Thursday, 17 November 2016

Are you suffering from the imposter syndrome?

Have you felt as if you were a tomato stuck in a sea of grapes acting as a banana and not liking it because you know you are an imposter trying to act like someone else! In many cases you might have been forced into a role that you knew deep in your heart you would not be able to sustain for long but then are being compelled by peers and the society to maintain the pretence for a much longer period. What if you acheived success in this imposter's role, would that success have translated into joy  or happiness in your heart? Do you feel you are not a good writer, and yet are forced to churn written matter of exceptional quality every week? Does the depression and a sense of hopelessness affect the quality of work you do everyday? If the answer to all these questions is a,'No' then surely you are suffering from the 'Imposter Syndrome!'
Strangely enough, I came across the term, 'Imposter Syndrome' in a completely different context while reading Neil Patel's article on creating amazing content on blogs and websites. -1 Neil Patel writes about how, the Imposter syndrome pertains to a sense of failure in the face of success. He goes on to describe how 'Imposters suffer from self doubt and an intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.' 
While Neil was no doubt writing to encourage website developers to develop amazing content even when they felt themselves to be 'Industry Imposters', I couldn't help linking his observations to what happens in classrooms all over the world. The student who becomes a Know It All, just because he happened to answer a few questions that the teacher had asked in class and nobody knew the answers to might be asked to answer questions all the time. The poor fellow is forced to play the role of the class genius even though he is just an average student, also because he has weak eyes and wears specs.Other students think he is smart and they force him to live a lie, thus he stands up to the teacher, always raising his hands even when he does not know the answer. He has a fear of being caught out one day, the fear that he will be exposed for being ignorant.
A lot of our students suffer from the Imposter Syndrome, and the same can be said of  some of the well known personalities that we have known, Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Robbin Williams, to name a few. The Imposter Syndrome is built upon a feeling of self doubt cemented by the fact that one has been fooling others. In many cases intelligent students who become jokers and clowns in class, (for the sake of gaining popularity) will have the fear of being exposed as being studious and hardworking and not jokers! Unfortunately, students today do not as a rule consider hardwork and studiousness as 'cool'.The 'cool' student is one who hangs out quite often, has a fan following, he or she follows the latest trends, his or her dad is loaded with money, and he or she is a non-conformist. Unfortunately the 'cool' one is the one who has the guts to challenge the teacher, and argue point for point!
A lot of our students become imposters for the very fact that they want to impress their friends. A hard working, studious and intelligent student will thus, donne the garb of a clown, or a 'cool dude' if only to be popular amongst his or her peers! In today's times becoming an imposter is second nature, and the wearing of different personalities is similar to wearing different masks for different occasions.The pressure to conform to popular and accepted trends has forced us to take up multiple personalities. Often the personality that we project towards the world is not our actual personality, it is a fake personality, a front, a facade that we present to others.
This wearing of multiple personalities, this behaving like imposters is creating a confusion in our young students, so much so that they are confused about their  own true selves. To make matters worse, 'according to their studies,' they are not sure what they are doing in the Chemistry class. They had taken up Chemistry because it was cool, and not because they had an aptitude for it. To make matters worse, all of their best friends had taken up Chemistry, so in order not to be left out, they also projected a perceived interest in the subject, only opt out after mid-term! They were veritable imposters when they claimed that they had an interest in Chemistry and fought with the school councellor, teachers and even their parents!
But then to suggest that it is only students who suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and not adult professionals would be a travesty of honesty! The fact is that even highly placed professionals, successful people suffer from this problem. People who somehow taste success inspite of their failings and weaknesses are forced to adopt the roles that have been thrust onto them because of that single instance of success. It is no wonder that such people are forced to continue in that role for fear of losing the trust of the people they are surrounded by!
Students and professionals who are forced into roles that they don't feel comfortable in might suffer
While no doubt, the tips that Neil Patel was giving in his article were for content writers and promoters, the same are quite relevant for students and other professionals. The tips in the article are meant to help prop up professionals whose quality of work has somehow dropped drastically becasuse of a feeling of guilt on being imposters. In his own words,  'The imposter syndrome makes us feel like we’re cheating. This feeling can, in turn, cause us to reduce the quality of our work even if we’re not consciously aware of it. I’ve seen the imposter syndrome turn would-be marketing rockstars into timid underachievers.'-Neil Patel
In his brilliantly written article, Neil Patel suggests that developing 'self-awareness,' through 'reflection', knowing that one is not the only one feeling like an imposter, tackling stress, and accepting the fact that one did have a role in the success of the organisation, are all important steps that will help us tackle the lows and disappointments associated with the imposter syndrome. A student who scores a perfect 100 in the board exams might not be a genius, in fact he might just be an ordinary student who studied the right things and in some cases luck was with him in so far that the questions that appeared in the paper were the ones he had practised. Now this student might be the victim of the 'Curse of the Topper' syndrome, and what makes it really bad for him is that everyone stops him in the school corridor and  sets up questions for him to solve. How does he feel when he almost never answered the last question? What if he is not able to answer the next question that the students put before him? What if he is exposed as, 'just ordinary'? I guess what he could do to ensure that he keeps progressing and prevents depression from setting in would be to 'Think of yourself as a work in progress'-Neil Patel. In his article, Neil goes on to state that, 'the easiest way to get over imposter syndrome is to place your focus on providing value to your audience and not make it about you.' He goes on to suggest that, 'Trying to position yourself as an authority or expert will put additional pressure on you.'
I guess ultimately, it should be OK to tell everyone that they can make mistakes because they are human after all! If you don't have the answer to every question, then you can always tell the others to give you time to do some research! This goes for teachers too! I have been teaching English for quite some time now, yet when I come across terms and words that I am not aware about, I don't hesitate telling my students that I will revert the next day! While Neil claims that being original is one of the best defences from succumbing to The Imposter Syndrome, I would however not hesitate in stating that the inspiration for my article and the ideas in it came from my reading of Neil Patel's article which was meant for content writers; I however feel they are equally relevant for students, teachers and other professional, artists included!

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