A week ago, when I attended the Opportunity Conference to get help in the fight against poverty, I got connected with Nassandra, a young woman who has fought her way through it and has achieved educational goals I stopped dreaming about a while ago. We exchanged phone numbers, connected on Facebook, and scheduled a meeting for next week to discuss the things that have gotten in the way of me pursuing the education and credentials that we all believe will help bring an end to the cycle of poverty in my life.
I had forgotten that I’d told her about my blog. So, when she contacted me yesterday and told me that she’s read some of what I’ve been writing, that I’m a great writer, better than grad students she knows, I was floored. It was gratifying but at the same time, I wound up undermining it and said this:
Wow, Nassandra. Thank you so much. Writing is what I want to do, but my research tells me I need a degree to actually be employed as a writer.
Basically, even though I’ve been writing this blog for a year and a half, have gained more than a small handful of regular readers, and been asked to contribute my writing to a couple of other endeavors, I still – underneath it all – have difficulty accepting that others see me as a writer. I feel the need to qualify and clarify because I don’t want to be seen as if I’m presenting myself as something I’m not.
That was when she shared this:
“Often people (especially women) who have been or are in poverty have a very hard time internalizing any accomplishments. . . sometimes referred to as imposter syndrome.
I had never heard of it, but I did recognize it in myself, so I did some research.
According to Tara Kuther, PhD. Impostor Syndrome “is feeling that one hasn’t earned his or her achievements – that the achievements are the result of luck. It is very common among high achieving persons…” (About.com Graduate School – “What is the Impostor Syndrome”)
The Counseling Center at CalTech explains it this way:
Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.
This inner sense that nothing a person achieves and accomplishes truly was earned or belongs to that person – that his/her gifts, talents, skills and strengths aren’t real and don’t matter can have devastating consequences in academic, professional, and personal lives.
People who are driven to succeed and appear incapable of celebrating an achievement before diving in and pursuing the next goal may be suffer from this. Others may be uncomfortable with and dismissive of compliments. Some may develop a front of bravado and superiority, acting as if they have all the answers all the time, needing to be the authority or “go to” person.
It is even possible that this inner sense of being an impostor can cause a person to stop achieving to his or her potential out of the stress and tension from worry and fear that their imagined fakery and inabilities will be discovered and so as not to be placed under too much scrutiny he or she may avoid applying or competing for jobs, grants, and scholarships.
The correlations between a childhood where emotional and psychological abuse and/or neglect, in either the home or other social environments, and where poverty, conflict and struggle to survive exist may all play a role, as indicated in this article where case studies of two successful men who struggle with Impostor Syndrome are detailed.
A recent example where that sense of, “If they only knew the REAL me, they wouldn’t say those things about me,” happened while I was participating in the June 28 Days To A New Me accountability group. As my final entry of the month, I posted this:
Day 28 – Team Pride
It was a very challenging month. Thankful to have been participating in this group because these have been the kinds of things that have led to me giving up on hopes, goals, and dreams in the past. Now, partially thanks to the lessons, encouragement, support, and mutual accountability I am making different and more constructive choices.
I figured out why that was, during the conference on poverty and opportunity I attended last week. The speaker, Donna Beegle, reminded me of something I’d once heard and forgotten:
For every negative voice/message/person in your life, three are needed to combat and overcome the negativity.
I have had few positive people and messages in my life with any kind of consistency and regularity. That is changing with the 28 Dayers. Thank you all.
The response I got was very overwhelming to me and I found myself shaking and crying uncontrollably for a few moments.
“Here’s the thing that you also need to commend yourself for. These voices are here for you but you still have to reach out for them and also share your voice with others.
We can attest to some packing it in after only a few days. You have to WANT it within yourself as well. And you clearly do. So, pat yourself on the back for sticking it through even when the big resistance hits.” Robert Kennedy III
I have come a long way on my journey, but realize that I do often not reach for things, partially because I have internalized messages that I don’t belong or that I don’t have what it takes to succeed and that the achievements and successes I have had were exceptions and accidents of chance, etc. rather than due to my own efforts and ability. This has contributed to me surrendering my hopes and dreams and giving up on myself. Which, in turn may have led to others giving up on me as well.
With this new realization and understanding, I now know another piece of the puzzle that is me and I am connected to people who are helping me fit the pieces together so that I can continue moving forward into creating the life I want.
Are you, or do you know, someone who has difficulty believing in his or her own personal achievements and accepting the accolades and rewards of accomplishment and success? Does fear of discovery and self-doubt haunt your thoughts and dreams or rise up to dissuade you from pursuing a goal or dream?