Not a fun blog this time. After reading around the subject of mental wellbeing, here’s something from yours truly.
There’s this thing. It’s referred to as imposter syndrome. Look up a definition by all means. Here is an excellent short TED Talk. (I’ll wait while you view it.)
Got a handle on it? Have an idea of what it means?
Here’s what happens to me.
As my career and business becomes more established I get to do cool stuff. A track record of success and accomplishment develops further requests to do more stuff for clients. So far so obvious. What is not apparent to the casual observer is an unwelcome travelling companion. There’s an anxiety that is almost always lurking nearby, with bags of worry, sensations of guilt and distressing dark thoughts.
A paradox: I am personally invited to do things because clients view me as capable and yet my black dog has the view that I am not suitable/ready/worthy.
Case study: Tuesday, Germany, huge corporate client
In point of fact, this morning here in Stuttgart I am – utterly irrationally – expecting a tap on the shoulder from (imaginary) security. They will then escort me from the venue and summarily throw me onto the street for not having the right credentials. There is zero evidence to substantiate this paranoia, but it shows up anyway with depressing (yet somehow impressive) consistency.
(Unless, I do actually get forcibly ejected from the event. That’d put a whole new spin on things eh?)
My stooopid, stooopid brain (still) struggles to come to terms with being asked to do stuff I am fully able to carry out. My racing mind actively questions hard (positive) evidence and is consistently nagging at me: really? Can you really do this?
For example: Personally engaged to give a keynote address my subconscious kicks off. Despite repeatedly being asked to do such work, by people who trust me in front of their clientele and despite getting strong positive feedback. Despite getting repeat requests to do more. Despite lots of positive evidence. By the way, this doesn’t stop my mojo in front of the group – that bit flows unabated – it’s beforehand.
The keynote thing went 100% to plan and all were happy.
Well, all apart from your struly.
So I worry. Worry that I’ll be called out, humiliated, let people down, be unable to provide for my family. This worry carries an intensity that makes me feel physically sick and has started giving me peculiar bad dreams. (Recently, weirdly, it’s after events too. How crazy is that?!) All internally referenced. No real-world evidence to the contrary. My record is a picture of reliability. Yet, uninvited, this sensation follows my every step.
It’s bloody exhausting.
Back to today in Zuffenhausen awake pre-dawn fretting about what’s ahead. But here’s an additional detail: I am not even delivering the work! Today I mere audience. Today I have been personally invited here to learn.
In my head, all the rational (analogue) gauges are reading a jolly sensible “relax and enjoy” but the subconscious dials are in the red pointing to “WORRY”. Mentally, I reach across and firmly tap the gauge hoping to reset a stuck needle. No joy. This makes me chuckle – ironically – because I know the readout is faulty and the feed to that dial is over-sensitised. Irony is self awareness without the ability to get… over it/on with it.
As usual my week is uber organised and yet… And yet paranoia and worry seem to have stowed away in my luggage. Why? No idea…
The default coping mechanism – it’s hardly a strategy – is borrowed from my favourite authour, the late Douglas Adams whose character Slartibartfast muses:
“Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, “Hang the sense of it,” and keep yourself busy. I’d much rather be happy than right any day.”
So in an effort to self-distract from my anxious mind I plough on with breakfast and force myself to the event which – of course (jumping ahead to the conclusion of class) – goes swimmingly.
It’s now the following week and looking at my busy work diary – you guessed it – I feel like an imposter. This affliction is clearly here for the long haul.
Professionally I often encounter people who are mortified by the notion of public speaking. Famously, the urban legend has it, ranking ahead of death in the Top 10 human fears. Such a response has always bemused me: logically speaking, the actual risks in public speaking are low.
Logically, rationally, professionally I am frequently helping others through perceived difficulties – such as the one above – whilst struggling to help myself.
[Sigh] It’s a funny old life.
Thanks for reading, no sweet resolution nor denouement here. Allow me to leave you with another piece of coping advice:
“We’ll be saying a big hello to all intelligent lifeforms everywhere and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together guys.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy