Imposter syndrome is a thing. It’s not just a thing for people who suck and wish they were awesome. It’s a thing that makes everyone think that their awesomeness sucks.
I first learned about imposter syndrome only a few years ago when I joined the land of Twitter. My Twitter community is mostly authors (with some activists and educators thrown in for good measure), and I was shocked to see many well known authors talking about their insecurities. To me, they had made it, they had published multiple books. To them, they were still wondering if they were worthy. Would they get another book contract? Would anyone want to buy what they’d written.
Then, I learned that there is a name for this constant state of unworthiness. Once I started looking around, I felt like I could see it everywhere. (Is this why JK Rowlings has not written an MG novel since the Harry Potter series?)
We doubt ourselves. I think this is a pretty universal human thing. We worry that people are talking about us. We worry that people are not talking about us. We worry about whether we are worthy of being talked about at all. (Ignoring that all the people we are trying to impress are busy trying to impress their own group of people.)
Even if you convince everyone of your superstellar nature, you aren’t necessarily very far ahead. The thing is, proving to the world that you are awesome and proving to yourself that you are awesome are two completely different things. Most of us are our own worst critics. We dwell in our own insecurities. We get to crawl around in the depths of our own self-doubt and hear the incessant, nagging voice that no one else can hear.
We all know the truth about ourselves. No matter what we have or have not accomplished, no matter how big our footprint is in this world, we are all still just humans. We have thoughts and ideas that we can’t always bring to fruition, we have emotions that we are trying to learn how to regulate and we have hopes and fears that keep us awake at night.
Whether you are the Prime Minister of Canada or the next pop star sensation, when you are alone with yourself, you know the truth. You are no better than anyone else.
Maybe it’s just me, but all of this unworthiness is particularly highlighted in this Covid time.
Generally my feelings of imposter syndrome are centered around my writing. Every week I coax myself to send my blog out into the world and then try not to measure my worth by how many readers, likes or comments I get. The books that I have written are sitting nestled in the belly of my computer where they are safe from judgement or failure. I am a writer, but I struggle to say those words out loud.
I am not a stranger to this kind of insecurity, but I have rarely felt imposter syndrome as a teacher. I’m sure early in my career I may have, but it was legit, I was faking it through the days trying to learn what it meant to be ‘Madame’.
Now it’s always there. First, because every parent on the planet is suddenly supposed to be able to teach their child everything. So being a teacher clearly isn’t a thing. Anyone can do it. (I know this also creates its own set of problems for parents who feel like they are not ready to be in charge of their child’s learning and are maybe suffering their own branch of being an imposter.)
Second, because I don’t know what I am doing. This method of teaching is double the amount of work, for a hundredth the amount of impact and a thousandth the joy. No matter how much work I do, I never feel like I’m making any difference. I never get to feel like I am really teaching (I did not sign up to be an interactive workbook.)
Third, because I don’t believe in what I’m doing. I don’t believe that classes can be ‘moved online’ in any way that is meaningful or authentic. I don’t even believe that young children should be spending copious amounts of time on technology. I believe in hands-on learning. I believe in learning through interactive experiences.
Teaching is about building relationships and community. It is about inspiring kindness and feeding curiosity. Most of the important learning that takes place in a classroom can not be put into a video on Seesaw. I’m tired of being asked to do the impossible. I’m tired of being set up to fail everyday.
I’m thankful that my own children are at home. When I feel like maybe I’m not a teacher after all, that I have no idea which way is up and don’t know what’s meaningful anymore, I switch gears and engage in meaningful learning with my family. Chasing beavers, learning bird calls, writing a newsletter and playing games in French recharges my mind. My family helps me to stay sane.
Then I remember that it isn’t me that’s fucked, it’s the system. I am not an imposter, I am just me, getting through each day and doing the best I can.
Maybe it is the labels that we try to stick onto ourselves that are ultimately the problem. If I’m not striving to be a teacher, a mother, a writer, a skateboarder or an activist then I don’t need to feel like an imposter when I don’t do it perfectly. If I just take a breath and strive to be myself, maybe that is ultimately enough. The one thing I can always genuinely be is me.