Imposter Syndrome is True…. We’re All Imposters!
I don’t have a high school diploma. I’ve never taken the ACT, or SAT, or GRE. I can’t even type properly — I use one finger on each hand. Who do I think I am to write books and blog posts, give talks and podcasts, and run a business?
I don’t think I’m anybody. The thing is, I don’t think anyone else is anybody either.
I’m not qualified. Neither are you. No one is. That’s the big secret.
I’ll never forget the day I first realized that no one knows what they’re doing. I was sitting in a classroom at Western Michigan University and feeling stressed about how I was going to get a job and figure out how to survive in the world. I had imposter syndrome. I’m a fraud! I don’t know how to do anything. I’ve faked my way through everything. I BSed essay answers on tests. I pretended I was reading music during my piano lessons when I was really playing from memory. I took shortcuts and found the quickest ways to avoid pain and boredom. How could I gain enough mastery of anything to navigate the world?
The professor droned on. (It was a particularly boring political science class where the professor, who must have been at least at old as the Declaration of Independence, wrote the $150 textbook and taught word for word from the chapters he had written.) I looked up from my desk and around the classroom. It looked like the biggest bunch of half-witted, half-sober, half-pajama’d, half-serious degenerates I’d ever seen. Kids talked loudly to each other over the oblivious professor about how “schwasted” they were, where they puked the night before, and where to go do it again today. They scrawled incoherent sentences on essay questions I had to decipher when it came time to “trade and grade”. They chuckled and bragged about who they knew in the infamous “Crime Beats” section of the college newspaper.
If I’m worried about how I’ll cut it in the world, what will these kids do? How will they survive? I recall one of them said he wanted to be a dentist. How could he possibly?
Then I remembered a dentist whose office I had worked in recently, installing a telephone system. They guy made good money and ran his own little small town office, but he was a big goofball. He snuck into the back room every few minutes, making patients wait mouth agape, to day trade stocks. He was clearly an addict and a thrill junky without a serious bone in his body. He joked constantly and loudly and always wanted to get lavish lunches with alcohol….
Holy crap, this kid is going to be a dentist! And that girl is going to be a lawyer. And that other guy will probably be a government bureaucrat. Most of the rest will end up teaching middle school (Western had a lot of future public school teachers. It was common after flunking out of majors like “Communications” to switch to elementary education).
I realized in that moment I was going to be fine. More than fine. Not because I had any special ability. It hit me that everyone is making everything up. The bar isn’t actually that high. No one knows how to be a proper adult, or worker, or parent, or researcher. There’s no magic permission slip or grant of expertise that makes you qualified for anything. You just have to do it.
If you find a way to create value for people, you’ll be fine. And there are a surprisingly vast array of ways to create value for people. The demand for human minds and hands is so great that even these party-loving students would be gainfully employed. They’d probably be doing my taxes or taking an X-Ray for me some day.
Don’t worry about your lack of qualification. You’re not qualified for anything really. Neither is anyone else. You are, however, more qualified than anyone else in the world to do the things that are uniquely you. Go for it.
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