You are not a joke.
You can also listen to this on my EnlightenMental podcast here:
Walking into the atrium of the modern building, it was easy to feel like I’d been zapped by a shrink-ray. Casting my view down from the magnificent skylight, to where the exhibits were, I looked around. Posters, dioramas, samples: evidence of the intriguing pieces of research these other students had not only been involved in, but had also contributed to. They were making history. I clutched my poster tube tightly and looked around the room for my spot. Finding it, I hustled quickly to go and set up.
Throughout the poster presentation event, I watched as others were visited by curious onlookers, professors, lecturers, industry experts- great scientists. At some point, a couple of people visited me, too. In that moment, as I spoke about my project, my findings (or the lack thereof), the need for further research into this area, and as I answered their questions, I went from feeling the exhilaration of taking part, to feeling small and unqualified to be here, again.
Little did I know, that this anxiety I had would grow and develop and burst into a bigger, more intimidating monster that would one day paralyse me with fear when faced with a similar situation. (Different day, different story)
I had felt then, as I have come to feel many times since, like a fool (also known as a court jester) in the presence of gods- but in a strange way, less dignified, for whereas the fool knows his place and imitates as a form of jest, I was more of a fool for having believed I could be like and comparable to them, when we were and never would be, equals.
Impostor syndrome (which I will hereafter refer to as “the Imp”) will convince you that though you have somehow gained admission past the guards at the door, it was not only by fluke, but it was deception on your part, that will soon be spotted by one of these far-more-intelligent beings that you have found yourself amongst.
You’re a fraud. A phony. A chameleon, poorly disguised as something other than what you are.
However, what “The Imp” fails to see or acknowledge, is that for you to gain entrance through the FRONT door, you MUST be qualified. Not only this, but for you to be “recognised as a phony” you must be incapable of doing the basic things the least of the “gods on Olympus” are able to do. If this were so, it would not take too long for your mortality to be exposed, as there would be no way you could survive the atmosphere.
The thing is this, though: you’re there. You’re surviving. Heck, you might even be thriving.
You know why no-one has questioned you yet? Because you are indeed comparable to, and perhaps even surpassing, others around you.
None of this matters, however, if your fear grows big and strong enough to push you out of the position you find yourself in.
You mustn’t talk yourself out of who you are.
In my story, I had applied and interviewed(!), and had shown my project and poster to a gatekeeper- who then let me in. That’s a form of approval that you must recognise and acknowledge. Oh, but “the Imp” would say this is because there probably was no-one else interested in applying and/or they needed to take on more students to fill in the space. To this, I say, so what? Even if that were true, you were deemed suitable enough to represent the university. Key words here: you were deemed suitable. Obstacle, overcome. Now, onwards!
Next, I had chatted passionately about my project to other students going to the symposium, which they found interesting, as they shared theirs also: this is another level of approval- approval by peers, that shows that you are, at least, equal. The Imp may argue that they were “just trying to be nice/polite”- to which I say- what does it matter? Can their contrary thoughts de-seat you? No? Then, onwards.
The next level of approval came from the experts in the field who showed interest in speaking to me. The Imp, striking a particularly low-blow, may say this probably came out of pity for the one student no-one had spoken to yet. To this I say, it doesn’t matter what brought them to me, if their questions were engaged and of real intrigue and interest. That means I, again, had just as much of a right to be there as anyone else.
You’ll notice by now that there is a pattern with the Imp. The Imp will try and tell you all the reasons why you don’t fit and are unqualified, and as reason/logic shuts them down, he/she then breaks out the wild, hard to prove, below-the-belt excuses for why you’re here illegally.
Here’s one last thing the Imp never allows you to see or notice. Everyone else is also trying to figure it out, doing their best to feel worthy to be here. Everyone else (apart from that annoying, arrogant guy over there who talks too much- but then again, him too, just in a different way), is also trying to show what they’re made of, hoping for approval, acceptance, and feedback, not wanting to screw this up and be considered not fit to be here.
If they all feel that way, just like you, then guess what that makes you? That’s right. Equal.
As the realisation dawns on you, you give “The Imp” a hard push off the mountain, never to be seen again- today, at least.
Standing at the top of Mount Olympus, with a glorious backdrop of the opal sky behind you as the sun leaks through the clouds, you remove your jester hat, and put down the fool’s rattle. You are not a joke.
Yes, you’re a mortal just like everyone else.
Yes, you do deserve to be here.
You made it, dammit.