Tag Archives: imposter syndrome

Druidry, language and imposter syndrome

How often do you see a creative person talking about imposter syndrome? Too often. Because we’re not really supposed to blow our own trumpets, be proud of what we do or confident about putting our work into the world. Why is this a Druid issue? Because boasting was part of what our Celtic ancestors did. Because language matters. Because creativity and inspiration are part of the modern bard path. A culture of encouraging people to feel like imposters isn’t healthy.

If you create, in any way, you are a creator. If you write, then you are writer. If you draw or paint, you’re an artist and so on and so forth. The measure of being the thing is whether you do it, and you are also allowed to have breaks from doing the thing without that undermining your identity. If you are doing the things, you cannot be an imposter.

It’s not about how good you are. No matter how good you are, there will always be people who don’t like what you do and people who think you are a bit shit. They are not the measure of your worth.

If you don’t do the things, and claim the title, then feeling like an imposter might be a reasonable issue to have. If you call yourself a Druid but never do anything you can identify as druidic, that would be a problem. If you call yourself a bard, but have never learned a song, or a story, or a tune, never make anything, never do anything to bring beauty and inspiration to the world, then you may in fact be an imposter. The answer to this is to do something.

The other answer, is praise. This again is a very bardic activity and it goes with the boasting culture. Praise extravagantly, praise often, praise with passion and conviction. Get in there and tell people how great they are. Visibly admire stuff. Actively support the people who are able to say good things about their own work. Talk in positive ways about your own work so as to model this for other people. Take pride in who you are and what you do in ways that will help other people feel able to do the same.

No one who is doing the work should feel like an imposter. No one should feel that they have to say they feel like a fake – we really need to avoid having a culture of people not being allowed to respect themselves. If you do need to express discomfort, find other and better words. It is ok to be having a shit day. It is ok to say this piece of work isn’t going the way you want it to. It is ok to say you haven’t done the things in a while and this is impacting on your sense of self. It is ok to be uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable does not mean you are invalid.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is frequently an issue for creative people. The fear of finding out from the reactions of others, that you’re a fake, or not equal to what you said you were doing. It’s not just a creative person issue however.

This week I’ve noticed a number of invisibly bi folk (not just me) struggling in the wake of the ghastly Orlando shootings to know how to respond. Not feeling gay enough to speak as an LGBT person. Fearing that the appearance of straightness will make any empathy sound like straight people appropriating an LGBT issue – which has caused more than enough hurt and anger already. Bi people hear that it’s just a phase, that we are sluts, indecisive, want it all, are greedy, fickle – and worse. No doubt there are all kinds of things trans and genderqueer people hear to invalidate their experiences, too. We’ve a long, vile history of telling gay and lesbian people that they are ill and need curing.

I get it around health issues too, and I know that’s not just me. Being largely invisible, mental illness often isn’t afforded the same care and respect as physical illness. Long term physical illness and disability is not reliably taken seriously enough either. My physical issues vary. On a good day I can walk twenty miles. On a bad day, walking from the bed to the computer is about as much as I can take. I know some people will see the good days and disbelieve the bad ones. Most chronic conditions vary in severity from day to day. A person who sometimes needs a wheelchair may be treated as a fake because there are also better days when they don’t. This is grotesque.

I expect to be treated as an imposter, because I don’t conform to other people’s ideas of what I *should* look like. I’ve had a lot of disbelief to deal with around physical and mental health issues. I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m just making a fuss about matters of pain, and despair. I’ve been laughed at for expressing distress. Again, I know it’s not just me, and I know of more extreme cases where disbelief has lead to serious dangers. Larger people whose health problems are ascribed to size, with no other considerations explored, are being treated as impostors, putting their lives at risk, for example.

On the writing side, it’s about being part time. ‘Real’ authors – the famous ones – can write full time. Those of us who can’t make it work (most of us) and do other things as well as writing can experience a lot of feelings of being an impostor. It doesn’t help that this is often reinforced by people looking in from the outside, happy to say ‘well it’s just a hobby, isn’t it?’ How odd it is that whether something is perceived as a calling is determined by the cash flow it creates. Again, this happens to a lot of creative people, and it can seriously undermine confidence. It can be soul  and life destroying to be told you aren’t real. Van Gogh couldn’t make it pay, either, to name one of many.

I’ve had it happen around emotions – being told that what I feel is preposterous, overblown, unreasonable. A denial that my feelings and experiences have validity. Again I’ve seen it happen to others, too, seen how it silences and diminishes people, causing them to be less involved, less honest and less themselves.

Who has the right to judge? Fluffy bunny, fake guru… we do it all the time in Pagan circles too, denying the validity of other people’s paths and practices.

And what happens when we all shut up and conform to whatever the collective notion looks like of who we are supposed to be? If we all make ourselves smaller, and claim nothing… does that make the world any safer for the supposedly ‘proper’ and ‘real’ people? If everyone who had been slapped down as an impostor stayed down, who, and what would we have left?

If it wasn’t so commonplace to see other people being rubbished, perhaps impostor syndrome would be less of a thing. Perhaps if rubbishing other people wasn’t such a socially acceptable activity, we’d have a lot more people able to express their own truth. If we were quicker to question the knocking down, rather than assume there’s a problem with the one taking the knocks, rather a lot could change.

Imposter syndrome needs re-framing as a problem with the eye of the beholder.