I’ve always wanted to be Helen Mirren when I grew up. She’s a walking cloud of sophistication bundled up in white-haired gorgeousness. She could win a beauty contest with twenty-year-old women with her eyes shut and un-mascaraed. She characterises all that’s exquisite about ageing, and that’s because of her obvious go-to-hell attitude. She fits more comfortably into her skin than just about anyone…
… Except Mirren has suffered from crippling self-doubt every day of her adult life—so much so that it used to give her panic attacks. Like most of us, she can write a list of body complaints that stretches all the way to the ceiling, and her doubts about her acting talent are just as damning.
All my life, I’ve looked to women like Mirren for my daily dose of “Not Good Enough.” I don’t have her go-to-hell attitude or Ms_Flynn’s ability to spend half the play party in her underwear. I feel self-conscious in half-naked rope and nervous about meeting strangers. One day, all my clients are going to figure out I’m not really a writer, you know, and then I’ll have to get a job clearing trash from pavements.
They say 70% of us have imposter syndrome. We’re all frauds. None of us quite belongs, and it’s said that our high expectations of ourselves are to blame for those insecurities. We see people like Mirren and decide they have powers they simply don’t. It’s easy to imagine perfection in others, and well-nigh impossible to imagine it in ourselves. We see our flaws close up, and we get plenty of time to study their ugliness. It’s not quite as easy to get to know the ugliness in others.
Imposter syndrome has an interesting side effect. Those who feel it most push themselves harder, so they often become less of an imposter than people who never had imposter syndrome to begin with. It fits into the Dunning-Kruger effect neat as a puzzle—those who can think they can’t, and those who can’t think they can.
In other words, your self-doubt is a sign that your insecurity is probably baseless. Think you’re bad at your job? Then odds are you aren’t. Think you have less talent than others in your field? Then you will eventually have more of it than they do. It’s enough to send your brain into a feedback loop from hell.
We can hardly doubt ourselves into curvier hips or bluer eyes, but Mirren teaches me all I need to know about that. As the primary resident of this body, I see my flaws all day every day, and nobody else will ever get this close up. I look at myself with a figurative magnifying glass, and then I attach all my self-worth to the things I see. When I look at others, I focus on their beauty, and therein lies the problem.
I’m not an imposter. Nor are you. We’re all just beautifully imperfect people trying to make our way through a world of self-doubt. And insecurity doesn’t have enough logic to pass fifth-grade math.