Someone will always step up to judge your achievements. Even if that person has to be you. Nobody delivers criticism better. That’s all imposter syndrome is. Internalized gaslighting.
You spend so much energy getting where you want to be. When you finally arrive, it feels strangely quiet for a moment.
Until you start accusing yourself of cheating.
You forget how hard you worked. That leads to doubt. You tell yourself you should’ve suffered more. That you’re just not as good as the others in your league. That somehow they know what you really are...
And they’re looking down on you with oh so much condescension. Even as they smile and say “Congratulations. You earned this.”
And now you worry about what happens when they discover the true depth of your deceptions and betrayals.
They’ll find out you didn’t read that one book. There’s a key fact or two floating in the ocean that you didn’t scoop up. You’ll slip when you least expect, like over lunch with one of your heroes. They’ll make an historical reference you don’t get. Or quote something you haven’t read, with a kind of breezy familiarity that makes you wince.
This is something you should know.
But you don’t. So you’ll stay silent, hoping they don’t notice. And you think this is exactly what makes you an imposter — the fact that you don’t know absolutely everything.
You see people get more than they deserve all the time. See right through their bullshit. Your worst fear? Finding out that you’ve been that person, the one smirked at by the real deals of the world.
You like to think of yourself as one of the real deals. The possibility that you aren’t? It keeps you up at night.
Imposter syndrome visits you in your dreams, well into your 30s and 40s. You have nightmares that “they” will send you back to high school. Because somehow you skipped that one course. Or maybe you discover you were enrolled in a class or workshop you haven’t attended all semester. Some outstanding request from your boss, made years ago, gets you demoted. All of these sweep over you when imposter syndrome flares up.
This feeling doesn’t go away, though. Maybe it shouldn’t. Imposter syndrome keeps you in check. Reminds you that perfection doesn’t really exist. Nobody reaches a level of total infallibility.
You’re always going to criticize yourself. The trick is sifting through the criticisms that make you better, and the ones that simply paralyze you. Don’t ever stop doing something you love because you feel like a fake. Remember that if you’re really a fake, someone will tell you.
Make friends with straight shooters. Don’t surround yourself by sycophants and fan girls who do nothing but praise you. Honest feedback keeps imposter syndrome right where it’s needed— not completely gone, but roaming free in your back yard, giving you the occasional bark.
Maybe that’s the best angle. Your imposter syndrome works like anything else. Helpful when trained.
Imposter syndrome pushes you to work just a little harder than everyone else. It’s the reason you proofread one last time. Double check your math again. Wonder if the person you disagree with might have a point.
It’s the reason you say this crucial thing: Maybe you’re wrong about something. Maybe you could do a better job.
It’s the reason you recognize that someone else could even do your job. That you’re not the first person to think of that idea.
You’re only so brilliant and special.
Imposter syndrome reminds us we’re one person among millions. Some of them are smarter, and just weren’t in the right place at the right time. Or they didn’t want the job you applied for. Didn’t desire the guy or girl you married. You lucked out. That’s only the truth.
Everyone deserves a little luck.
This doesn’t make you an imposter. But it’s a good thing you occasionally wonder. It keeps you human.
Only the worst narcissists manage to completely escape self judgment. Even then, they’re only pretending. They trap themselves in a snow globe of denial that blinds them to reality.
Unfortunately, sometimes these people are already rich — thanks to their grandparents, who were in touch with the world. If only they could see themselves, butting into conversations where they don’t belong. Nodding with their exaggerated hand gestures.
A true imposter craves the center of attention. They can’t just be good enough. They need to be the best. They always need to level up. The rest of us? We’re just trying hard to convince ourselves that, wherever we are for now, that’s where we belong. We enjoy a rest between rungs.