If You Think You’re an Imposter, You Probably Aren’t

On social media, I regularly run across posts from talented and competent women talking about feeling that they’re not good enough at whatever they do. I see this with writers who aren’t well known and ones who have won awards.

Although I recently wrote about loving my body, it occurred to me after I wrote that piece that I don’t always love myself as a whole. I tend to feel like I should have done more in my life, that I haven’t pushed hard enough, used my brains enough. Also, I am known to get upset because of stupid decisions I made in the past.

I mean, I know I’m smart. I’m very smart. With me the issue is not living up to my potential or beating myself up for making a wrong call. I should know all the legal stuff. I should be better at business. I should have a bigger reputation as both a writer and a martial artist. And I really should have written this or that umpteen years ago.

At the same time, I have noticed an abundance of white men, including obscure congressmen and business executives, who seem to think they should be president even though there are heaps of people with more reputation, not to mention more ability, already in the race. Of course, most of the good people in the race are women, so that probably explains it.

It becomes obvious that we’re dealing with misogyny here, that our culture continues to tell women they aren’t good enough while it tells men to reach for the stars. I know there are men who have imposter syndrome and women who are overconfident, but still, the core problem is misogyny with racism and classism thrown in.

The primary difference seems to be between the people who were always told they had done a fabulous job when all they had done was color within the lines and the ones who always heard they weren’t good enough even when they produced a true work of art.

As psychiatrist Anna Fels points out in her book Necessary Dreams – which is my favorite feminist book of the past twenty years – one of the key elements of succeeding in your career is getting recognition from key teachers, mentors, and others along the way. Women have ambition, but they get a great deal less recognition than men. The same is true for people of color of all genders and for people who come from working class or poor backgrounds.

When I see imposter syndrome on social media, I find myself writing encouraging comments, especially when I know the person in question is doing good work. I even composed a senryu about this one morning because I was so sad about the worries of a very capable person.

I want to make awesome people who are being overlooked recognize how great they are. And I want to remind myself that the lack of outside affirmation doesn’t mean I’m not doing good work.

The political situation in the US is driving us all nuts. It’s not just the con man occupying our White House, but also all the states trying to control women’s bodies when they don’t even understand how human reproduction works, all the efforts to block any meaningful work on climate change or health care or education, and the amount of work it takes to implement even one small meaningful change.

Publishing is driving writers nuts, even the ones who are successful with either traditional presses or in the brave new world.

I’ve reached the point where I think it’s part of my job to tell women and others who get marginalized that we are smart, we are strong, and we are capable of fighting those bastards who want to keep us in our patriarchal place. Because we’re not going to be safe or successful until we gather up the self belief and courage to fight full out.

I’m not talking about leaning in. I’m talking about recognizing that we have power – intellectual and physical – and that we have the right to take up room and be successful at the work we want to do. We need to demand that others accept and respect that.

I come at this from teaching empowerment self defense. The more I think about it, the more I think it might be a cure for imposter syndrome as well as a way of showing women the power they’ve always had and giving them the tools to keep themselves safe.

We’re good enough and we’re strong enough. Time to go after our rights.



If You Think You’re an Imposter, You Probably Aren’t — 7 Comments

  1. … recognition from key teachers, mentors, and others along the way…
    Not easy that, if you’re an introverted writer.
    Aikido – brilliant discipline I loved my training, now decades ago. I stopped, wondering about the wisdom of falling flat on my back while three month pregnant. I wish I had taken it up again.

    • The key point Fels makes in Necessary Dreams is that it is a lack of that kind of recognition, rather than a lack of talent or hard work, that puts women (and not just women) at a disadvantage in all kinds of fields. Recognition needs to come from someone you respect in the field and to be based on the work you’re doing, not your ability to network and socialize. But, of course, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. (I really recommend the book.)

      I knew at least one woman who kept training in Aikido during her pregnancy, but bodies and pregnancies vary greatly. And, of course, most of us need to limit the falling as we get older. I still train a little, but I don’t fall down as a rule. I can still fall, which is useful for daily life, but doing it a lot is hard on my old joints. You could always go back and train; most dojo these days are open to people who might not be able to fall a lot because they’re no longer young.

      • Thanks Nancy. I’ll get the book for my young daughter-in-law, a brilliant film animator/director. And read it myself first 🙂
        Aikido skills, once acquired, serve one for life: How to fall without injuring oneself, how to center and balance one’s energy, and how to use an attack to one’s advantage, for example.