Facing the Imposter Within
Even if you don’t know what imposter syndrome is, there’s a good chance you have it. Imposter Syndrome is defined as one’s belief that she or he is a fraud within their particular area of expertise (e.g. physics, philosophy, acting, singing). In essence, you are someone who has managed to deceive the real experts of your merit. And the ones who struggle with it, usually struggle in silence, like I do.
Most of us find something that defines us. For some, it’s beauty; for others, it’s intelligence, among other potential qualities and talents. We hold onto the belief that we are that thing which makes us valuable. And in the context of our patriarchal social structure, women tend to hold onto beauty, while men tightly grasp their intellects. (However, we now see more balanced patterns emerging.) Each of us are reduced to some desirable trait which we paradoxically, and desperately, try to maintain while believing we don’t actually possess it in the first place.
And this is true for many so brilliant and gifted people. Whether we know it or not, a great deal of them struggle with the sense of being frauds among geniuses; it’s always the other guy who’s smart, never them.
But all of this begs the question: How can any of us be smart if all of us are imposters?
None of Us Are Smart
Albert Ellis, who was the founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) argued that that concept actually doesn’t make sense, particularly because of it being a global definition which defines someone in every single, relevant context: if I’m smart, I have to be a quick learner, with a full grasp of the topic, every time I’m taught and care to listen. The criteria set forth is, thus, impossible to meet; yet, so many of us continue to accept it axiomatically.
So, Ellis would continue: The result is a bunch of brainy people with high IQs believing that they’re stupid, or somehow unworthy of their status. And, the culprit is usually some belief, rather than an objective fact. We become depressed or anxious because we believe we’re stupid, not because we are. Frankly, no one is smart, because that notion doesn’t describe any facet of reality.
Learning Without Labels
In a phenomenal documentary titled The Creative Brain, the CEO of Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold, stated:
Part of that learning is that you have to be confused. So, I’m very often frustrated and confused, and think of myself as being really stupid, because I’m not getting it. To be creative, to think outside the proverbial box, you have to be willing to be wrong.
And if he, the man whom Bill Gates called the smartest man he knows, isn’t smart enough, then what chance do the rest of us have?
Fundamentally, labels are outdated conceptions and means of perception, because there’s no way to actually pin them down. One can have a high IQ and still struggle with learning topics in foreign disciplines. Therefore, our criteria are useless.
Time I Wish I Had Back
So much of my time was wasted on searching for the ultimate validation of my looks and intelligence that I missed out on opportunities for love and joy. When I felt myself to be inadequate, I looked for a partner who could symbolize my worth, effectively killing any potential for genuine intimacy. For, the ideal partner tends to want their mate to remain idealized, too.
I still struggle with self-worth and have to constantly remind myself of my ridiculous standard, telling myself that I would remain unhappy even if I were to meet it. And, in that respect, I am, and will always be, an imposter. I’ll never be the smartest or the best looking; yet, I now feel that I don’t have to be.
In conclusion, I’m not going to outline any particular strategy for managing imposter syndrome, but will only say this: If all of us are imposters, I’m happy to find myself in such great company.