Imposter Syndrome

In Become What You Are, a collection of essays by the writer and theologian Alan Watts, he writes, “Self-consciousness is a stoppage because it is like interrupting a song after every note so as to listen to the echo and then feeling irritated because of the loss of rhythm.”

Left unchecked, self-consciousness leads to self-doubt, which in turn can evolve into imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a story we tell ourselves about how we don’t belong, because we’re not qualified or good enough. It’s such a common phenomenon because there’s often a kernel of truth to the feeling. All personal growth comes from reaching beyond what we’ve previously done, which means there is initially an element of faking it till you make it whenever we embark on something new.

In other words, feeling like an imposter is often the prerequisite to doing great work. And it can even persist long after we’ve accomplished something amazing.

Neil Gaiman tells a story about meeting Neil Armstrong at a gathering of distinguished guests. Armstrong reportedly confided, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

If being the first man to walk on the moon isn’t enough to silence that self-doubt, then perhaps it’s a universal experience.

Because if even Neil Armstrong interrupted his song to listen to the echo, maybe we’re all just making up the music as we go along.


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