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.
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.