Even Black Belts Get Imposter Syndrome

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You know that time for a minute or so when I thought I didn’t deserve the big office that was offered to me when I relocated for my job? Yeah, I got over that fast, which you can read about in this post. Things at work could not be better. I am having a blast and sincerely love my job. I’m building lots of great relationships and am involved in some exciting projects. Even when I’m not sure what to do or feel like I didn’t give the best answer or flubbed up a presentation, I can still move forward with a smile, feeling confident and satisfied.

I don’t exactly feel that way in my personal life. I’m not isolated and broken hearted like I was two months ago, but in the dojang, for example, I still feel like I have some overinflated, false sense of authority and necessity. I feel like I’m a fraud and a joke who doesn’t deserve a black belt. I have had to miss several classes lately due to work obligations (thank you, awesome job!) and some personal things, but I also have a thought in the back of my mind that maybe I should stop going altogether. Maybe it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” I don’t get the regular camaraderie and fun and see my incremental progress, so I lose sight of why I kept going.

Here’s how I feel about myself as a black belt, whether this is accurate or not: Why am I entrusted with anything? I’m just a clumsy first degree who makes more mistakes than progress. I teach some things the wrong way, and there are certain movements my aging, aching body refuses to do even when I know damn well how to do them, and they’re easy for lower ranking students but not for me. I’m really not that great at it and I feel like I’m an embarrassment and disappointment to my instructors. Sometimes I don’t even know why I have a black belt other than being good at hitting stuff with my hands. I’m pretty good at forms too, so I guess that counts for something.

And now my instructors will probably be mad at me for writing that. I never said those thoughts were based in reality. They’re just feelings that bubble up sometimes. I really want to test for second degree later this fall, but at times I’m tempted to not go back at all. Why bother if I’m so awful at it?

Sounds like I have a good old fashioned case of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, or Imposter Phenomenon, was first identified in the 1970s and is typically occurs among people who find it difficult to accept their successes and often question whether they will be found out as a fraud. In my case, I think I’m a crappy black belt, and I’m just making a fool of myself by continuing to show up at the dojang. It’s even more debilitating with my personal friendships and relationships and one of the reasons why I’ve lived a very isolated private life up to this point.

Imposter Syndrome is also typically seen among high achievers, so maybe I’m just a self-centered Alpha Female looking for reassurance. Maybe I’m just a big jerk.

I’ve never really had a real case of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace, which is stereotypically where it tends to manifest. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve panicked because I didn’t know what to do or didn’t feel like I was up for a big task, but I found ways around them and kept going. I never let work anxieties affect how I felt about myself, and as a result, my confidence has grown as I’ve matured professionally, which I think has at least partially contributed to my continued success.

On the surface I keep up a good front of being seemingly put together with advanced education, career success, owning a home, and the added bonus of being physically attractive, at least by societal standards. I didn’t do any of those things to impress anyone, though. I wanted to build my own life and figured early on that I wouldn’t have any support so I charged ahead solo. Things fell into place by happenstance and hard work. I liked school. I liked to work. I liked to exercise and pick out stylish outfits and make myself look nice. Good stuff just happened to ensure from that. That front has helped me hide my true feelings, but in a way, they’ve trapped me into that image as well. I look very good on paper, but now I can’t let down the facade.

I think the difference between my work life and personal life is that with work, as much as I care about the people there and as much as I love my job, there’s a healthy sense of detachment. I could drop the mic, walk away, never talk to any of them again, and never give a thought to that part of my life again and be totally fine. I’d still be me and feel just fine about myself. I’ve always felt that way when it comes to my jobs, and as a weird result, good fortune seems to follow. It’s effortless.

Here’s a good example of Imposter Syndrome creeping into my personal life: shortly before I went back to taekwondo I briefly dated a guy who seemed like a great catch. He was handsome, fit, charming, funny, and owned a business. He seemed to have it all together…on paper anyway. The sad thing was I could never relax and be myself around him. I always questioned how I looked or what I said. I wondered why a guy like him was with me. When was he going to become disappointed in me and ultimately reject me? Why did he even want to date me in the first place?

I didn’t think I was good enough for him, and that is still difficult to admit. It makes me sad that I thought so little of myself. I’m sure he saw a lot of good qualities in me, but I was too mired in self-doubt to see what he saw. I ended up blowing it by overreacting over something minor, and I sabotaged the relationship as quickly as it began. In retrospect it was what needed to happen, and I couldn’t care less about that guy now, but I do remember the lesson I learned. The best thing that came from that failed relationship is that it catapulted me into the best thing that’s ever happened to me even though I kind of have a love/hate relationship with taekwondo right now.

While professionally I’m open to opportunities and possibilities and actually think I deserve them or at least have earned them, I don’t allow myself to relax and enjoy the ones I experience personally. Deep down I’ve never felt like I was good enough. I knew I was capable of being loved, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think anyone would want to stick it out with me for the long haul, whether it was a friendship or a romantic relationship. Guess what happened? As a believer in the Law of Attraction, I set myself up for failure.

The people I care about probably don’t know that I struggle frequently with old harmful emotional habits such as defensiveness and fearing rejection (well, until now. Oops. Hi, y’all.)…or maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve and they’ve known all along. This is so frustrating–as much work as I’ve done on myself over the past seven years, I still catch myself wondering if their fondness for me is conditional and temporary. My mind latches onto every thing said or unsaid (it loves to dig it claws into the unsaid) and analyzes the crap out of them and keeps me up at night with its silly notions and heartache-inducing, trouble making nonsense. Those bad habits have caused me so many problems in the past that I inwardly work overtime to control them.

Just as I am tempted to shy away from taekwondo so I am not faced with my own failure (at least in my skewed perception), I am tempted to shy away from the very people I care about. Why bother? They’re going to find out that I’m not that great and come to the conclusion that I’m not worth hanging around, right?

I know I am a good person and worthy of love and friendship, but old deeply ingrained habits die hard. I don’t want to burden the people I care about with these thoughts and feelings mostly because they aren’t real. They are lies and fears cooked up by the parts of my mind that I haven’t yet gotten under control. They’re not even fully formulated thoughts. A lot of it is good old fashioned, reactionary anxious garbage that doesn’t need to be dragged out in front of company.

Disclaimer: I didn’t write this for sympathy or reassurance.

I know a lot of stuff that flows through my head is bullshit that makes my life unnecessarily difficult. I’m simply admitting what I’ve figured out.
Carry on…

When does self-consciousness morph into self-centeredness? Am I a decent person currently plagued by doubts but sincerely trying to overcome them or am I an egotistical maniac just dismayed that I’m not being adored and worshipped? Did my self-consciousness make me inadvertently shoot myself in the foot and sabotage those relationships I supposedly cared about?

Did I just out myself to the people I truly care about? What if they find out that I really don’t have it all together? What if they don’t care and still love me anyway, but I’m too blind and selfish to recognize it? If I really loved the people I claim to care about, I would trust them to love me back, and even if they didn’t, I’d still be okay with who I am.

My mentor has told me more than once that what other people think about me is none of my business. Whether they love me, hate me, or simply don’t care about me isn’t a reflection on who I am or the qualities I have. Easier said than done, but I try to keep that in mind. It seems to work in my professional life, and as a result of being detached, confident, and carefree, my work life has been on an upward slope since my early twenties. I’m reaping rewards without seemingly trying at all.

One of these days I’ll feel that way about my personal life too. I won’t question whether someone cares about me. I won’t doubt myself in the dojang. The scary truth that just occurred to me is that to be totally free and happy in my personal life I need to be able to drop the mic, walk away at any moment (from friends, taekwondo, whatever), and still feel whole and satisfied and confident in myself even if I lose what I think I love the most. Even if I’m found out.

But you know what? I’m awesome, no matter what anyone thinks or doesn’t think.

I’m ready to drop the mic.

 

Love is Like Grape Soda…or, Being Happily Single on Valentine’s Day

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Nope to grape soda…and to crushes, for that matter.

“For me, right now anyway, a relationship is like…grape soda.”

I was talking to a trusted friend and mentor a few weeks ago, and the subject of dating had come up. After a serious relationship ended last April, I spent several months doing the exact opposite of what I used to do after breakups: I wasn’t thinking about dating at all. I wasn’t wishing for it. I wasn’t interested. I was genuinely surprised when friends asked if I was dating because it was so far from my mind. My parents knew not to ask, and they were probably glad that I was taking time for myself. Even when my ex attempted to reconcile, I was tempted but ultimately declined. I was officially closed for business.

I continued my explanation to my friend:
“Grape soda is one of those things I don’t dislike, but I just don’t think about it, and I never buy it. If I see it at a potluck I think, ‘Oh look, grape soda,’ and then I forget about it and pour myself a cup of Sprite or Coke instead. Same thing at the grocery store: ‘Oh look, there’s grape soda on the shelf. You don’t see that every day. I guess some people like it,’ and I keep walking and forget about it. I don’t have negative or positive feelings towards grape soda. I just don’t care.”

That’s how I now find myself feeling towards dating and romantic love: nothing. I just don’t think about it. It’s become this fuzzy, foreign concept that doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t dislike relationships, and I’m still attracted to men, but I’m not pursuing love or companionship.

After the big April breakup last year I needed to stay OUT of the dating pool for a long time because I was bitter, angry, and sad and needed time to grieve. Now that I’ve worked through those feelings (well, for the most part), in some people’s minds I should be ready for love again, but…nah. I don’t wanna. Telling me to “get back out there” is like telling me to get a puppy or go on a hot air balloon ride. It sounds nice, but….nah….not for me, thanks. I don’t hate puppies or hot air balloons or relationships; I’m just not that interested.

I’m a little dismayed at all the biased information on the internet about being single: how to cope with it, how to handle it, how to feel better about it. I’ve tried to find information about people who don’t want to date just ‘cause, but all I come up with are a bunch of sob stories from people who dramatically claim they “don’t believe in love anymore!” when they’re secretly pining for it or from people who are so burned and scarred from past experience that they are terrified of entering into another relationship again. I don’t feel angst, fear, despair, or…well…much of anything.

Being single is not a disease, and it is not a curse. It is an opportunity to discover who you are, what you want in life (and what you want in a partner), and what makes you happy. People take being single like it’s an insult or it’s something bad that has been intentionally inflicted upon them. I know that because I used to think that way. Oh, the time I wasted feeling sorry for myself! I thought all the men in the world had conspired to reject me. Boo-freaking-hoo! Now that I’ve let go of the self-loathing and resentment, I’m totally fine being alone, and in fact, nearly a year after the end of that last serious relationship, I prefer it. No dates, no texting, no set ups, no Match profile, nothing. If I sense a man is showing some interest, I run like hell. I go to work, go to taekwondo, do the things I like to do, and enjoy my life.

I am a rock. I am an island. Leave me alone.

And for the record, since I know people are going to assume this: I’m not anti-relationship. A lack of interest in something doesn’t mean I hate it. Grape soda, for example—don’t hate it, just don’t care. Same way with love. I’m not anti-marriage. I’m not anti-men. I don’t hate my ex and am not irreparably heartbroken. Maybe when I’m good and ready, I’ll welcome love back into my life, or maybe I will spend the rest of my life alone and unattached. Either way, I’m fine with whatever happens, and just being able to say that is an accomplishment I’m proud of.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if I’m deluding myself. Maybe I am so mired in loneliness and sadness that my foggy, fuzzy brain doesn’t know what’s normal anymore. When my friend of the grape soda conversation asked me to define love, I was stumped. I said I knew that I’d experienced it, but I couldn’t describe it. Months after that discussion I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe I’m in such a deep depression (or denial) that self-imposed exile has become the norm. I do get lonely, and sometimes I wish I could get dressed up and go on a nice date with a nice man. But then again, I don’t feel like something is missing from my life so much as something extraneous has simply been removed, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps permanently. It’s truly a strange sensation to feel no desire for something I’ve longed for and pursued all my adult life.

That absence of feeling puzzles me more than anything else.

Perhaps this absence of worry and longing for love is part of my larger shift toward relaxing and loosening the reins on my life a bit. Things have begun to fall in place like magic (or the law of attraction): Ever since the Christmas holidays I’ve stopped worrying about certain aspects of work, and without any doing on my part, my responsibilities were shifted away from activities I didn’t enjoy to things I find greatly fulfilling. I stopped trying to cram my free time with activities, and now the weekends feel longer and more restful. I stopped caring about having a perfect body, and now I’m a fitter and leaner version of myself than I was at an even smaller weight. I finally, finally stopped feeling angry and sad about that failed and possibly final relationship.

…Not giving a shit suits me.

Letting go of the “need” for a relationship felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In getting over my addiction to love from another person (it was more likely a need for validation and attention rather than real love) and an anxious need to be in a relationship, I learned the power of loving and valuing myself. Sounds cheesy, but if you’ve spent most of your life hating yourself and desperately seeking the approval of others, experiencing this kind of shift is profoundly liberating.

I did feel a little down a few weeks ago when I saw Valentine cards in the grocery store and thought about how I didn’t have anyone to buy a card for…but just like whenever I saw grape soda, I kept walking and promptly forgot about it.

So, if you’re in a relationship this Valentine’s Day…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. If you’re single…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. Drink some grape soda, whatever. Either way, I hope you recognize your own value and beauty. You don’t need anyone else to tell you that it’s there.

Watch, right after I post this, some joker is going to come along, sweep me off my feet, and ruin all my single fun. *Sigh*