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How I overcame Imposter Syndrome

Only my wife knows that I have it and even she thinks that it’s probably not there. Which can only mean that I’m a bigger fraud than I think I am.

Now that the irony of that statement is out of the way let’s get to the real task.

For those who aren’t aware of what Imposter Syndrome means, I’ll try to explain it in simpler terms.

Imposter Syndrome is basically that tiny voice in your head that keeps telling you that you’re not good enough and that you’re a fraud and one day (or may be very soon), people will know that you’re a fraud and your entire world will come crumbling down. It’s basically a very crippling feeling and brings with it a lot of mental barriers.

You can read more about it here.

So, when did my struggle with it start?

How I overcame Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome

Let's start from the beginning

I can’t really pinpoint but it was sometime around my engineering days. It wasn’t so much to do with engineering actually. In that department I knew I was a fraud, and I was quite open about it with everyone. It was more to do with my hidden creative aspirations. Growing up, I’d been a crazy movie and television buff and let’s just say that it wasn’t an ordinary obsession (at least that’s how I feel).

So, naturally I was inclined towards some of the more creative things going on in my college. I saw people (my friends actually) dancing, putting up skits or street plays and felt like I can contribute to it. But something happened. Every creative thought in my head was suppressed by this other voice that said that it was stupid, that people will laugh at it. That there are people who can do this better than me.

I gave up the thought then thinking it was my introvert nature that restricted me from approaching them. But the feeling persisted even after I finished engineering and joined a software company.

Me, a Writer?

So, I did what most introverted kids with Imposter Syndrome do. I became a closeted writer / creator. I wrote poems and dreamt of stories that I will one day convert into a movie. It took me a year to show my work to even my closest friend at the time (that I thought could be more than a friend). She liked them. But there was never any constructive feedback (although, I’m not sure whether I would have continued writing if I’d received any).

And even then, I felt that it wasn’t good enough. I used to get embarrassed every time another friend got to know about my so called ‘hidden talent’. For my friends it was always a natural extension of my movie craze. Never something that could or should be pursued as a career.

"Changing My Line"

So, it was something of a shock for people when I decided to go for higher studies that would help me pursue a more creative career. Even though my family was always supportive, but my extended family and a few friends kept asking me the reason behind leaving a cool software job and “changing my line”. Yes, ‘changing my line’, that’s how it was spoken of. Sometimes on my face and sometimes behind my back but always within earshot.

My Imposter Syndrome was at its peak when I was preparing to secure an admission for my higher studies. I was jittery. There was constant fear and doubt. I don’t know how I did it, but I took that fear and doubt as a sign that I was doing something that I actually wanted to do and that I’ll just have to work with it for the time being.

I got through the institute.

The high that I received after getting into the institute easily melted away when I met 159 of my other batchmates and another 160 of my seniors – some of whom were younger and still more experienced in the field. The fear and doubt crept in once again. But this time it was different. I knew how to channelize that fear. I knew how to live with that tiny voice in my head. I knew I just had to work through it. And so, I took on the most daring task (at the time for me) of writing and directing a stage play. I managed to convince 2 of my friends to act in it and we set about achieving the impossible.

Cutting the long story short, even with all the ups and downs, the play was well received. Heck, I’ll just say it. It received a standing ovation. There’s one upside of Imposter Syndrome. It makes you give your absolute best when presented with a situation where you think your fraud will be exposed.

Riding the Egomania

For the next 2 years I was riding on egomania.

Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier. The imposter syndrome from time to time also brings egomania.

I’ll let Tina Fey explain this to you.

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ . . . just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”

That’s what I did (even without knowing I had Imposter Syndrome and without knowing who Tina Fey was back then. Yes, I was ignorant), I rode the egomania for the next 2 years until I once again entered the corporate world.

The stakes were much higher. I was no longer a small fish in a pond. I was now a small fish in an ocean. I was working for a broadcasting network that had employees creating content for a living. Until a few years ago, this had felt like something that I only aspired to do. Now, that I was a part of it, I wanted the earth to split and take me in. I was working with stars that I’d seen on TV and movies.

And the fraud is back

The egomania was officially over, and the fraudster was back.

So much so that this time it was even more crippling. I was invited to fancy parties at 5-star hotels that was filled with the biggest stars of the industry. Never before in my life I had felt so out of place. The voice in my head kept telling me that I didn’t belong there. That I’ll be happy in that 1 BHK chawl I grew up in. That I'm Average and I'll always be one.

I started despising all the fancy stuff that I came across. I now preferred the regular Indian cuisine over the more costly Intercontinental offered in big hotels. I travelled by local trains as opposed to an Uber. I overworked and overcompensated for the next 3 years, and it eventually took a toll on my body. And that’s when I realized that there was something wrong with me.

See, the thing is, most South Asians don’t go for therapy. So, I did the next best thing. I Googled. My education and my privilege allowed me to understand that the little voice in my head is called Imposter Syndrome. I finally knew it had a name for it and had all the information in the world at my disposal to deal with it.

It's Ok Yaar

Completely different set of circumstances led me to quit my job and leave my country to move to the US - a country where people openly talk about their mental health issues. After moving here, I realized that the Imposter Syndrome is quite common. I now also had a lot of information at my disposal and a loving wife who gave me the validation I needed (but didn’t ask for) during my low days.

I have my fears and doubts much under control now. But it visits me from time to time. It’s probably the reason why I’ve never made a single Instagram post from my profile (well, there’s one actually). I have a ghost writer page where I publish some of my work. But it’s fine, I guess.

As I write this, I’ve taken up a massive challenge of starting something of my own. Some days are great, and some aren’t. But like we say, “It’s Ok Yaar”.

But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I’m exactly at the place I deserve to be and have achieved everything that I have because I deserve it.

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