Imposter Syndrome Part 3!
I have written about imposter syndrome a couple of times before and have been feeling lately like it’s time for yet another installment! This is such a pervasive theme in my life and something I have been working hard to address for myself and I know many other struggle with this as well. I have had so many great conversations with friends about feeling like an imposter and it’s amazing how universal this feeling is.
For those of you who have never struggled with feeling like you don’t belong, or worrying that you aren’t talented enough to be somewhere, or believing that you are a fraud and eventually you will be found out – I salute you! Sometimes I wish I could go through life never questioning myself in this way, but I also know that my struggle is valuable and is an opportunity for me to learn and to share that learning with others.
Who am I to teach yoga?
I was recently talking to a good friend about how much I love teaching yoga and how scary it was at first to get up in front of a class and lead them through a sequence. I told her that I had been thinking to myself “Who the heck and I to teach yoga?” to which my lovely friend responded “Um…a certified yoga teacher?”.
It was such a simple response but it really struck me – it was so true! If I was not qualified to teach yoga, then who was? Sure, there is so much more I have to learn and there are plenty of teachers out there who have way more certifications than I do, but you know what? They all started off with just one 200-hour teacher training and had to work their way up from there.
I learned a lot at my yoga teacher training but you can only cram so much into 200 hours. If you wait until you feel 100% prepared to lead a class, you will never get started! At some point, you just have to go out and teach. I have already learned so much from being a yoga teacher these past few months and have improved vastly from my first class until now. Of course, it takes constant practice and a lot of study outside of class, but if it is something you really love and want to get better at, it will be worth the time you put in.
So often we hold ourselves back because we don’t feel 100% ready, whether it’s being in a relationship, leaving a job we hate, moving to a new city, starting our own business, writing a freaking blog! There will always be one more thing to tweak, one more dollar you have to save, one more Tetris block that needs to fall into place.
The truth is, we learn the most when we jump in and start doing. Yes, we will make mistakes. Yes, it will be hard and sometimes feel like it’s too much work. And yes, we may need to ask for help! But all of those things are part of the process. Of course, it’s important to have a foundation and do research ahead of time, but at some point we just have to say ‘fuck it’ and realize there is only so much preparing we can do.
Consider for a moment Hermione Granger. That girl loves books and you can learn quite a bit from books, but she and Harry and Ron never would have been able to defeat Voldemort with book knowledge alone! It took years of fighting battles, honing their skills, and rallying support from their fellow witches and wizards to finally defeat the big bad. Of course, they didn’t just start from scratch – they attended the best wizarding school in the world and had some amazing professors who provided them with a solid foundation in magic, but reading and preparation alone would never have given them what they needed to win in the fight of good vs. evil.
(I think this is the best analogy I think I have ever come up with…ok, maybe second to my shrub analogy in “Rethinking Love”, but still, any time you can work a Harry Potter reference into your wellness blog, that’s a huge win).
Learning to apply yourself
When I first got to university, I was already on a downhill slope of motivation. Although I was a straight A student all through middle school, my grades slowly but steadily declined throughout high school. I certainly never reached a failing point, but let’s just say I wasn’t valedictorian. I actually managed to graduate with the IB Diploma, the most rigorous track at my school, but within that handful of students, I always felt like I was the least intelligent, the least motivated, the least capable.
When I reached college, there were so many fun things to distract me (Musicals! Residence life! The super handsome president of the Arts Undergraduate Society!) that I continued my trend of not really applying myself to my school work. Unfortunately, this only served to reinforce the idea that I wasn’t really that smart or hardworking. I knew the minimum amount of effort I needed to get by and I excelled in last-minute scrambling.
Fortunately, by my third year I had found a degree I enjoyed and managed to step up my game a bit, but it wasn’t really until my last year of university that I realized how much more I was capable of academically. By that point, it was already pretty solidified in my mind that I was a lazy, non-straight-A student.
So when I decided to attempt a master’s degree, you can imagine the voices that surfaced telling me how unlikely I was to succeed at such an academic pursuit. Despite doing well in my last couple years of university, I still didn’t fully believe that I was capable of making it all the way through a master’s program.
And THEN, when I started getting the idea that I might want to go back to school AGAIN and become a nurse, I had even more voices telling me that science was too hard and that I wasn’t smart enough to work in the medical field, despite graduating from my master’s with a 3.75 (which I told myself only happened because my program was way too easy).
Fortunately, despite all these negative thoughts trying to keep me small and hold me back, I have pushed through each time and have finally reached a place where I realize that I really can study and learn anything I want, as long as I have the motivation to do so. Of course I’m afraid to go back to school and study difficult materials – that shit is hard and it’s a lot of work! Of course it’s scary to completely change direction and enter an entirely new career path that requires three more years of school. That’s a super long-term goal to keep in mind at the expense of lots of short-term sacrifices.
But the key is that I know that I can do it. It sounds super cheesy, but it’s true. Sure, there is still a small part of me that feels like an imposter, that thinks medical school is for other smarter, brighter, more ambitious people than myself. But fortunately, there is another bigger part of me that knows that isn’t true and that is the part I am choosing to listen to. That part of me also knows that anything huge anyone has ever accomplished was achieved by taking one small step at a time and that is what I’m doing right now.
When goals seem overwhelming and insurmountable, I like to break them down into their smallest parts and find the first little step I can take to get me going in the right direction. For becoming a nurse, I started with simply talking to other nurses that I knew. That wasn’t so hard! Next, I looked into volunteering at OHSU and sent in an online application. After that, I started looking into pre-reqs and checked out classes at PCC. And so on and so forth.
The path to becoming a nurse may seem long and daunting, but each of these small tasks was quick and easy. Of course, they won’t all be so easy, but if I keep at it, one step at a time, they will all eventually add up to me becoming a super badass nurse someday in the not-too-distant future, which is pretty freakin’ cool.
Someone’s gotta do it
The bottom line is this: if you don’t believe in your own abilities, someone else who does believe in themselves and is equally talented, or maybe even less talented than you, will happily swoop in and take your place. We don’t have enough time on this earth to sit around constantly questioning ourselves and feeling like we don’t belong. We are all just flawed humans doing our best to figure shit out. Every single ‘expert’ out there was once a person who knew absolutely nothing about their field and it is never too late to start.
How can you expect other people to believe in your abilities if you don’t believe in yourself? Once you start acting like you belong somewhere, it’s amazing how quickly the people around you will follow suit and start looking to you for answers. (Of course, there is a balance between believing in yourself and acting like you know shit when you don’t, but that’s a post for another time…)