Hello, my little lightbulb!
How’ve you been doing?
It’s officially May: my sister’s birthday month; the last month of Spring; and rhododendrons, one of my mum’s favourite plants (or at least her favourite to say), are in full bloom. I wanted to give you a little life update from my end as I haven’t posted as consistently as I want to lately.
Progress with the car is slow. I’ve been waiting over a month now, coming up to two, for the police to do CSI and send it over to the garage. The garage called on Friday to let me know that it’s finally been released and I’m going tomorrow to look at it. Hopefully, I’ll find out if it’s repairable or not, and can start making decisions and getting help from the insurance. I’m missing my freedom a lot more now, but doing well to be keeping my schedule as normal as I can. I’m so grateful to my mum who’s managing to keep up with the absolute chaos of my lifestyle and help me out with lifts/ car swapping.
I’m still busier than I’d like to be at work, but I feel like I’m more settled into the chaos of juggling the jobs now. It’s coming up to exam time for my GCSE students and they’re definitely stressing out. Being able to share some of the mental health resources and stories from my own high school exam stresses, alongside their usual lesson materials, has been quite rewarding.
That said, I have a little academic stress going on at the minute with my masters. I just submitted an essay for my Tudor Gothic module and it was quite a conflicted experience. My usual fire and passion were smouldered more than usual. A difficult tutor experience was just one factor in my standard academic anxiety being foregrounded and interfering with the studying process. I found myself questioning everything I was writing, asking myself why I can’t use more sophisticated vocab and if the essay actually makes any sense at all.
After crying-breakdown number 43 of the week, I decided to sit with myself and think through what was going on. Why am I feeling so anxious about this essay in particular? In trying to answer this question, I found myself pondering on some wider questions that I’ve realised need working through. The question, why do I struggle so much in education, came up repeatedly and I found this to be a pretty fitting topic for exam season. Is this something you’ve felt before? Have you ever felt really overwhelmed in education, that you’re not good enough; or even worse, been told that by someone else?
I genuinely love learning and, contrary to popular belief (at least in the area I’m from) I think everybody loves to learn. What’s not to love?
Learning new things is a confidence boost, it widens your perspective on life, allows you to be more understanding of a wider range of people and it allows you to be more aware of yourself too. I think I love English Language and Lit because I absorb information better through analogies and stories, even if it’s a scientific theory. I love hearing about the humanity of people – especially academics or artists. I get butterflies when I learn new things and get super excited when I can see a link between two concepts I’ve studied. I’ve found strength and stability in learning and I truly believe that it’s the answer to a lot of problems in the world.
To be honest, I think that’s why I found myself teaching. Helping people to articulate their struggles, to recognise that other people have struggled in similar ways, and help them write their way to stability is so rewarding. I also love undoing the work of ignorant teachers who misuse or misunderstand their influence and obstruct people’s progress by telling them that they aren’t good enough.
So with all of this passion and excitement for education – why do I find myself struggling so much in my own studies?
I started off with plenty of reasons; from being stretched between three jobs to recently finding out that I’m dyslexic and dyspraxic. Even after addressing these, I could feel a bigger reason standing right behind me, waiting for me to notice it. I eventually turned around and found, Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is something that has haunted me for a long while and, most of the time, I try to background it in my thoughts. For those who don’t know- it’s the feeling of being an imposter in your field, soon to be found out for the absolute fraud you are and kicked out or ridiculed for it. It’s something that Amy Landino talks about in one of her more recent videos. I also talk about the issues of comparison and self-esteem in my earlier posts:
While it might have been brewing earlier, I realised my Imposter Syndrome most in uni. I’d feel unwelcome in the lecture hall, bumbling in with my notebook in a sea of MacBooks. I’d feel sure when writing essays (and sometimes when I’m writing to you guys) that I’m writing absolute s*** that no one will understand. Then, even when I’d get decent grades, I’d convince myself that it was a one-off, that I’d gotten lucky and my luck was about to run out. Seeing friends doing their thing and questioning how they were so naturally talented became ammo to fire at myself for not being good enough. It’s exhausting and anxiety-provoking to say the least. And It’s also illusory.
Everyone struggles, true, some more than others. But life is not effortless for anyone, despite how it looks.
If you’ve been feeling like an imposter lately, that you aren’t good enough or far ahead enough in life, I have some advice that I’m hoping to use for myself going forward.
1. Question your comparisons
As Mark Twain said: ‘comparison is the death of joy’. The reason comparing yourself to others is so dangerous is that we compare our very intimate, personal, and in-depth knowledge of ourselves to an extremely shallow, impressionable presentation of another person. We don’t have access to that other person, on their feelings of fulfilment and success- so don’t take things at face value. Before you start stomping on yourself because suchabody seems to have their life together, step back from it. Remember that we’re all on our own course and comparing to others just distracts you away from that.
2. Practice gratitude
Once you’ve redirected your gaze away from everyone else’s life, hone into your own. What is there in your life to be grateful for. Supportive relationships? A safe space to go back to at the end of the day? The resilience to keep going when things are difficult? Do you live close to any forests or the coast? Start small with your gratitude list, I always begin with delicious tea, safety, and my pets. Write, or think, for ten minutes and watch as your list slowly gets longer every time you try it.
3. Ask people what they think
If you can’t break out of that comparative thinking so easily, then lean into it. Ask the people who know you the best what they think of you. It can be quite surprising and refreshing to view yourself in a mirror untainted by self-doubt and distortion. When you find yourself falling back to self-doubt, reflect on those comments – you could even write a list!
4. Try something that you’re awful at
Imposter syndrome, I think, comes from a core belief that we aren’t good enough as we are. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again, you are enough right now. You are more than enough. But, it’s one thing me saying it, oh holy voice from the blog site, but it’s another for you to believe it.
To help you believe it, I’d recommend trying something that you’ve never done before, aren’t that interested to try, and/or would be pretty bad at. So if you can’t sing, try karaoke. If you’re not too sporty, book a tennis court with your mates. The beauty of this is that you have no expectations for yourself, other than that you’re going to be bad and the fact that it isn’t a competition completely dissolves the significance of that anyway. Try something that you would never do, be open with the people you’re doing it with, and just see how it goes. The value in this is, one, you make some absolutely hilarious memories and two, you give your brain a rest from comparisons. When you realise that you can function, and enjoy life, without the comparative voice-over in your head, it can be quite tempting to turn that voice off more often.
5. Invite your younger self to hang out
Whenever you’re in doubt, imagine that you’re hanging out with a younger version of yourself. They can be any age, but usually a child. Think of the kind of person you looked up to when you were that age, and what qualities you looked for. Then ask yourself, would little me enjoy my company?
Odds are that they would. I’m sure younger you won’t waddle out of the house in dungarees or Groovy Chick flares and ask you your credit score. Their gap-toothed smile wouldn’t sparkle when you tell them that you’ve just submitted a fantastic report. It would gleam at your kind personality. Those adorable freckles that you learned to hate will crunch up at your colourful outfits and confidence to wear them. Little you will feel safe in your company; as someone who has overcome the trauma that they’re going through or are yet to experience. They’ll feel comforted by your empathy and cackle at your humour.
Younger you would love you to bits. They would be excited to see you and would be proud of who you are. They’d also be confused and sad to hear that you’re doubting yourself, based on silly things.
What I’ve realised is that we can’t be an imposter in our own lives. The only way we can be an imposter is when we dump ourselves and try to imitate other people. Success and talent are so subjective and we place so much value on the validation of other people, hoping that they’ll tell us we’re good enough. Obviously, that’s the case to some degree in education – I’ll be hoping that my tutor will pass my paper and so her opinion has a lot of meaning to me. But really, in reality, her opinion is one of many. It’s one paper out of dozens I’ve written. And if it’s terrible, so be it, it’s one of a few and I’ll get over it. It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. It doesn’t mean that I’m stupid.
It’s the same for you – you do not need other people to validate your existence. Sure, it’s lovely getting compliments, but treat them like chocolate. They’re a sweet bonus to a healthy diet, but we can’t rely on them to survive. And, like sugar, external validation is addictive and can easily become unhealthy.
I hope that this helps you to address and understand your Imposter Syndrome a little more healthily. For those with academic pressure right now, it’s all about consistency. Take your time, chip away at your goals and remember that whatever the outcome- you are more than your academic/ financial/ social success.