Battling Imposter Syndrome
“You’re steady looking for something you think you’re supposed to have when everything you do have is what's meant for you.” - Ashley Mae 4.3.18 10:28a.m.
It’s taken me a long time to write this post because despite this era of social media, vlogging, and everyone just casually being all in everyone else’s business, I value my privacy. This is not just to say that I value my privacy in the things I do day to day, but even more so in the vulnerable, undesirable, and seemingly unproductive thoughts I encounter within myself. The intricacy of my emotions is very private. And so, writing about the multitude of ways in which I have had to (and still presently) combat Imposter Syndrome, has been something I’ve continuously put off out of fear of…drumroll please…Imposter Syndrome. Funny how that works, huh?
Imposter Syndrome is defined by the Harvard Business Review as, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success”. Another definition states, “a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Symptoms of this syndrome, which is not a mental illness, but more of a developed response to certain stimuli and a learned behavior, include “perfectionism, overworking, undermining one’s own achievements, fear of failure, and discounting praise”.
…..If this ain’t a read I don’t know what is.
I’m not quite sure when I encountered the term “Imposter Syndrome”, but I know I first encountered the feeling and idea of it when I was 13. At 13, and in the 9th grade, I began to feel like the things I was saying and doing were fake and that maybe I wasn’t as intelligent or high-achieving as I thought I was. These feelings followed me from school to the softball field, to gymnastics practice, and back to school again. If we’re being real about expressing private feelings and emotions, these feelings lead to incessant overachieving and workaholic Olivia Pope / Being Mary Jane behavior that I feel I still battle to this day. Now, let it be known that I don’t write these very real and personal posts to drag myself by my edges, but to let other people who may feel the same way know they aren’t alone in feeling it.
It doesn’t help that social media really makes it difficult to feel like a productive and confident creative. These feelings of inadequacy, which then become psychological and hormonal, are targeted and marketed upon all for the sake of capitalistic agendas. Receiving likes, comments, reposts, notifications, or just regular interactions on social media posts causes the release of the hormone “dopamine” within the brain. Dopamine, “the happy hormone”, makes us feel happy. So every time we hear a ping!, or the screen of the phones we barely ever put down lights up, we feel a need to check it to subconsciously release more and more of this hormone.
Unfortunately, many of us become addicted to social media without even realizing we are, hence the need for so many “social media fasts”. We drown in the quicksand of social media culture and, while largely in part dredging it, continue to interact with it. I’ve swiped through my phone countless times, contemplating opening Tumblr or Instagram. Do I want to see people I don’t know eating avocado toast on a boat in a bikini on an island, or do I want to see people I do “know” eating avocado toast on a boat in a bikini on an island? Decisions decisions.
In many ways, social media has just become all around draining. In the creative sense, constantly creating content that isn’t interacted with can be highly discouraging. I find myself (and I know many other creatives do too, even those with poppin’ Youtube videos and hella subscribers) thinking that the content I’m creating and posting must surely be shit content because not enough people “like” my photos. Yet, there are photos of avocado toast that get more notice than the artivism I try to engage in. Then, the work itself becomes draining. I often have to remind myself to take a step back from this. Social media platforms are all built with algorithms and they’re all owned by some big name company trying to cater to either a certain aesthetic or audience. Social media algorithms don’t care about whether or not your work reaches the audiences you intended it for. And unless you jam pack it with popular hashtags (relevant or not), the post often gets moved to the bottom of your feed or timeline, OR you don’t see it till like three days later. So how can we really turn the blame and frustration onto ourselves when it’s not even our fault that our content isn’t getting interacted with? Well, actually it’s easy as hell.
When we’re raised in a culture that oozes everything “instantaneous”, we also seek instant gratification for whatever actions we take.
All of our lives we’ve been taught that we will be awarded for our actions. This idea is forced into our minds so much that we soon don’t know much else. So we become 20-something-year-olds whose paper awards from school turn into “likes” on social media. And when we don’t get this instantaneous response, we start to question ourselves. How many times have you started an IG post, couldn’t think of the perfect caption, and then hit undo? Or even put up a post, realized it didn’t get any traction and took it back down?
All of this is to say that social media really enhances feelings of imposter syndrome.
We can feel like imposters in nearly anything we do. In our jobs, our classes, new things we're interested in, things we've felt within us for a long time but have finally decided to take action upon, our relationships with our friends, our relationships with our families, the critical and constructive, loving, and accepting relationship we're supposed to have with ourselves...the list goes on and on and I'm not sure where it stops.
So how can we battle these feelings that try to degrade us from the inside? How can we encourage others to do the same?
We need to learn to lend our present selves the same kindness we would lend to our younger selves if we could. The same kindness that we lend to others who come to us in search of love, attention, validation, motivation, friendship, and joy.
Here are a few ways you can battle imposter syndrome:
Refine Your Self-Talk -- Challenge yourself to turn negative statements about your body, mind, capabilities, etc. into positive ones. Do this so much it becomes a habit.
Learn To Accept Compliments/Praise -- It's completely okay to do this.
Recognize That You Have A Problem -- And that it is one that can be fixed with time and attention.
Make a Plan To Act On Your Problem -- For me this includes motivational Being Mary Jane-esque sticky notes all around my apartment.
Focus on The Now -- Try to not waste so much of today worrying about tomorrow.
Stop Selling Yourself Short -- You are talented, dynamic, skilled, and powerful.
Understand That You Are Not Alone -- You are not the only person who feels this way.
Surround Yourself With People Who Motivate You To Motivate Yourself -- If you're not surrounding yourself with people who push you to further your own growth, how can you ever expect to do it on your own? We all need help every now and then. Don't be afraid to accept it.
Stop Thinking You're Just Lucky -- And start actually acknowledging and respecting your own power, perseverance, and work. Don't downplay your abilities for the sake of what you confuse as humility or incapability.
Breathe -- This finds its way on my daily to-do list. Just breathe. You're often doing better than you think.
Continue To Create -- While you may feel like you don't have anything that is worth sharing, you do. Continue creating and use your frustration as motivation.
These feelings of “fraud” still exist right beside my happiness in every copy of my book I hold in my hands and every autograph I leave in a copy. They followed me to creating this website. They follow me every time someone asks me what my book is about or notes how casually I say that I wrote one (though I’m actually not sure how to not say this casually tbh). I am still combating them. I am combating them by writing and publishing this post at this very moment. I struggle with wondering if anyone ever reads these posts or will even still read them after the ways I sporadically publish. But I think there is a certain beauty in these challenges. They’re nothing new or unfounded. They didn’t get created in 2018 and they’re not going to go away immediately. But I’m taking active steps towards bettering myself daily.
I’m not Oprah in the way my family jokes they want me to be, and I’m not Issa Rae in the way I want to be, but I am Ashley Mae. I am going to continue creating, and writing, and developing, and growing, and trying. And I’m also going to take breaks, practice kindness with myself, stop taking things so seriously, and learn to breathe more through the nonsense. There is no endgame to all of this in my mind, as I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely “done”. Instead, I’m learning to just enjoy the journey and trust the process. I challenge you to do the same.
“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” - Frantz Fanon