To the outside world, I am every bit the ‘normal’ person. I have a family, a job, friends. I eat, sleep and play. I do everything everyone else does and, to the outside world, I do so without any friction or conflict. But that world doesn’t see what goes on inside, the feelings of doubt, an almost self defining level of under confidence and ideas that are tossed away almost immediately while telling myself I am not good enough to be worthy of anything.
I have Imposter Syndrome, and here is my story.
Imposter Syndrome is a condition where:
“... a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.
It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart person, that you are only imposing as such.”
It is not the quite the same as low self esteem, though that is, in my opinion, part of it. I.S is the feeling that you don’t even have the right to do or even think something. That you cannot possibly perform or create something because you clearly have no idea what to do, so rather than learn you dismiss the idea and move on.
This condition is normally associated with high achievers and successful individuals - game developers for example, and can be enhanced by family dynamics, such as being labeled ‘the smart one’ by your parents. This wasn’t the case with me, I wasn’t ever labeled the smart one. I haven’t ever been that.
Or have I? I haven’t ever identified as being smart, I haven’t heard any member of my family refer to me as ‘the smart one’ and have in fact felt the exact opposite, that I am in fact pretty dumb, and the life I have built for myself is more out of sheer luck that anything.
While researching this article, I discovered that this feeling of luck is actually part of my years long battle with I.S. People prone to it often state that they feel anything they achieve or create is more through luck than any kind of skill or intelligence, that without even trying they have fooled the universe and at some point they will be discovered, and everything will come crashing down around them.
It is the worse part of the experience, because that feeling never goes away. I always feel like I am going to be ‘found out’ for the fraud of a human that I am, and my world will come tumbling down around me. It gives rise to feeling like I am very bad at just being a person at times, with my geeky ways meaning most people cannot relate.
This also gives way to extreme procrastination. For example, I have had this article floating in my head for nearly 2 years, but up until now have always dismissed the idea. What right do I have to write about this? Everyone will say I am attention seeking. Everyone will think that I just need to get over it.
This is a bit of ignorance mixed with rational thought on their part. Imposter Syndrome is, at least on paper, a bit daft. I fully realize that it could be seen as an overreaction to something relatively simple, and that it should be pretty easy to get past it.
Except I can’t do that. Writing this is proving challenging. My heart is pounding in my chest, all I can think about is the rejection when I try to pitch it to a big gaming site it seems ripe for, and the comments I will get from my friends and family, the disappointed tone in their voices leading me to not follow dreams and ambitions because, clearly, I am talking out of my arse.
I hate being this way. I used to associate it with only creative types, so I avoided creating to get around the problem, which made things worse because I was constantly coming up with things to write about, game designs, movies which would be cool to see. The problem is my version was so bad that sometimes merely living proved problematic, I would be walking around thinking it is just luck that I have friends, a wife, a life worth living, one day they will find out and then I will be on the streets, with no one and nothing.
Not creating anything didn’t help, so I started to write reviews and articles on videogames, and while I am not the most well known name on the scene, and have had a couple of people I have worked with on gaming sites subtly (or not) suggest I wasn’t good enough for what they were trying to build. One even asked me if I was dyslexic. I get ahead of myself when writing, I admit, and have probably more than one mental health issue, but that isn’t one.
That last incident caused me to stop writing for a couple of years. Clearly if I was being asked that, without actually having it, then my writing was beyond terrible. It never occurred to me that maybe the people asking would rather assume I had a health problem than try to work with me to improve my writing.
Bear in mind that while I went to university, the course I did was in general computing, nothing resembling writing in any sense, apart from some coding. I had no english degree, just a ‘C’ in GCSE english. I had always liked to write, but had always been taught I needed a proper job. I never considered that I could write about games and technology and it be a valid career.
So I got that proper job, but the itch to write never went away. I wrote fan fic, original stories and the odd character bio, but I kept stopping and starting. The I.S. always taking me away from it, preventing it from being anything more than a hobby, and one that I kept feeling I shouldn’t be allowed to do.
These days, I am starting to work out ways to deal with my I.S. Some are indeed, just getting over it, but others take more mental effort than I care to admit, leaving me exhausted. I have finally written this, the white whale, and gotten it out there for people to see, relate to and hopefully help. My hope is that if others out there have a similarly extreme case they can read this, maybe even reach out, and we can help each other through it.
I also created my first game, after having that design rattle around in my head for over a decade, and I am proud of myself for doing it. The game itself, being objective, isn’t stunning by any stretch of the imagination, but by the end of my time designing and creating it I was so happy I had worked through my negative feelings that I was smiling for a couple of days.
Dealing with Impostor Syndrome is not an easy task. Some days it will wash over you and move on, just a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that can be easily rid. Others, it hits like a sledgehammer. Your heart pounds, mind racing with all the terrible ways what you are doing can go wrong and ruin your life. All you can see is the worst outcome, and, as the song goes, those are the days that never end.
If you need to, go to the doctors and ask for help and if you don’t want to, then do what you are thinking because all those people that inspire you? Yeah they probably felt the same way until they created the thing that sparks your imagination, and they might not have training or anything, they just might have ‘fallen into’ what they are doing and ended up loving it. You deserve to do something you love too.