In my last post I wrote about the many forms that my Ego can take, but the one that’s getting a lot of air-time in my head lately is the Imposter, as in Imposter Syndrome.
I get this one a lot actually.
For example, I am preparing for a big piece of litigation this winter. It’s heavy, with many people’s fate in the balance, and it could go in many directions.
The truth is that I have a great deal of experience in this arena, having served as a Public Defender trial lawyer for nearly 25 years. I am very well prepared, I know this case intimately, I have a theory and strategy that I believe can be successful, and I have support from a great clerk and the rest of my office. I am very good at this.
I also have this very intense sense that I don’t actually know what I am doing; that I am going to screw the whole thing up; and that it will be clear to everyone in the aftermath what a fraud and imposter I have been all these years. Lives will be ruined. Injustice will be done. And it will all be my fault.
Ouch. It actually hurt to write that out. As in, I literally winced. Ouch.
I don’t like to see these thoughts set free in the world!
Indeed, the Imposter, greatly prefers, and even demands, that I never tell anyone my fears, that I keep them all to myself in the dark and shadowy recesses of my mind, and that I put up the very convincing and confidence-inspiring front of which I am so very capable.
How unfair is that! My Imposter is convinced that he is no imposter at all when it comes to putting up a good front! That’s one of his favorite tools!
The Imposter whispers to me the oldest stories: don’t admit you are afraid. Don’t tell them you are waking up anxious in the middle of the night. Don’t tell them about the procrastination and the distraction, about the very strong desire you have to numb out and not feel anything at all rather than this painful discomfort of fear and lack of confidence.
The truth is I have experienced this Ego manifestation throughout my life.
Whether it was swimming in the state championships, or playing the lead in a play, or appearing before the Court of Appeals, or bringing home a brand new baby daughter with my wife from the hospital 18 years ago.
(Flashback to August 2001: I am outside the hospital at the car installing the baby seat, thinking the whole time, You Can NOT BE Serious! You’re just going to let us take this baby HOME??? WTF!!! We seriously have NO IDEA what we are doing! HELP!!!)
In the sweetest of ironies, it turns out that for me the Imposter persona is itself an Imposter.
Imposter Dave pretends to be real, to be a manifestation of my human limitations, an expression of my humility, and even an adversary of my narcissist tendencies.
Yet, Imposter Dave is really just my Shadow in disguise, which is to say my most deeply held belief, the one I hide away and pretend is not there.
My shadow belief tells me that I am not good enough, that I Don’t Have What It Takes, and that nothing I do will ever make any difference in the world.
In the public defender world this shadow belief often manifests in the form of Burnout, when I start to believe the story that all of my hard work is not making any difference, that I may in fact be a part of the problem, instead of a part of the solution.
Ouch. There it is again. It hurts to write that out, even though I have a lot of practice in identifying my shadow after 9 years of sitting in ManKind Project circles.
And yet perhaps the most important thing I have learned in doing Men’s Work with The ManKind Project is that I am Not Alone.
Indeed, I would estimate that about 80% of the men I talk to in various circles have this very same belief. It’s ubiquitous!
(For those wondering, the other 20% seem to have the narcissist shadow, that they are The One Who Can Solve Everything, so Get Out of the Way. We could debate, but IMHO it’s hard to say which one is harder to deal with.)
The very good news is that both of these shadows are simply beliefs, not data. They not True in any real sense. They are stories we tell ourselves, that I have told myself, for a very long time.
In my next post I will dig deeper into Imposter Syndrome and some ways to address it. In the meantime if you have some ideas on this juicy topic, please write me and I will include them (with permission) in my next post!