Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Winging it

People who worry they're not up to the job they're doing, that they landed it by mistake and they'll soon be found out, are said to have "impostor syndrome". I think I have a very advanced case of it. I feel like an impostor virtually all the time, whatever I'm doing and however good I am at it.

However well I'm handling something, however much other people seem to appreciate it and treat me as the genuine article, I still think deep down that really I'm just fluffing my way through and sooner or later I'll fall flat on my face, announcing to all and sundry that I'm a total fraud.

I may seem very chatty and sociable but am I just hiding my secret desire to be a hermit, shutting out the world? I may seem to know everything about socialism or modern art or growing orchids but am I just cunningly glossing over all the details I'm ignorant of? I may seem thoroughly masculine but am I just taking my cue from the Pocket Dictionary of Gender Roles?

There's something vaguely unconvincing about much of my behaviour, something that doesn't quite ring true, however slick and confident the performance. I guess I'm always unconsciously comparing myself to some role model whose actions seem much more adept, much more fluent.

So what does it take to feel authentic rather than fraudulent? What's the trick? How do other people do things with total conviction, as if they haven't the slightest doubt about their competence? Or are they privately as impostor-ridden as myself, keeping their anxieties concealed just as I do?

I suppose feeling like an impostor has its benefits. The constant question-mark about how well I'm doing means I'm not so prone to arrogance or contempt. I'm less likely to scoff at other people's fumblings and stumblings when I know how close I usually am to stumbling myself. I always feel I'm walking over some treacherous surface and if I don't concentrate hard enough I'll lose my footing.

There are some things I'm wholly convinced about though. I've been an atheist since the day I was born and the idea of a supreme being has never made the slightest sense to me. You can try as hard as you like but you'll never uncover a shame-faced Bible-basher lurking in the wings.

19 comments:

Macy said...

Nick, I haven't felt fraudulent for years! Now I'm worried that I'm totally deluded!!! I used to worry about not proving up to the job, but lately I've been looking at others... MPs...board members...journalists....

Jenny Woolf said...

I think it's only the rather arrogant who don't harbour secret doubts. Have you read Posy Simmonds book "Literary life"? It really lays bare the angst and insecurity of writers and always makes me laugh. Horrid thought it also is!

Nick said...

Macy: You lucky person! No, I very much doubt you're deluded, just convinced you're being true to yourself.

Jenny: No, I've never read the Posy Simmonds book. But I've read enough about the insecurity and fragility of writers to know how common it is!

e said...

You hit on something with your remark about the insecurity and fragility of writer, Nick as only the heartiest survive these days.

I got tired of always chasing a paycheck as a freelancer and traded that life for a steadier rate of pay. It was good for my wallet but not so wonderful for the rest of me. I wish there had been a better way to balance the two...

kylie said...

i never feel like an imposter but then, i dont really claim to know much either

Nick said...

e: Freelance writing is pretty precarious, I gather. You never know if you'll have a deluge of work or a slow trickle.

Kylie: I never claim to know much either, but it doesn't stop me thinking I should know a lot more.

Rummuser said...

Nick, I am willing to bet that you get better response when you say that you are not sure that you are capable of doing something but will give it a shot than someone who says, it is a cinch and botches it up. I fall into the former category as I suspect you do too.

Coming to the wingers, they remain wingers all their lives. Not the winging angels though! You will most certainly not qualify.

Scarlet Blue said...

I used to feel exactly as you've described... but now I make sure I neither over play or under play my hand. When I am explaining things, or doing something important in the real world, I try to consciously stick to the facts and all that I know. I don't do gloss and nor do I undermine myself [something I used to be guilty of]. I've found that this has stopped me feeling like an imposter.
Sx

Grannymar said...

I am not a fan of loud mouth front row seekers. As one of life's listeners, I have watched quite a few open their mouths and put their own two feet in it.

A little questioning of our own work, keeps us on our toes and less lightly to make a fool of ourselves.

You stay just as you are, it will be my shout for coffee one of these weeks.

Liz said...

Like you I am convinced I'm going to be found out one day.

You say you have no faith so at least that lets you out of the comparing yourself with 'better Christians' - almost everyone! (Until you get them to know them and then see they're fallible too.)

I wonder if we'll ever grow out of this insecurity.

Cheerful Monk said...

I'm too busy playing with my toys to worry about things like that. I love being a hermit and am grateful I can be one.

Wisewebwoman said...

I used to lean more your way, Nick, especially when I was a boss. I would internally speculate as to when the staff would run me out of town on a rail as a total incompetent.
Now I'm more accepting of myself. Disbelieving (Playwright, moi?!)at times but feeling surer when I see myself on interviews talking as if I know what I'm doing.
Finally.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Ramana: I often suggest to people that I'm probably not capable of something, but they tend to have more faith in me than I have myself. And yes, they're usually right.

Scarlet: That's an interesting approach to things. I must give it a try. I think I'm certainly guilty of a lot of under-playing.

Nick said...

Grannymar: I'm one of life's listeners myself, other people are all too prone to talk complete nonsense as if it's pearls of wisdom.

Liz: I expect to get a visit any time from the Fraud Squad to inform me they've rumbled me and I'd better confess my utter incompetence at everything right away.

Nick said...

Monk: I don't have much chance to play with my toys, I'm still employed and having to convince my employers I know what I'm doing!

www: Glad to know you're more self-accepting. Certainly plenty of people seem to recognise your ability as a dramatist.

Suburbia said...

I have it too and about to start a new job, I know I will feel it intensely. However there's nothing wrong with a bit of self reflection now and again :-)

Nick said...

Suburbia: Best of luck with the new job, and I hope you don't feel too much like an impostor! I think self-reflection is important. It's too much self-indulgence that's the problem.

Scarlet Blue said...

Nick - this post got a mention on The English Wedding Blog -
HERE!!!

Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet: Blimey, luvvaducks! I'm glad someone else knows what I'm talking about....