Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Joys of Imposter Syndrome

There is a scene from my first year of high school that I remember vividly. I was wearing an ill-fitting blue shirt from Express and a pair of Old Navy jeans. I was in the locker room, expected to change into athletic clothes for gym class. Badminton was on the schedule that day.

I slowly walked into a stall to change, but there were no curtains or doors. Everyone around me changed out in the open. I remember feeling dread and panic that I had never felt before. I had been in dancing school since I was 3, and we never had to change in front of each other. I guess we may have at recitals, but with leotards and tights, it was more graceful than changing all together in the locker room. I was staring at lady junk and it was super aggressive.

I didn’t have any friends in that class with me, so I was scared and ashamed. I hated myself so much and I did not want to DISROBE in front of these people I barely knew. These girls with their lack of shame and zero body issues!!! I couldn’t believe I was being put in this position, and that I was the way that I was.

From that day on, even when they stopped making us change for gym class because it was Everett High and they didn't care, I wore sweatpants nearly every day to school.

I’m not kidding. Once, we went to the beach on the last day of school and it was 101 degrees outside. I wore an oversized Gap sweatshirt and sweatpants. My friends made fun of me for years (it was even brought up recently.) I even met Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys during Backstreet’s prime (alright) and I was wearing the same outfit. My armor was men’s clothing from The Gap.

That was a long time ago, and I have grown a whole lot. Nowadays, there is a little less irrational fear and shame surrounding my body, but I still have insecurity issues. I notice that it comes out more often in the face of praise. I fold into myself and a little voice screams, "Deny! Deny! Deny!" that way I can never be exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome. It's all the rage these days.

I almost never feel like I belong or I deserve anything at all. Someone once told me that I was intimidating because I never spoke to them, and I literally didn't speak to them because I was shy and never thought anyone ever noticed me enough to care. One person accused me of actively leaving them out when I just didn't realize anyone wanted to be my friend. If I'm invited to something, I assume it's because someone is trying to be nice. I was even surprised when my BEST FRIEND asked me to be in her wedding. This is who I am.

It’s like I honestly believe that my true place in this world is alone in one of those wide open stalls in the high school gym locker room. I should always be in hiding and ashamed of who I am. And that sucks because I’m like really good at some things. There are a lot of wins that I should celebrate!

In my mind, when something good happens, it’s pure luck. When something bad happens, it all makes sense. There is a man who I was always really attracted to and eventually fell in love with. He told me that he was attracted to me the very first time he saw me and I never believed him. It wasn’t until he told me literally everything I was wearing, how my hair was done that day and recited the words that came out of my mouth (and I wasn't speaking to him) that I realized, “Wow, did I make an impression on him?”

It took a lot of self-discovery and convincing to believe that actually happened. That I was capable of attracting such an attractive man. That someone felt mutual feelings for me. But when he eventually stopped calling on me years later, I immediately understood. It made perfect sense to me. Like I had been waiting for it to happen for years. I almost felt relief. “Finally, now I don’t have to wait around to be told I’m actually NOT as interesting and attractive as he claimed!!! HA! I win!!!”

I feel that way about everything. When I receive good feedback, it feels like a mistake. When people like me, I don’t understand. I personally think I’m socially awkward and super weird… so, what are they even talking about? I am confident, and I’m proud of how I show up in life. I have worked quite hard to love myself for who I am. But I can’t seem to quiet that first feeling of shock.

How did I trick these people into liking me/my work?

When it all boils down to it, I do know. I know that I’m kind of funny and even mildly attractive. I work hard to maintain a positive attitude. I'm all about "bringing the joy." I go out of my way to make people feel calm and comfortable (which makes me a good HR person, or teacher, or facilitator.) I’m confident in my style, humor, looks, intelligence, all the things. There’s no reason to feel bad about anything, but sometimes I just can’t help it.

In fact, I am actually sort of glad that I still have that scared little teenager inside of me. That sounded gross, but you know what I mean. She keeps me humble. She keeps me working hard to overcompensate for what I think that I lack. She keeps me from ever making anyone else feel that way, and from ever feeling that way about myself again. I honestly think she keeps me curious about what is outside of my comfort zone and to be more afraid of staying within its limits than outside of it. Because when I’m constantly inside the limits of my comfort zone, I feel shame when I’m dragged out of it. If I actively pursue what’s outside of it on my own, then that’s empowering! Not shameful.

Getting through life with all its minefields of insecurities is a real pain in the dick. It’d be a whole lot easier if we could just learn to start believing people when they tell us what they feel about us. Whether it’s good or bad. And leave it as that. If we stop overthinking and disagreeing, then the conversation could end and we could all go on our merry ways.

For instance, when someone says, “I like your jacket” I could respond with a simple, “Thank you!” and move on with my life.

Instead of what happens now, which goes something like “Oh, thanks. It’s actually not a real leather jacket. It’s fake. And it’s ripped on the inside. Like my soul. Just kidding. It’s from Topshop! It’s like $80. You should get it! It feels real… feel it!”

The scene ends with a bewildered conversation partner… cautiously stroking my outstretched arm. Eyes widening in discomfort and slight horror. A bewildered Patty walking away, repeating the scene in her head, asking why she couldn’t be normal.

But I'll never be normal. I'll always be my crazy self who is playing out the most boring con of all time!

And since you made it this far, I gift you with a picture of me meeting Nick Carter in my outfit of shame. I'm pretty sure it's the only time in my life when feeling like I didn't matter to a person was the God's honest truth. I did not matter to Nick Carter outside of that Somerville apartment building where he was illegally getting a tattoo at 1am. That day, I was just a normal teenage girl who knew she was unattractive to a man who found her unattractive. And all was well.

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