Do You have the Imposter Syndrome? Me too! But why?
By Rafi of the 8
Is my Imposter syndrome as valid as yours? Do I really have Imposter syndrome or do I just suck? It’s a rabbit hole to no Wonderland.
Imposter syndrome has the uncanny ability to be incredibly pervasive and persistent. Even before I started writing the title, I doubted myself and my decision to write about this even though I wanted to write about it all morning.
But why is it so prevalent? Why is it so relevant now? Have we always had it? Can we stop feeling the way we do because of it? What are the causes?
These are but a few questions that I want to tackle in this piece. But am I an authority on this subject? Do I have a degree in psychology? Do I have enough experience to talk about this? These are but a few questions that I raise to counter my other questions even before I can take a shot at answering any of them.
This is imposter syndrome in action, ever present and domineering. It’s like breathing. I exhale confidence, I inhale doubts.
Feeling like an imposter in this very moment is an unconscious act of self-defense, a proactive move, a preventive measure against words from others that might hurt me. I am afraid that I might be labelled as an imposter, so I inflict the damage upon myself before anyone else can. Before I know it, I have decimated my ability to flee or fight, trapped in a vicious vortex of self-flagellation that does not end.
As I type, I am second guessing my thoughts, and the words I see appearing before the screen. Am I coherent? Am I clear? Am I putting too much effort into this or too less? What is the purpose of this piece? Should I be calling it a piece or a blog post or a Medium article? Does it matter? What will my prospective employers think of me after reading this? Is this exercise even worth it? If I do not gain enough readership on this and if I fail to make any money off of this from the Medium Partnership Program, are my thoughts even valid? It never stops.
The truth is, we are conditioned into this mentality by ourselves as a collective. Instead of peer support, we have a culture of peer pressure. We are so terribly petrified of our fears that we have acquired from others, we project our insecurities upon others through complicated expectations that become the status quo.
We force each other to conform to a certain system to ensure we are not found out. We are so afraid of being caught in doubt that we bolster our act of confidence tenfold, and then multiply it every day, increasing its power and hold over us, until our true selves are buried deep beneath the impenetrable masks we wear. We must be afraid of the contagion that is weakness. We must be vigilant. We must be en garde. Nobody must find out.
Why do we play pretend?
When we are children, we look at those older than us — those in their teens, as adults who have their lives figured out, and we look at our parents as sombre individuals who are able to function in this vast world that we are yet to explore. We can’t wait to be adults. Then we do, faster than we can adapt to the change.
We are told that play time is over. It is imperative to grow up. To face the harsh realities of life. To accept the myriad hardships and conform to the system. To incorporate injustice into our fabric and function within the boundaries set for us. We are made aware of the harmfulness of randomness. We are instructed to follow protocols, and subject ourselves to the order, and subjugate to the clock.
This has a profound effect on us but we have no time to ponder. We have no time to waste.
As children we are curious, and so we question or explore, or do both together. We are reprimanded against both. We are told that we do not know better than the adults do, and we are forbidden to explore concepts that are alien to both us and to them.
We tell ourselves: must not doubt their ways, or their doubts will set them off. We stop questioning. We stop exploring. We start conforming instead.
But, we have spent the first eighteen years of our life questioning and exploring. These years have been turbulent on their own, with a lot of changes. We have learned to read, learned to speak, and quickly learned to learn. We hunger to experience. We hunger for knowledge. We want to know more, do more, be more, in a way that is comforting.
But now we have been told that our perception of life is too simplistic, too naive. We ought to get on with the rest of them. We ought to join the rat race. We ought to contribute to the system or the system will consume us. Must adapt. Must contribute. Must change ourselves.
We surrender our individuality to ideologies, but by conforming to ideologies we become individualistic. We stop looking after ourselves and in doing so we stop looking after others. When we serve ourselves, we serve others too. But, the system incites us with greed, a greed to feed it. We now serve the system, and reward ourselves with more and more products that we collectively create and propagate.
This mutates over time, and circumstance.
Our acute awareness of our worth is amplified after we reach every milestone, but we grow distant at the same time from our selves. We start comprehending time in minutes, and in seconds. How do we make the most of it? How do we indeed? Oh yes, by having SMART goals for our lives! Every breath is a prayer? That’s ancient. Every breath is labour! We must strive to be the best to reach the top and escape this purgatory.
SMART can stand for Sleep, Meaningfulness, Art, Reflection, Thoughtfulness. But SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based.
We are a product and every aspect of our life needs to be specific to the professional optima we have designed.
Our actions must be measurable and the standard of measurement is our productivity.
Our goals must be attainable because not everyone is cut out to be something even if they are exceptionally good at it. It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump is a serial crook with a hollowed shell who has been bankrupt countless times and is chaotic evil and still manages to be the president of the Corporate Church of America. Our goals must be attainable. Our dreams must be realistic. We must get over ourselves. We are not worthy. We must accept our place in the system and go for the goals that we have replicated from the template.
Our output must be relevant. We must get on with the times or rot in anonymity. The times demand that we do a full analysis of the broadest possible demographic. We must create the output based on what the majority outwardly asks for. We must create consumables that can be mass produced at the lowest cost for the commonest denomination.
And this must be time-based or it is all for nothing. Time is fleeting. There is no time to think. We must do. Oh, to do, to do, to do and do and do until we are done. Then we can have fun. Then we can sleep. Then we can rest. Then we can be at peace. But, we must ride the coattails of our anxieties into battle, a battle against time.
Conquest is key. We must do a SWOT analysis of ourselves. Saying yes is a strength. Saying no is a weakness. Conformity leads to opportunities. Rebellion is a threat. Good? We guess so.
By now we are robotic and mechanical in our real life. Sticking to a system that says curb your enthusiasm. We want to stick it to the system but we don’t have the energy for it. So, we head to the virtual world, to social media, to text messaging apps, to express our dissent, our discomfort. We share, we share a lot, and we relate with each other. We are somehow safe in this social space bereft of touch.
We realise there is something wrong. There is a divide between our real lives and our virtual lives. We want our virtual lives to be our real lives but it is too much to have that. Virtual life is good. This escape is good. This goodness becomes a distraction, and this distraction becomes an obsession. We need to maintain this goodness. This perfection that we feel. This safety. So, we invest our time in our real lives to bolster our virtual lives.
But, we have another problem. The virtual life is becoming more real than our real lives. We are living in a shared brain. It’s telepathy materialising. Everybody is too aware of who we are, and we are too aware of them. We relate to each other, but our thoughts become burdensome.
We escape to these online communities from the rigidity and decorum of our corporate lives. But these communities are not entirely free though we pay nothing for them.
We are products for advertising.
Our likes and dislikes and moods and behaviours are weaponised and politicized and commercialised to sell them back to us, so that we feed the burgeoning egos and bank vaults of the very people we despise. We are monitored in these spaces. Professional courses tell us to be conscious of how we present ourselves online, lest we are audited by potential employers and rejected for being authentic to ourselves.
So, we start manufacturing our identity, compartmentalising it, and molding it to serve our target demographic. This is no fun space. We are not anonymous. Everything we post is being analysed. We are googled. We are stalked. We are judged for our thoughts. Telepathy is not fun after all. It is dictated.
We want a collective consciousness. They want a hive mind.
We are afraid of doublespeak and the thought police. They are aware of our fear and use it to their advantage. And we let them. We try to sell the best versions of ourselves but we feel worse and worse inside. We project perfection and grandeur but are more and more broken. We are weak but fake strength.
Fake it till we make it, right? Make what? Make who? We are too afraid of asking these questions. Follow the money instead! We add value to the economic value, by valuing our lives against the value of the system. If our evaluation results in anything other than that which is deemed valuable, our value is lower than the dead.
So, we look at everything we do to add to this value so that the numbers are on our side.
We stop looking at our artistic creations as our children, we stop nurturing them, nourishing them, enabling them, or letting them grow and form their own distinct identity.
We instead look at our creations as products. Our product must be good, must be palatable, must be most relatable, must be easily consumable. It must match the understanding of our thoughtlessness. It must cater to our anxieties. It must cater to our desires. It must cater to our want for immediate gratification. It must compete against other creations, and win.
Because who has the time anymore to sit back and wonder? We must create something that can make us money otherwise it is either irrelevant or a hobby.
The formula is simple: easy consumption+ instant gratification ×(mass production) ^ infinite competition = maximum demand.
All else is bust.
What does this say about us? A lot and nothing at all at the same time.
We are products meant to create products to survive and be happy. We must conform and we must toil to create wealth for those who work beyond these limitations. We must constantly add meaning to the meaningless and fear emptiness itself.
We are so afraid of silence that we prefer death.
It’s no surprise we feel like imposters all the time. Our parents birth us to fill the void in their lives. We are products of their investments and we are expected to yield returns for existing. This cycle continues and we lose all track of individuality and self-image, chipping off our uniqueness to become a perfectly fitting cog in their machine.
We do not have a sense of identity because we try to be part of everything all the time. It isn’t like the animal kingdom where the deer are deer and the ants are ants and the whales are whales. It isn’t diverse yet simple. It is terribly complicated and confusing. We are forced to serve religious mandates. We are forced to serve corporate mandates. We are forced to meet all societal expectations that outrage none and please all. We are forced to be everything to everyone and simultaneously shave our empathy to a minuscule spec.
We feel like imposters at work. We feel like imposters at home. We feel like imposters when we create. We feel like imposters when we don’t. We feel like imposters when with others. We feel like imposters when we are alone. We don’t belong anywhere yet are always exploring everything to finally belong somewhere while being told to belong to one place and not belong to ourselves.
We have evolved so rapidly. We are out of control. We know too much yet are demanded to pretend as if we don’t. We have grown past the rigid confines of political, religious and corporate systems, but are forced to work under them still or face death. We seek solitude and fear loneliness.
In this nihilistic cacophony, we find pleasure in the prospect of our death. We are masochistically suicidal so that we can cope with the mundane banality of our lives.
We are all playing pretend while asking children to be serious. Nothing makes sense. And all this noise is entirely muted out by the rest of the universe within which we are infinitely minute and insignificant. In the vastness of the cosmos, we are not specific, we are not measurable, we are not attainable, we are not realistic, we are not time bound.
We are none of that. We do not matter, not even in a godly afterthought. Yet, religious or not, we bloat our sense of purpose to the point where we believe the universe revolves around us and when our minds remind us that this is bogus, we retaliate by jumping into the beyond — emperors with no clothes, conquerors of nothingness.
We spend all our energy yet we do not matter at all.
So, of course we live with this imposter syndrome. And if you claim that you don’t, the lie has become the truth.