I love it when a name for something is coined, and it makes you feel understood, like you’re not the only one. That other people experience it, too.
For me, the name imposter syndrome does just that. I’ve felt this lurking feeling of unworthiness in various situations in my life, but without consciously being aware of it. Once I heard the term imposter syndrome, the thought pattern finally reared its ugly head, making its way into my conscious awareness. Now that I’m aware of it, I can trap those thoughts, and choose whether to believe them, or more often, simply kill them. Not only that, the name told me that it’s a common occurrence, and that it often doesn’t reflect reality.
In my running adventures, I’ve been lucky to rarely feel imposter syndrome, as I’ve been a runner for my entire life. But even then, I’ve felt it. Standing at the start line of UTMB’s CCC (2017) and TDS (2018) races in the elite section at the front, I felt a deep sense of “what the hell am I doing here?!”. Even though it’s based on a system of points driven by the past results I achieved, I still couldn’t help but feel like I was an imposter. Even though the race has decided that I belong in that section, and I’ve competed at the World Championships in my sport, I haven’t given myself permission to belong there. I’m waiting for some breakthrough, some crazy performance that will come, to convince myself that I belong. I’m starting to think that I’m giving myself an ever-raising bar to jump past being an imposter.
Aside from running, I more often feel like an imposter when I’m skiing. Even though I ski regularly in the resort and in the backcountry, I can’t help but always feel like “I’m not really a real skier”. I’ve heard lots of people talk about themselves in this way when they describe running. “I’m not really a runner”, they say, when they haven’t yet convinced themselves they deserve the term yet, even though they run a couple times a week. I find this crazy, and deeply fascinating. What do you really need to do, to achieve the status of a runner?! In my mind, I think you’re very much “a runner” if you jog once a week. My situation with skiing is the same– I’ve resigned myself to this subordinated category of “not a real skier”. I’m not sure what’s blocking us in these situations, perhaps it’s a way of protecting our ego, to always just tell ourselves “that’s okay, I’m not really an X”. Whatever the case, I do feel that we will never really improve, until we start defining ourselves as a full-fledged, “real” skier or runner or writer, or whatever. If we spend the time doing something on a regular basis, we deserve to consider ourselves a full member of that community, not a second-class citizen.
My fascination with these topics is that they extend to everything we do, from outdoor to work, and other life adventures. I strongly believe that if we’re denying ourselves permission to identify with a sport or profession, then we’re holding ourselves back. For myself, I only just started calling myself “a writer”. I’m not sure how many thousands of words I had to write to get there — but it involved a lifetime of writing, a recent 80,000-page manuscript, various jobs as a ghostwriter and technical writer, and all the posts in this blog. Some people have to take an undergrad or Master’s degree to feel like they’re really qualified to be a certain thing they want to be. Of course, learning and studying is a wonderful thing, but I do feel like sometimes, the extra education is just a highly-structured way of getting to a place where we can deserve to be part of a certain group. Once we finally give ourselves permission to identify as something, we’re more likely to feel invited to take part in that community, and fully learn and grow.