Advice, Volume I: Dealing with Impostor Syndrome 

sunsetFor those of you who don’t know, “Impostor Syndrome” is an experience in which “high achievers” feel like frauds.  It’s more prevalent in women then men, but nonetheless it can impact anyone.

And, it has been something I’ve been dealing with for the last couple years.   (Granted this is self-diagnosed, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.)

To give you some context, a couple of years ago I had finished my Associates degree, moved out of my parents house and was working a job that afforded me the luxury of complete and total stagnation.

What I mean by that is, I basically was working a dead end job, with just enough money to live at home, watch tv and go to work.

It was the single most overwhelmingly depressing experience of my life.

It was one of the few times in my life I felt completely hopeless.

But, that experience with hopelessness would define the path I’d take going forward.

In my mind, living in stasis like that was basically the worst case scenario. So, I figured that if that is what destiny was pulling me towards, I may as well bet on my self in this weird life lottery and go for broke.

The cool thing about Rock Bottom, or at least failing is it gets less scary the more you do it.   It’s like being covered in mud, you can only get so dirty before it kind of stops mattering.

So, I totally leaned into that and played financial Russian Roulette with my future in order to pursue my dreams.

Which in retrospect, even with the mountain of student debt creeping towards me feels like the fiscally responsible decision.

Now, there is a long winding tale between now and then that leads to how I got where I am at, and I’m sure we will cover it, but we can save that for another day.

What I’d like to dive into is feeling like a fraud, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

I’ve always considered myself as someone who is a realist at their core, and also someone who is ruthlessly self-critical.  I’m not a perfectionist per-say, but I do the best I can within my capabilities.

So, I tell you all this, to say  I’ve obviously done something right to get where I’m at today, so I must have some skill…but no matter what I’ve achieved there has always been a nagging feeling that it wasn’t earned, or at least that it wasn’t earned through the undeniable skill/talent.

In my mind, my skill-set was mediocre at best-but the whole world let me skate by, because I’m likable. (Mostly, kind of…maybe.)

Making friends, talking to people…that is the one skill or talent I’m confident in, at least professionally. And, yeah…I have leaned on it like a crutch.

The problem is, leaning on your charisma may get you in the door or get you by…but it doesn’t really let you shine or excel in other areas, if that’s where/what you really want to do.

So, yeah I spent college and even a lot of my career thus far highly suspicious of compliments and high grades.

Now, I’m not a monster, I enjoy praise as much as the next guy.  But it’s real hard to really enjoy it when you think you are just getting by because people happen to like you.

So, if you are dealing with that kind of inner monologue, there are some things you can do to mitigate it.

For starters find people who won’t bull-shit you.  People who build you up and never say a mean thing to you are nice, in fact they are saints…but there is also much needed space for someone who can respectfully point out your weaknesses.

Now, there is a clear distinction between someone who can help you course correct, and someone who is just straight up toxic.

If someone is putting you down or ever tells you something you are incapable of doing, that is probably a friendship or an association that belongs in a dumpster fire.

Another thing you can do to mitigate feeling like a fraud is by not comparing yourself against paragons in your particular field.  Find someone who is peer, whom you think you can kind of model your work after and evaluate yourself based on what you were capable of the day before.  Best case scenario, you both end up pushing each other to be better.

Now, you won’t always see explosive development, or feel like you are a rockstar,  but having those spectrum of skill sets to look at and compare to will help you assess where you are at.  And know that when you reach a point when you feel like you are the best amongst your peers or like you have maxed out your skill set, it may be time to consider another group of peers to learn from.

“There is a saying, when you are the smartest person in a room, it’s time to find another room.” I think that’s because stagnation, and contentment are the gateways to mediocrity.   No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.

And finally, everyone has to start somewhere.  This is especially to recent college grads.   When I first started at WJBF I was equal parts elated and mortified.   Despite two degrees, I felt wholly unprepared and all I did was throw things against the wall and pray they would stick.

And that in the end is kind of the secret to everything.  You can improve skill sets and learn how to do different things, but in the end, no matter how put together other people look on the outside, we are all just kind of winging it.

So, lean into that.   Embrace failure, and mistakes and try to drive forward as confidently as you can.  Don’t take the negative stuff to heart, take a deep breath and just do the best you can each day.

So, in the end, if you, as I did and do feel like a fraud, just fake it till you make it and make the best of the opportunities in front of you.

Thanks for listening

-Josh Recor

"Thank you for listening"