“You don’t deserve to be in the program, but if you promise to work very hard, then we’ll allow you. We cannot offer you scholarships.”
The salt in the wound of this statement was that coming from a low-income family, scholarships were absolutely imperative. So, I entered my next auditions terrified and feeling very much that I didn’t -- and wouldn’t -- belong. That feeling stuck around even after I was accepted into other programs and awarded scholarships. In fact, I still feel that way to this day.
I know I’m not alone. Everyone has battled imposter syndrome at some point, and for many of us, it’s an ongoing fight. The more you get down in the trenches and fight it, though, the better you can get at overcoming when it crops up. As a lifelong imposter, I’ve come up with a few helpful tips
Recognize that this is a normal thing.
Most people experience imposter syndrome at some point, but until recently, it wasn’t something people talked about much. Even as it’s gained some recognition as a legitimate pattern of thought, there’s some stigma around being honest and sharing this kind of struggle with others.
A few quick Google searches will let you know that you are far from alone. In fact, you’re in pretty good company with powerhouses like Serena Williams and Tracee Ellis Ross. Reading through the struggles of celebrities like them may give you some comfort, and maybe even some ideas of how to cope with this pattern of thought.
Work on learning to be okay with failure.
Womxn are conditioned to always be perfect at everything This starts with the outward appearance, the pressure to always look good, then to behavior (always be a polite, good girl), then morphs into the need to have the best GPA, excel at all classes, receive all the awards and accolades.
Failure is not an option, so we’re not taught how to deal with failure in a healthy way. If we fail, it’s because we aren’t good enough. Not because it’s perfectly normal to fail, and isn’t a reflection on your qualifications at all.
Failing is how we learn, and part of how we build resilience. Getting comfortable with failure and developing the ability to recover from it is one of the most important things anyone can ever learn.
Be bad at something and do it anyway
This article by author and content creator Cinza DuBois changed my perspective on not being good at things. In it, she discusses learning to fail, being bad at something, keeping the pressure of needing to be good at it at bay, and how all of this can be really freeing.
During COVID, I’ve been dabbling in all kinds of things I’m no good at solely to try new things. I don’t post them on Instagram; I want those things to be for me, and no one else. And I kind of love that! It’s teaching me to give myself permission to not be perfect and find joy in it.
Write down evidence to the contrary of your imposter thoughts
Someone once recommended I write down thoughts to counter my imposter thoughts to help me understand -- at least rationally -- why those thoughts weren’t true. So, if I thought, “I’m not a good writer,” my counter thought might be, “but you’ve been published on VWCM.”
While this isn’t a foolproof way to break the imposter habit, it gives you an alternative way of thinking about yourself. Once you start bringing evidence to yourself about why your inner critic is wrong, it’s hard to keep focusing on and believing what that jerk is saying.
Live like a weasel.
What if you can’t completely eradicate those imposter thoughts? What do you do?
My freshman year of college, I had to read the Living Like Weasels by Annie Dillard. In this essay, Dillard shares a story of an eagle that was found with a weasel’s skull embedded in its neck. Weasels are known to not let go of things… like ever. The closing paragraph stuck with me:
“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part.”
I was told that I didn’t deserve to go to music school, or receive scholarships, but -- weasel that I am -- I didn’t give up until I did deserve those things, or at least found people who thought I was worth a risk. I knew my “one necessity” was music, and I had to do whatever it took to grasp it.
Do I still feel like I don’t belong? Absolutely.
But do I let that stop me from being here anyway?