’t care about grad school at all, hang tight. It’ll come back around.

So anyway, what is impostor syndrome?

So impostor syndrome popped up around the late seventies, but has really hit its stride lately. I’m relying on Wikipedia for the wording here, but it refers to “high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Another way of putting it is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true."

Even as I typed out that definition I was thinking, “I can’t say that I’m a high-achieving individual, that’s ridiculous."

So it sounds really cool and super fun to feel, right? And if it still doesn't make sense, Buzzfeed has you covered. Number 7 and 10 are particularly accurate.

I’ve been dealing with it in my professional life for quite some time now (everyone I know through grad school is nodding earnestly here), so it’s no surprise that as I spend more time traveling and with this blog imposter syndrome has somehow infiltrated my mind space. I didn’t notice it at all until I went to a travel blogging conference. Now, I am by no means a “high-achieving” blogger, but I would say I’m a bit more than a “casual” traveler. But somehow that little, silly voice of doubt came creeping in.

An Impostor Syndrome Story

Let me set the scene for you.

You’re at this fabulous conference, surrounded by people that travel. And we’re not talking they go on vacation every once in a while. Some of them have been traveling longer than you’ve been driving - and that’s even with the extra parking lot training. But it’s okay, you like hearing about their stories. Destinations that are on the very top of your bucket list, places you’ve always wanted to go, and some places you’ve never even heard of. You’re happy to listen and soak everything up.

Yet, for some reason you’re not sharing your own stories.

I don’t know, it’s really mostly traveling in America for little trips. Nobody’s interested in hearing my story. Imagine their faces if I tell them a story that pales in comparison…they’ll definitely question why I’m a travel blogger.

So you see where this is going, right?

Fast forward to the end of the conference. It is a beautiful night out and you’re in St. Paul, Minnesota. On a river boat on the Mississippi River, nonetheless. As the sun sinks beneath the horizon, you take a chance to stare at the skyline. The paddlewheel is spraying you with the tiniest bit of mist and the stars are coming to life. You take it all in for a moment, just how happy you are to be here. Then you return to the conversation at hand.

The current topic is something along the lines of the most incredible landscape you’ve ever seen. This is a conversation right up your alley. Talking about the way a place makes you feel, describing every sense’s experiences, yes! This is a good conversation (with great people, I might take the chance to toss in here), but your mind is only half there. The other half is combing through every single experience you’ve ever had, trying desperately to find an answer that will not make you sound like a fraud of a traveler.

I can’t say the Grand Canyon. How lame of an answer is that? Sure, it’s pretty grand (self-high five…gosh I love puns). But that’s really going to give away how little of the world I’ve seen. I can’t say that. I won’t say that. I just won’t say anything. Just listen. You like this!

Yup. You read that right. Full of feelings of inadequacy even though nothing is leading to that being true. Fearing being exposed as a fraud.

Awesome.

But, and I’m sure my therapist and my boyfriend are both cheering right now, I’m trying to manage it. It’s tough. But I do have three more actionable steps that I’m trying to keep in mind. Especially as I try to take this blog to the next level and also try to find a job on top of that.

How I Try to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

Don’t Minimize

I’m starting with this one because one of those lovely individuals on the boat gave me this idea. A few minutes later I confided in Steph my internal dialogue that was running rampant. And (thankfully!) she was not having it. She gave me a quick pep talk about not minimizing my experiences or what I’ve done. And you know what? She is 100% right.

I know you’ve seen ‘em before, those lovely pictures that have “don’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter 20” stamped on them. You’re on your own journey and you should never feel the need to think less of your experiences. I said it up there, all I care about is how experiences make me FEEL. Not how esteemed the experiences make me look. I should embrace that and never minimize!

And even if you’re not in the throes of impostor syndrome: still don’t minimize your experiences and/or what you’ve accomplished!

Stay Present

Did anybody in that conversation know I had a frantic inner monologue filling the space between my ears? Hopefully not. But impostor syndrome has the ability to make me not the best listener in the world. And I hate that! But I’m going to try and stay patient and tug my thoughts back to whomever I’m speaking with so I can really stay in the present moment. I don’t want to miss out on some awesome conversations because my mind is going one thousand miles per hour.

If this is just impossible for me, you had bet I’m going to get my journal out and try to face these feelings.

Be Open About It

This does not mean that I will tell people I feel inadequate all of the time just so they tell me I’m awesome. People, that is NOT what impostor syndrome is. Please don’t ever tell your friend who decides to open up that they’re just whining or looking for attention. And while we’re at it, don’t tell any bloggers who decide to post about it that they’re whining either.

Telling people what you’re experiencing is scary sometimes. But if you pick a core group that will always be there to support you, while still giving it to you straight, it might help. I’m giving it a try. And, well, I suppose I’m telling more than a core group through this post. But those are just details.

Let’s Chat!

  • Have you struggled with impostor syndrome? Has anything helped you to manage impostor syndrome?