A while ago I participated in a training at work about setting goals and communicating with others, and one of the concepts they introduced to us was “The masks we wear.” The theory behind it is that we all suffer, to varying degrees, from something called Imposter Syndrome, and that we wear metaphorical masks to conceal who we really are out of fear that our true, inferior selves will be exposed to the world as a fraud.
I don’t know how that necessarily tied in with the training’s purpose of getting us to achieve goals or use our words to communicate with clients instead of strangling them, but that part resonated with me more than anything else in the program. Desperately trying to hide who I really am, and how I feel, and wearing “disguises” to do so? It’s like someone was able to peer into my mind and emotions and read them like a book. A book written by an illiterate with terrible handwriting and is coming apart at the spine, but a book nonetheless.
I’ve more or less been aware of this concept for all my life because I’ve been actively engaging in it for about that long, only I’ve never assigned a name to it or thought of it in terms of wearing a mask. I’ve more identified it as “I’m a thousand different people from one day to the next, I can change.” But masks work well too. A different mask each for being at home, with my family, at work, with friends, socializing with strangers, in an academic setting, dealing with various anxieties and nervousness, etc. You name it, I have something for it. The masks are worn for self-preservation, so that I can get through the day in various settings without getting yelled at. The masks help me fit in, so that I am not perceived as an anti-social freak. In rare instances, the masks even allow me to achieve and succeed; to do well and excel.
For a long while, I was able to wear them all seamlessly to get through any situation. This gave me confidence in what I was able to achieve and what I thought I was capable of. My college degree says I’m smart and good accounting! I am capable of holding conversation in polite company! I am useful around the house! I can keep myself together in situations when I absolutely need to and avoid mentally unraveling in the face of uncertainty! I have the confidence to take on anything and kick ass while I do it!
Recently though, it’s felt like the masks I wear don’t fit as well as they used to and that I’m being exposed for what I really am. I feel like I’m terrible at my job and accounting in general, and I question how I will be able to continue in this career field. I feel more withdrawn and wanting to just stay in on weekends. I am actually stupid and of no use around the house because I’m incapable of completing basic tasks. And mental unraveling? Buddy, I have a whole pile of tangled yarn that’s fallen from the spool to show you how incapable I am of keeping things together. I have no confidence in anything I do for various reasons; fear of screwing up, fear of being caught screwing up and yelled at, fear of what will happen to me as a result and what others will think. And if I can see these things, there’s no way everyone else is blind to them. It’s clear as day, my masks all scattered on the floor and out there in the open for everyone to see as I desperately try to cradle the remaining ones in my arms from dropping.
But while it’s easy to have these harrowing and desperate feelings and thoughts about your legitimacy consume you, it’s important to remember that while you may think you’re an imposter… you’re really not. Think of where you are and how you got here. You completed school because you had equal parts brains and ambition to complete your program. You earned the position at your job through hard work and demonstrating capability and willingness to learn in order to continue succeeding in your career. There are people in your life who love and care about you and all it takes is just to reach out when you’re feeling down in the dumps or your problems start to feel like they’re too much to bear. You can make that to-do list your bitch.
Despite what you think, you didn’t “fake” anything to make it where you are. You accomplished everything you needed to get to this point, and getting stuck in a temporary rut is no reason to think everything you did before wasn’t legitimate and that you can’t do what it takes to move forward. I struggle mightily with trying to think in a positive frame, but that actually highlights a very important point: all those feelings are in your head. They are self-inflicted and the only thing keeping yourself down is yourself. You’re holding yourself underwater, but thinking of yourself in a more positive light will help lighten the pressure and bring you back up to the air. Nobody else is telling you you’re a fraud, or that you’re an idiot, or that you suck. When your mind is caught in a seemingly never-ending wave of negativity, it can really seem like it. It’s quite likely that constructive criticism is being offered to you, and that you can use it to improve yourself or better your situation. But if someone’s being a jackass and shitting on you for no reason, then cut that loser out of your life because you don’t need that.
Did you know that this feeling of Imposter Syndrome isn’t unique to you either? There’s a whole network of people out there with this same feeling, and a good percentage of them likely don’t know there are others out there either. Having this understanding, at the very least, is a big step towards alleviating these feelings. Despite what you might see on the news, the entire world can’t be made up of frauds. That’s partly what inspired this whole spiel, and hopefully it can be used it as a connection for others who feel this way.
It’s hard to believe this when you’re caught in the thick of those hazy self-defeating thoughts, but somewhere in that fog is a light that’ll guide you to show who you really are—a bright, fun, happy individual who has accomplished great things and is capable of doing even more in whatever it is you want to do. No masks, no bullshit. You’re not a fake, and that’s the realest.