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  • Ninay Desai

Rising above Imposter Syndrome

This website, Tamed by the Fox, completed a year last week. It’s been both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Harder because I’d thought it would involve only writing posts and uploading them. How naïve was I! Had someone told me, a year ago, that I’d need to learn about SEO, create sitemaps, design promos and generally be solely responsible for the all the little things that fall under the umbrella of site upkeep in addition to writing, I would’ve taken off for the hills.


Against a pitch black backdrop stands a man in a dark hoodie, half in shadow. He holds up a white mask which covers half his face concentrating the focus on the piercing expression in his eyes. In the context of this post, he signifies how it feels to suffer from imposter syndrome. Photo by Sander Sammy.

Learning on the job and applying my new-found knowledge challenged me and yet it was easier than I imagined. Easier because I’m doing something that I previously believed myself to be incapable of. Could I do better? Of course, but the fact that I’m still here, after what has been a steep learning curve, is a personal victory against procrastination, self-doubt and indiscipline.


It hasn’t been a breeze though. I suffer from imposter syndrome, believing myself to be less capable than others consider me. Imposter syndrome is a strange thing. It makes you feel like a fake in spite of genuine achievements and abilities. In my case, these feelings tend to cluster around writing but I know that it can show up in several different contexts for other people such as work, relationships, fitness, etc.


It's natural to lack absolute objectivity regarding your own skillsets. Imposter syndrome, however, robs one of confidence in what one has already achieved, attributing it to luck, a lack of competition or some other external factor. I like to think of it as a kind of confidence dysmorphia. It clouds the perception of your own abilities, gnawing away at the connection between your hard work and the resulting accomplishment. 


Imposter syndrome is currently considered undiagnosable in medical circles. I realised that I suffered from it during a conversation with a friend a few years ago. This friend of mine is a poet amongst other things and is also extremely well-read. He told me about how he felt that his poetry was merely ornamental and not ‘good enough’ even though other people liked it. And that he felt like an imposter. For me, it was like looking in a mirror.


For days, I thought about that conversation and my own realisation. I concluded that imposter syndrome is a story we tell ourselves, falsely presuming our unworthiness. The way I see it, imposter syndrome is the mirror image of the ‘fake it till you make it’ credo, because it has you thinking that even though you’ve made it, you’re still faking it.


IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME DIFFERENT FROM SELF-DOUBT?


Self-doubt usually occurs before or during a task. Imposter syndrome hits us after achieving a target or even though we’re considered ‘good’ at something. Think of it as Self Doubt attending the after-party of your achievement and making snarky comments about how undeserving you are. It may seem counter-intuitive and frankly, like something that would be easy to dismiss. Yet, it persists.


Left unchecked, imposter syndrome can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy if it is allowed to turn you away from a path you wish to pursue.


OVERCOMING IMPOSTER SYNDROME


Look, I’m no psychologist, (this is a verifiable fact, not just my self-doubt talking!) so you don’t need to trust me. But here’s how I deal with imposter syndrome.


THE LEARNER MINDSET


I cast aside all thoughts of being good at writing. I think of myself as someone who wants to learn and is willing to do the work. Having the mindset of a learner keeps away the pressure to always get things right while allowing you to grow.


TALK IT OUT


Speaking to my poet friend made me recognise my own problem. In advising him, I helped myself. The things I told him were what I needed to hear too. 


I asked him not to compare the first draft of his first work to Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This is the trouble with being well-read! It raises your expectations from yourself to unrealistic levels. It’s like expecting an amateur to play like Roger Federer on song at Wimbledon. Just not gonna happen!


LOOK BEYOND THE SPOTLIGHT


Remember that we see other people’s achievements but not the work that goes into them. The bad days when all of their ideas are miserable fails, the reworking, the research and the piles of thankless, monotonous work – we don’t see that. If we did, perhaps we would see that we aren’t dumb if we don’t just ‘get it’ in the first attempt. I remind myself that hard work is a symbol of drive and discipline, not a cancellation of all claims to talent.


Ability is a buildable trait and self-confidence certainly helps.


1% INSPIRATION, 99% PERSPIRATION


Oscar Wilde personifies my idea of effortless genius. I imagine him writing plays, short stories and essays while indulging in witty repartee all day long with the effortless effervescence of a butterfly. And yet, the truth is, he was fastidious about punctuation and grammar. Proofreading is not a task for butterflies, not matter how gifted. It requires the kind of painstaking checking and rechecking unsuited to the impatient. I recall an anecdote about Wilde being asked how he spent his day. He is reported to have said,

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again.”

This gives me hope each time I find myself stuck in a gyre of self-doubt. If you have similar feelings, tell yourself that just because you’re not as good as you would like to be, it doesn’t mean that you’re no good. And if you prefer to take advice only from artistic geniuses, then let me quote Vincent van Gogh. He said,

“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is grass in the beginning.”











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4 Comments


zafran9
Apr 21

Congratulations!! I have said this earlier you write well.. I enjoy reading the Blogs & Book Reviews by you.. keep at it !! 👏

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Apr 22
Replying to

Thank you for your encouragement. And thanks for being part of the Tamed by the Fox community.

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Raminder Singh Guraya
Raminder Singh Guraya
Apr 12

Every day you learn if you are willing to.. I did too. Fantastic 😊

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Apr 12
Replying to

Kudos to you and every learner out there! :-)

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