While weeding at the allotment the other evening I spotted a lovely black and red moth… it turns out to be a Cinnabar Moth. Its main food is ragwort and to my knowledge there isn’t any ragwort at the allotment, so what is the moth doing there?
Sometimes we too are out of place. It is at those moments that imposter feelings can strike. Feeling inadequate, wondering whether we will be found out to be a fraud, or whether we are good enough to be in the position we find ourselves in. Reactions to those feelings vary; some people (often men) tell me that they think everyone feels like that, so they just “get on with it”. Others worry about their situation, and for some this worry can turn into extreme forms of anxiety. If this is you, the charity Anxiety UK can be of great help, see: www.anxietyuk.org.uk. While for others it can result in perfectionist tendencies, and/or periods of procrastination.
But when do we learn the imposter patterns of behaviour and thinking?
For some it can be as a child, having an over-critical parent (whose best intentions is to encourage their child, but the feeling of nothing being quite good enough can be the result). Or it might be a parent who tells the child they are perfect, just as they are, and that no matter what, they cannot fail. Which when the real adult world hits, can be detrimental as the child in question may not have built up any resilience to experiencing failure, so when it happens it is put down to an internal failing, rather than external circumstances.
Other times, it can be from the school system. I was recently invited to be a speaker on the imposter syndrome at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. During one of my workshops we had a good discussion about giving feedback. The structure of “what went well; even better if” seems to be a great structure, something positive to use while always giving some encouragement to improve. But therein lies the problem. If this structure is used ALL of the time, when is good enough, going to be good enough? When will the child’s best effort be ok? If this structure if isn’t sometimes balanced with “good job, well done” or “great work on the way you presented XYZ” it can have the same effect as the hypercritical parent. Nothing is ever quite good enough, ergo the child isn’t quite good enough either. (I know it is illogical thinking, but imposter feelings are not about logic!).
So if you are giving feedback, whether to an adult or a child, let them know when good enough is good enough. Perfection is unattainable, but being good enough is — and that’s no bad thing. We can still strive for more, but if we don’t achieve it, please give us some encouragement, or reassurance that we are ok as we are, and don’t have to be perfect!