If you are a parent, do you ever look at your kids and wonder how they got to be so awesome? It can’t be nature, because you’re not all that. It can’t be nurture, because you’re not doing that great a job. Must be sheer luck.
I teach at a university law school. Every time I start a semester with a new group of students I give them the same speech. Students often find it daunting to participate in group discussions in class, even when they have valuable contributions to make.
There are a few different reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that they suffer from impostor syndrome. They are afraid that any minute now someone is going to find out that there has been some huge mistake, that they’re not actually smart enough to be at law school, that they don’t deserve it. If they open their mouths in class someone is definitely going to realise it, report them, and they are going to be frog marched straight out of there. I tell them that this is ridiculous. Getting into law school requires brains and hard work. Staying in law school requires commitment and more hard work. If you’re in my class, you’ve earned your right to be there. No phonies here.
Except maybe me. I’m terrified that I’ll be found out. I might have graduated law school, completed a Masters degree and a PhD, worked in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, and taught in a number of universities, but I certainly don’t belong up here at the front of the class.
Such is the nature of impostor syndrome. No matter what you have achieved or how hard you have worked to get where you are, you still somehow think you have fluked your way through life and ended up somewhere you really don’t belong.
Do you ever feel like an impostor?
Consider this. If someone says to you something along the lines of: “Your kids seem really happy, relaxed and friendly, you must be doing a great job.” Do you, a) accept the compliment and acknowledge your role in your kids undisputed greatness, or b) downplay either your role, or your kids undisputed greatness, or both? Things that have come out of my mouth in such situations include: “Yeah, they’re awesome kids but I don’t know how that happened. We must just be lucky” and “They’re not so sweet when they’re screaming in the middle of the night.” If I don’t make it clear that it’s not perfect, it’s going to be pretty obvious I’m just a massive phoney. The fraud squad will be hauling me away.
The thing is, when I make any sort of disparaging remark about my children I immediately regret it. After all, they are in actual fact indisputably great. But on the other hand I rarely regret downplaying my own role in their formation. I don’t want to claim too big a hand in their greatness. What if this woman at the park finds out that I let them watch tv, or eat foods containing sugar, or sometimes even watch tv while eating foods containing sugar. (Not the baby, obviously. But she’ll no doubt get there one day). Never mind the hours and hours spent playing with them, preparing their meals, talking to them, reading to them, and laughing with them every single day. Never mind the countless nights spent up consoling them, reassuring them, being there for them. Those bits don’t count.
Except of course, they do. All of these things are the things that make your little people who they are. Whether it’s agonising over a care provider for when you are at work. Or the hug you save up especially for them at pick up time. Or pushing them on the swing at the park. Or the special story at bedtime. The big and little things that you do every day. Just being you. In this scenario it’s not possible you’re an impostor. Don’t worry what the world thinks. Don’t worry what “they” might find out. To a certain little someone you are indisputably the absolute greatest.
Now if only I could take my own advice.