How to Kick Imposter Syndrome to the Curb
Oh my constant companion, imposter syndrome.
When CFFP first launched in December of 2016, I was just a girl with her laptop, fresh out of grad school. I was living with my partner's parents because I wasn't even sure if I could remain in the country much longer, and no one would hire me with a soon-to-expire student visa. My pool of money, ever depleted, was a serious source of stress. Even the handful of unpaid internships I applied for never even so much as got back to me.
There were so many deep-rooted dreams that CFFP was built on, but so much of it was out of desperation too. I set out to build what I wish already existed, so eager to push the feminist foreign policy agenda forward, so frustrated with the impossibility of breaking into the foreign policy field, and honestly, so terrified of fading into the background, settling down to do a job I hated just to pay the bills.
I now rent my own flat, with a steady (enough) income, and CFFP has grown leaps and bounds. But that uncertainty has never faded. For each new chapter of CFFP a fresh set of challenges appear, and - always my own harshest critic - my inner monologue tends to default to: "And what makes you think you're the one that can do this?" In so many ways I am still that terrified girl, uncertain about everything the future holds, desperate to do something with my life but very doubtful that I will ever be taken seriously.
I don't know about you, but I also have a tendency to dramatically think: "I am unique in my struggles!" (Cue eye roll.) The reality is, no matter how much knowledge, passion, and experience any of us have in a particular area, there are countless women who are still haunted by self-doubt. I've been speaking about this challenge to my friends and colleagues quite regularly recently, and three key themes have emerged from these conversations that have allowed me to hold up a shaky middle finger to imposter syndrome.
1. Silence is complicity.
There are plenty of people using their talents/power/platforms to sustain systemic inequalities. If I'm not putting my insight and content out into the world, I'm only giving more oxygen to the patriarchy.
2. I am only wasting energy by constantly questioning myself.
Normally, I champion the process of questioning what is familiar in order to better understand my privilege, but this is a different line of questioning. This is rethinking, over and over, every decision I make. This is waking up at 3 AM to panic about a (very, very non-urgent) deadline, and how disappointed everyone will be when I miss it. This is constantly comparing myself to people I think could do it "better". This is word vomiting all over my poor boyfriend as I spend hours analyzing a tricky situation in fear that I'm handling it horribly (I see you anxiety 😉). All because I'm not "good enough". But as Newt Scamander says in Fantastic Beasts, "My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice." There's honestly no point to it.
3. When we live out our passion, we set an example for other people to do the same.
I'll leave you with this quote by Marianne Williamson as comeuppance to imposter syndrome. Let's all get it tattooed on our foreheads, shall we?
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?... Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do... It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Like so many things, shaking imposter syndrome off is a never-ending journey in trusting myself. It's a process of recognizing that I still have so much to learn, but that doesn't mean I should stay silent. And most importantly, I am not alone in this experience; I have a rich community of feminists to lean on when things get a bit overwhelming.