Imposter Monster

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All the colors of the rainbow in my hand

I am an accountant.

It’s an exhilarating and exciting job. Everyday, I have key decisions to make like what color to choose for my spreadsheet report. Which file folder do I use? Which color stickies do I select? It’s almost as unpredictable and creatively satisfying as being Beyoncé.

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I am good at what I do and I’ve worked hard to get here. I am a Chartered Accountant, which as far as the business world goes, is a pretty respectable designation. I don’t like to brag but we are like the Black Ivory coffee of coffees. Black Ivory coffee is a hella expensive coffee produced by feeding Thai elephants exorbitant amounts of coffee beans which they then poop out and some poor folks go through the excrement to collect the digested coffee beans, grind em up and there you have it, your $50 cup of joe.

So yea, CAs are like elephant poop coffee. And sidebar, those elephants must have a really tough time falling asleep at night.

Anyhoo, the CA exams are some of the most grueling exams ever designed by twisted minds (there are three exams, the final one being 13 hours over a 3 day period). It’s like Hunger Games y’all.

So you would assume that since I have been academically trained for years to do my job and have considerable work experience, I would consider myself to be a guru in my field. Yet every time a new project shows up on my desk, or someone corners me in a women’s bathroom with a tax question (true story), my first instinct is to say, “I can’t do it. I don’t know. Only real accountants would know that.”

Yes, “real accountants”, because after all the years of analyzing financial data and making key decisions, I still feel like the next guy would know better than me.

The same goes for photography. People tell me I am good. I have taken the time to learn it and to improve my skills. But surely I am not a pro. I just have a fancy camera bag so what do I really know about photography?

Same thing for writing too. I’ve been writing since I was seven. I love it. It’s self-expression, it’s cathartic, it’s liberating. I write when I am sad, when I am exhilarated, when I am wistful, when I am contemplative. I am hooked on writing like Thai elephants are on coffee. But I am not a real author. I am not published anywhere, don’t have a literature degree so surely I am no authority on that either?

So why would someone who is considered by outsiders as a multi-skilled individual feel this way about every skill she has?

I have known this feeling for a long time but only recently found out that there is a name for it: Imposter Syndrome.

Apparently, people of all walks of life, with various skill sets, and varying degrees of experience feel this way. Even pros who have made it big. The feeling that you aren’t really as good as the rest of them and eventually one day, the world will figure it out, inhabits many minds. What will the world think of you? What will your mommy say?

I know if my mommy found out I wasn’t really an accountant, in fantastically immigrant fashion, she would whoop my ass.

I truly believe that under our big boy pants and big girl heels, we are all still just children in a playground. Scared of meeting new people and new challenges, apprehensive about what people think of us, out to prove the world that we can do all the tricks they can. And we still have monsters in our closets we are trying to subdue.

And this feeling doesn’t just apply to careers or hobbies, it applies to parenting too. I don’t think there is a parent out there who hasn’t had a day where they felt like a failure. A day when they felt inadequate, when they thought, ‘What the F am I doing?! I don’t have a clue how to handle this! I am literally the least qualified person to do this!’

Mothers are even worse when it comes to imposter syndrome and that’s why the idea of “mom guilt” has been doing rounds on social media recently. We constantly second guess ourselves, measure ourselves to other moms, pretend to have our shit straight at all times and make it look like our life with our children is a long running Hallmark moment.

I am guilty of this, and if you have kids, you are likely too.

So how do you deal with it? How do you convince yourself that you are as good a knitter or a cook as the next guy? How do you prevent it from seeping into your parenting? How do you not pass it down to your kids?

Be cognizant of it, that’s the first step.

Second, every time you look at yourself in the mirror, thump your chest and tell yourself how f-ing awesome you are.

Third, when you see someone doing a better job than you, unfriend them from Facebook, delete them from Instagram and send them parcels of poopy diapers.

Don’t do that, that’s probably unhealthy and useless.

What I am trying to do though is to try. To look back at the successes in my parenting rather than failures. To look at all the things I have done right with my daughter so far. We often get complimented about how she eats perfectly like an adult at the dinner table. That’s because I started giving her solids to eat by herself when she was just a few months old. How she asks intelligent questions and has an inquisitive mind. That’s because we answer her questions instead of ignoring them, even the mundane ones. How she speaks clearly and has a great vocabulary. That’s because I read to her every night and I have been singing to her since she was a baby. How she is kind and empathetic to others. No clue how she got that one.

The point is that I am finding that reflecting on what you have done right can help a person stop questioning their own legitimacy. And the only way to not pass down this feeling of being a hoax to your child is to nurture self confidence in yourself, as well as them.

The only way to stop having nightmares about being accosted in the washroom with a tax question is to think about all the times I did have the right answer.

8 thoughts on “Imposter Monster

  1. Hey, I just heard about a perception error that plays into what you’re talking about–can’t seem to find it on Google at the moment, but essentially: we have the tendency not to value the things we’re good at because they seem easy… to us. We tend to disproportionately value the skills we struggle to master because they *don’t* come easily to us, so they seem more impressive.

    This would apply to parenting as much as anything, I suppose. I start feeling inadequate, for example, because I have trouble getting my kids to clean up after themselves (they’re getting better) or sit still through dinner, but don’t appreciate how they’re really open and seem to trust me. But maybe some parents with impressively seat-withstanding kids have trouble getting said kids to share their feelings…

    Which isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t be addressing our trouble spots or always trying to evolve, but rather that we should also appreciate the good things we bring to the table. Just so we don’t get too discouraged or down on ourselves. (Heh, I’ve been called a “perfectionist” before and since my first immediate thought is how it isn’t possible, given my numerous imperfections, I could probably stand to chill out a bit.)

    I imagine parental insecurity leads to being judgmental of other parents as well, since people feel the need to reinforce the idea that their approach has been the right way to go. Psh… apparently I could go on and on about this, so I’ll just say you’ve brought up some good topics here and given me a lot to consider.

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    • Oh that is interesting! and definitely sounds like a familiar feeling. And i do think that it’s a personality trait which seeps into your parenting and eventually gets handed down to your kids. So yea i try to focus on things I am doing well with my daughter instead always putting myself down about things I am not. I’m glad it gave you something to think about 🙂

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  2. I sheepishly admit, I got super excited when you posted a pic of an excel spreadsheet with the drop down palate of colors. The great thing about being an accountant (I am a CPA in the US, the equivalent of a CA in Canada) is you can have personal financial spreadsheets up all day, and people think you’re working really hard! Boy, that Dan, he’s just always plugging away at those (personal) spreadsheets 🙂

    Anyway, I digress. I think the skills you have are much higher than you think. As far as Facebook? Just blow up your phone, we’ve seen couples post pictures of their couples Italy trip, only to end up getting divorced. Why didn’t they ever post about their endless arguing and hatred towards each other???

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    • Haha Excel is like an accountant’s piano and we make can it singgg! Seriously, it’s sad how proud I am of my Excel skills. Yes that is totally true about the working on personal finances thing but once my boss walked in on me working out my savings plan and she could totally read what I was doing so that was super embarrassing!

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  3. Wow, fascinating! Never knew this was a real feeling. I like the graphic a lot. We always think other know WAY much more than ourselves, but we’re all just in our own little bubble of knowledge…
    Several of my friends are accountants, and I’m astounded by how hard it is!! I’m impressed!

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  4. I felt so relieved when I first heard about impostor syndrome. I have also been told that it can be a trait of high achievers as in order to feel like you shouldn’t be in your position (like you have tricked your way into a good job etc) you have to have got into that position in the first place… you then start feeling anxious so work harder get into a higher position and the vicious cycle starts again… It is always really good to know that other people have this problem too!

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    • I know i felt the same way when i first read about it! I was like i am not the only crazy one! But i think it’s a driving factor for high achievers and often an explanation for why they end up doing well. It’s just sad and ironic that deep down inside that’s how they feel about themselves. But I am working on a more positive attitude towards my strengths and accomplishments 🙂

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