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E is for Everything
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The expert imposter 🎭
Imposter syndrome is defined as "the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success”. It is an acid that eats away at self confidence, aspirations, relationships and overall wellbeing. If you are one of the lucky few who can go through life without experiencing this feeling, congratulations. Really, I applaud you. (Though I doubt you’re human.) If, on the other hand, this little troll comes out to wreak havoc on your life and work, you’re not alone.  

Imposter syndrome is joined in the internet age by the fear of missing out (FOMO). Not only are your accomplishments not real or meaningful, no matter how hard you work or how many accomplishments you rack up, you’re never on there right track,  and you’re always five years behind an imaginary, more successful you. Just when you start to think you’re getting ahead of the curve, a trip down social media lane is all you need to disabuse you of the notion. It’s enough to drive one insane.   

A dangerous trend I have noticed is the rise of the “expert imposter” — the person who has so deeply internalized the belief that they are a fraud that they become expert at taking a back seat in meetings, keeping their mouth shut, speaking too fast for people to understand, believing they’re ideas aren’t worth others’ time. They even go so far as to stop caring about what’s happening around they by the transitory power of their imagined fraud. If I am here in this place experiencing these things, they can’t possibly be meaningful. If they were, I wouldn’t be here. 

Soon, everything takes on a grayish, sepia tone and it’s impossible to muster the energy to do anything unless driven by some more primal emotion like fear or disgust. The expert imposter is a trap. It’s one thing to think for a moment that you might not be qualified to do something. It’s something else entirely when you begin to live that belief.  

It’s particularly difficult when imposter syndrome starts to feed on your identity. I am often the only black person in a room at any given moment. It’s a seemingly small thing, and I’ve told myself to ignore it for years. Over time the rooms I occupy have started to fill up with people of power and influence, and they have done so throughout my career. This has been rocket fuel for my imposter syndrome. It’s all but impossible not to think I'm there due to clerical error or some pity play by someone fully deserving. 

We often talk about fight or flight, but not “freeze”. When imposter syndrome is particularly rife, I neither fight nor flee. I freeze. I shut down until anger takes hold. Then, and only then, do I participate. But I don’t operate from a genuine place. I put on a face to mask the anger.  

So, I often receive feedback that I come off as fake or disingenuous. The fact of the matter is, if I were real and genuine, it would make people in the room horribly uncomfortable, and it would do more harm to my career than being disingenuous would. It’s a case of people asking for what they want (the authentic me), not realizing they are asking me to sacrifice what I need in exchange (a stable job with a modicum of safety). 

It’s possible to learn to deal with imposter syndrome. So, recently, I have been working on ways to turn this attitude around. It is harmful to my health and my creativity. Being an expert imposter is akin to living half of a life. Oddly enough, finding things to slog through — from my workout to studying to meditation (yeah, it’s a tough one for me) — has helped. Pushing through actual (though reasonable) physical pain or trekking from ignorance to knowledge on a particularly difficult subject, is a real confidence booster. It builds up antibodies against imposter syndrome and help me weather the difficult moments. The discomfort I endure in my slogs is real and it reminds me that I am accomplishing something, that my effort matters and it is attributable solely to the unique, inimitable power of me.  

Alright, time for the five:  





The silence breakers (Time Magazine) 
Thank you, as always to my two largest supporters: Natalya Pemberton & Tim Karu!

Natalya is a culture and design enthusiast learning Sustainable Systems at the innovative Presidio Graduate School.

Tim runs the Mercury Inn in Portland, Maine.

These folks have generously supported E is for Everything on Patreon. Please jump on through to learn more about both them and their projects.
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Emi Kolawole · E is for Everything HQ · Palo Alto California 94306 · USA
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