How my Impostor Syndrome Inception-ed my Imposter Syndrome

Last week, I launched the inaugural episode of what is most likely a podcast, which focused on my impostor syndrome around making a podcast. Can you tell I’m not sure where this is going? And I had given myself full permission to not know, and also the challenge to just do it. So I did. And in the week that followed I think my own impostor syndrome flared up to all high levels of anxiety and fear. Even as the overwhelmingly positive feedback came in — on facebook, twitter, the raw stats and also personal notes and emails—the story in my head was one of:

“I can’t believe all these people are remotely interested. They are going to be so judgemental when I fail in episode 2. Oh gawd what the fuck did I just put on the internet?!” — 4am Alison

It felt like that moment in Inception when they start waking from layers of dreams dragging with them the baggage from the previous dream. I had just woken up after feeling the reverberations of an explosion on a deeper level.

I was equal parts relieved to have finally done what I said I would do, and utterly spent and exhausted. I felt (I still feel) so vulnerable, and the aftershock of this huge step was felt in many aspects of my life.

My day job saw the impact of my loss of confidence, or at least I think it did. I had to turn down an amazing opportunity involving last minute travel at work at 9am on Monday morning. I’ve never had to do that before. And it sucked the last remaining “I’ve got this” attitude out of me faster than a dementor slurping on Harry Potter. From a life-work-parenting-other-work balance standpoint, I just could not swing it. And I’m scared they won’t ask me so quickly again in the future. I cried at work (about work) for the first time in over six months. If you’ve been keeping track that is an all time record.

As someone who loves feedback and collaboration, I was shocked to feel myself bristle at small edits from a peer ensuring quality of a research study. No big deal on a regular week, but in this week where my self belief plummeted all I could think about was her realizing that I have no idea what I’m doing and finding out that I should really be an intern.

“You want me to change the word “the” to “or”. OMG why do you think I suck. I should just quit.”— Alison with only 5 hours of sleep

A close friend then asked me if I would be interested in pursuing speaking at TEDx, to which I ran away into my cave of never-gonna-be-good-enough. When I was given an idea about evolving my Lean In, Then Lean the Fuck Out article I thought—dared to think—that I may just be up for it. She innocently tried to critique the idea to make it better and I imploded… nay I exploded all over her face vomiting my fears and sobbed like my threenage son when we run out of goldfish crackers.

“OMG stop I can’t even.” — Alison after 4 days of <5 hours of sleep

Then I (astutely) decided to try to juggle a crazy day of working offsite, a lunch meeting and big presentation at work with downtown meter parking. As I ran to my car 3 minutes after my meter expired I found not only a ticket, but a delightful tow truck driver readying to tow me who then kindly shook his head and flipped me off. Guess he didn’t notice I suck at everything this week, so why would parking in my familiar area of downtown by any different?

This week was absolute #winning.

And after I slept for 8 hours straight I woke up and I realized that this was all about the podcast. All of this fumbling, failing and emotion vomiting was my imposter syndrome flaring up about my very public admission of my imposter syndrome.

That got awkward.

I hid for an afternoon, and I dug into reading Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, which brought up some familiar themes.

Impostorism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgments might poison our interactions. We’re scattered — worrying that we underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.—Amy Cuddy, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

I heard from so many of you out there in the vast world of the internet about your own struggles with feeling like an Impostor. This really helped me feel not-quite-so-insane. And I can’t decide if it’s ironic or fitting for the story to end with the submission of my nomination as a lady in business (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, listen to the audio).

One thing I’ve learned somehow over the years is to not let these feelings stand in my way. I bury my head in the sand and keep doing whatever the fuck it was I was doing anyway. Sometimes to my detriment. Perhaps it’s the alternative that scares me. If I didn’t follow my creative urges and dreams… what would the point be?

And after a delightful weekend of enforced early bedtimes, playing legos with my kiddo and going for walks to the park I feel much more ready to face the world again.

So I submitted the podcast to iTunes.

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