I start a new job this week, one that, a few weeks ago, I had never even thought about. It’s an exciting project and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity, flattered that my organization thinks I’m capable, and, frankly, terrified — all in equal measure.
I once thought that as I got older, I’d have fewer of these feelings to contend with. I remember looking at people my current age when I was a teenager and thinking that they had it all figured out. Now I realize they were probably just really good actors.
In fact, as a younger person, I’m not sure I felt this way very often. For instance, I took my first teaching job without so much as a day of training and, although I was aware of my own ignorance, I don’t remember feeling any fear.
Ignorance was chutzpah in those days and I had plenty of both. Now, although I’m no less keen to jump in and hopefully a lot less ignorant, I’m much more uncertain.
This past fall, as I was writing my first university course syllabus, I looked up from my computer and thought: “Who decided that I know how to do this?” I remember reading these syllabi as a student and thinking that they had come down from on high, that they were inscrutable somehow, and that the professors who wrote them were inscrutable, too.
These days, my daughter thinks I don’t even know how to make a ponytail correctly — so what business do I have writing a syllabus?
I wonder how much the daily failures of parenting play into my own insecurities, beyond motherhood.
This weekend, our kids were invited to go to an outdoor winter festival with friends of ours. Attending meant that my daughter had to leave another activity a little early. We talked about it ahead of time and she was happy with the plan.
When I arrived, however, she was upset about leaving before the class was over and had an impressive meltdown in the change room. One of the other mothers commented on how well my daughter was doing until she saw me. Delightful, I thought to myself, I’m that mother.
I managed to hold it together until I dropped them off with our friends — then I had a good cry. It’s just so hard to know what the right thing is sometimes. Most of the time, I’m grasping at straws and I begin doubting my competence across the board. When even my ability to style a doll’s hair is in question, how can I be trusted with a major project like teaching?
So, I’m coming to grips with the fact that impostor syndrome is basically a permanent thing in my life. At every moment of transition, I’m going to have to push through this feeling of not belonging, of not knowing, of not being enough.
I’m also learning that, if I do push through, there is light on the other side. I’ll figure it out and I’ll look back and wonder at my uncertainty. After my last battle of wills with my daughter I said to my husband: “I feel like I don’t know how to do any of these jobs.”
“Honey,” he replied, “nobody does.”