Hello, my name is Mel and I am an imposter.
While there are many things I don’t know how to do, I do know how to be an imposter—in fact, I’ve identified at least four ways to be one. I’ve been the naïve imposter, the secret imposter, the unbothered imposter, and the fearful imposter. What I’ve learned is pretty surprising: Becoming an expert in being an imposter can enhance your life as a multipotentialite, once you decouple it from your sense of self-worth and the fear of being found out. Here’s how I got there.
The Naïve Impostor
I almost failed kindergarten. That’s pretty hard to do, and yet I got fairly close until my parents insisted on getting me tested for what we call “exceptionalities” in Ontario. Apparently the results of my tests didn’t mean that I needed to repeat kindergarten—they meant that I should skip a grade. So I started Grade 1 in the middle of the year, as an imposter. I was a year younger than everyone and had never sat at a desk all day. Students spoke a level of French that was beyond me, and I had no friends.
The advantage of being an imposter so young was that I still had high self-esteem. It didn’t occur to me that being an imposter was something to be ashamed of. In fact, I thought it was kind of cool. There I was in a totally foreign environment that could give me endless learning opportunities…and new friends!
I passed Grade 1.
As a multipotentialite, can you think of a time when you forgot to be scared of being an imposter? Maybe you were so happy to be there, completely absorbed in learning something new, that you didn’t feel self-judgement holding you back. What did you learn? How did you flourish in that judgement-free zone?
The Secret Impostor
After managing to pass Grades 1-11, I won a scholarship to a prestigious private school. The scholarship was meant for a Grade 9 student, but they awarded it to me even though I was entering Grade 12. Right off the bat, imposter. This scholarship was to help increase the diversity of the school population (I’ll let you guess what that means), so it was also sort of a secret. I don’t remember thinking it was a particularly oppressive secret because it was so obvious to me that I was different from my classmates. If I accepted the scholarship, I knew I would have to accept being an imposter.
On “grub days” when we didn’t have to wear our school uniform, I wore clothes from BiWay, which is very generously described as a “chain discount store that sold surplus goods from other well-known brands”. While my classmates spent time at the local country club or visited each other’s cottages in Muskoka, I did my homework at home. Everyone was nice to me at school, but I didn’t make a lot of deep friendships. Although we took the same classes, our lives were so different after hours.
The Unbothered Impostor
At that time, if anyone were to tell me that I didn’t belong at that school, I would have said, “of course I don’t!” and laughed hysterically at the implication that I didn’t already feel like an imposter every single day. It never occurred to me to try to feel differently, because there were social and economic factors outside of my control that contributed to my status as an imposter. It wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t feel burdened with the responsibility to change it.
When I graduated from that school, I won the award for the Most Outstanding Contribution to the School. I was so surprised that I missed hearing why I won the award. The announcer said the name of the award and described why the winner had won it before they said my name, so I stopped listening (and my parents stopped recording the ceremony on their video camera) because I guess both my family and I didn’t think they could possibly be talking about me.
Like the naïve imposter I was in kindergarten, at that private school I was too busy learning to fear being an imposter. (Unlike in kindergarten, I had So. Much. Homework!) As a secret imposter, I also got the benefit of not having a harsh spotlight trained onto my lack of credentials. My school did a great job of giving me the resources to masquerade among my classmates as an equal, even though I secretly knew I didn’t belong there.
Have you ever embraced a multipotentialite pursuit as a secret or unbothered imposter? Did you ever chuckle to yourself thinking, If only they knew! while grabbing the chance to pursue a multipotentialite dream that shouldn’t be possible for someone like you? What were the risks? What were the rewards?
The Fearful Impostor
Now don’t get me wrong – I have also struggled with the fear of being an imposter many times, especially in my dance career. My passion for dance has given me leadership and teaching opportunities before some people believe I am qualified, so I used to experience imposter syndrome every time someone questioned my lack of dance credentials.
A few years into grad school, I was chosen to create a new university varsity dance team. I was thrilled! That was, until I overheard a dancer in the bathroom mocking my lack of credentials. She loudly exclaimed how ridiculous it was that I had been chosen to be in charge, when it was clear that everyone else had been dancing for longer and at a higher level than I had. I don’t remember much after that moment, besides wanting to crawl in a hole and perish.
Impostor Syndrome makes us afraid of being found out
Imposter syndrome makes us more – not less – anxious every time we experience success.
Let me say that again.
When we experience imposter syndrome, experiencing success does not make us feel better.
Instead, success feels like a ticking time bomb – each success counts down to the GAME OVER! when someone realizes that we are not actually responsible for anything good that’s happened to us. It’s always luck or someone being nice to us that gets the credit for our success.
Imposter syndrome can make you a very popular person – everyone gets credited in your highlight reel of multipotentialite successes. It can also keep you humble – you recognize how much you don’t know and still have to learn. But it can be dangerous, too.
Imposter syndrome has made me question where I belong, and what value I offer to the world. Has the fear of being found out ever spoiled the celebration of your multipotentialite journey?
Defeat Impostor Syndrome by accepting it
So one day, I just stopped trying not to be an imposter. I thought back to my early years, when being accused of being an imposter would not phase me because I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t realize it was something to be ashamed of.
I reflected on my high school days, when being an imposter was irrelevant. The truth was that I did not belong there, but it didn’t matter. I let other people carry the burden of “keeping the secret” of my imposter status while I just got to work.
When I consider my dance career, fearing being found out as an imposter had some benefits – I put in countless hours of practice to make up for the dance training I missed as a child – but also came at a steep cost to my mental health. I hated living in fear that someone, somewhere in my future would bring up the receipts of what I hadn’t done to deserve what I had now.
So I stopped trying to outrun my identity as an imposter. I learned to embrace it by detaching the imposter identity from my sense of self-worth.
When someone tells me I don’t belong in a new multipotentialite pursuit, I agree! I also don’t leave. I’m too busy getting to know the lay of the land as a newcomer. When I begin to suspect that my contribution to a multipotentialite goal is smaller than I hoped, I laugh! This confirms that I am, in fact, still human, and need to stay in relationship with other humans if I ever hope to see my goals come to fruition.
So hello, my name is Mel and I am an imposter. Who are you?
As a multipotentialite, have you struggled with imposter syndrome? Do you resist or embrace the label of imposter?