Impostor Syndrome vs. Putting Your Damn Self Out There

Spoiler alert: it’s hard.

I am a Blog Neglecter, so having an excuse to write something here is akin to a sigh of relief. My life is not so interesting lately in a way that lends itself to blog posts; rather, I’ve got a lot going on in the background that’s not ready to see the light of day just yet. But I’ve got some thoughts that I think should make it out of my head, and maybe they’re (cringe) worth reading by real people. Who knows.

The following are some thoughts after attending #YouGotThisConf, a conference in London geared toward early career developers. This is less a blog post about the conference and more a musing about my personal experience there and how it brought other parts of my life into a different perspective. So, just in case, before anyone potentially reading this goes any further: this is just a personal rambling. If you’re expecting profound insights or recaps, this is not a blog post for you. I did intend for this to be a bit more profound and insightful, but this is what I got instead. Shrug. It’s important for me to get it out all the same.

Anyway. The time for warning has passed.

I almost didn’t go to this conference, to be honest. I’d had half a panic attack about it the day before, even. I was feeling burnt out, down about my freelance work and my worth as a human being, and just not feeling up to spending a whole day in a venue full of people I don’t know. I spend my whole week talking to people as part of my day job, which makes weekends for silence and introverting. And yet I was going to willingly give that up on a half-planned solo trip to a city I’d never been to in order to go, what, network? Ridiculous.

This may have a direct correlation to the amount of cloudy days in a row I’ve been experiencing so far this year, because I’m usually quite a bit more adventurous than that makes it out to be, and had been very enthusiastic about the conference weeks earlier. But anyway, I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and discouraged, and almost stayed home.

But I didn’t, because I am a practical human way down in my heart somewhere, and wasting the already purchased hotel room and flight tickets is not the kind of thing a practical person does. So away I went, and the world didn’t end. In fact, I saw real, unfiltered sunlight for the first time in weeks, which just proves it was a good idea after all. After walking halfway across the city from the bus station to my hotel just to spend more time out in the sun, I had already started to feel more like a person.

But as the day of the conference dawned, I was getting a little nervous. Let’s preface this part by saying that I am not good at people. I tend to treat new friends like people I’ve known for ten years, and that’s off-putting for some. Especially because most of the time I end up telling wildly embarrassing stories about my life without prompting (my dinner pals probably picked up on that – I didn’t even have a lot to drink, that’s just what I’m like), and that can get super weird for some people. I have no shame about my weird past, but I can understand how it can get to be too much information. And I know that I do this, so I generally stay quiet until people approach me or if I have a question.

And there’s something to be said about the atmosphere of this conference that I felt so comfortable that I actually ended up making friends (I hope?). And that’s this:

I was treated as an industry professional from the moment I walked in the door. This, a conference for people at the beginning of their careers, a time at which people are not afforded much respect, trust, or consideration. Even more surprising, there was no perceptible change in demeanor towards me upon people finding out that I don’t currently work in development. I was treated as though I was worthy of being there no matter what.

This does not happen at my current job.

I expected at least a few raised brows because I currently teach English to adults at different offices around the city, a far cry from the development career I had been going for when I first arrived. And even though I am more than qualified to be doing this job – besides being damn good at it most of the time – the majority of reactions to me in the classroom range from barely disguised skepticism to open scorn. And maybe it’s the culture here, and maybe it’s because some of my students are old enough to be my parents, but a worryingly high number of my clients don’t actually seem to view me as a professional, so I waste tons of valuable time trying to gain approval that I don’t or shouldn’t actually need. The attitude toward me is that I am young, naïve, and replaceable. For the most part, I am not seen as a professional worthy of respect.

Hellooo, road to burnout.

But that’s not what this blog post is about.

Turns out, being seen as a person who inherently deserved to be there was a really unexpected situation for me. And realizing that now, with the weight partially lifted off my shoulders before it settles back in again, I’m looking back and wondering how I’ve been surviving otherwise all this time. Like when you finally start to see signs of the weather getting warmer after a long winter and you wonder if you’ve forgotten what the spring wind smells like.

Like, who would have thought that there are people out there who are just going to support you even though they don’t really even know you? Are we from the same universe? Am I hanging around the wrong people? How do I get on your level? I have so many questions.

Now that my cloak of cynicism is wrapping itself back around my shoulders since coming back home (thanks, clouds), looking back at this whole weekend feels like a fever dream. Too good to be true, and too bizarre in comparison to my “real life” that it doesn’t make any sense to me that the good feelings and experiences should continue.

And that, my friends, is what we call impostor syndrome!

That’s another takeaway from the whole experience, is that this feeling runs. My. Life. (And like, there are reasons for that which I don’t need to get into – I only discuss personal traumas face to face apparently, thank you very much.) My brain will do something like, oh, you don’t deserve these cool new friends – obviously they were just being polite to get through the day. And sometimes my perceptions will reflect that – something as simple as an unanswered call is enough for that part of my brain to take the victory. And I know logically that people are busy and do not have time for a simple drop in just to say hi. But wounded panic brain doesn’t give a single shit. So I retreat with my hurt, and stop trying.

And I continue to live in my blanket burrito where it’s safe.

Have you ever gone to meet with someone, only to have them show up late? Oh boy, does panic brain love that. Five minutes and my chest would get tight – maybe they don’t even want to meet up but were just being polite, maybe they’re just not coming on purpose to be mean to me, and I deserve it too because I’m a terrible human being. The mental tirade could last for ages, a great mess of a downward spiral as other feelings of general inadequacy would start to pile up, other little disappointments that had popped up over the past few months that I thought had been buried or dealt with. And of course, it would always turn out to be something far more mundane like traffic, and they would show up in a rush of apologies and everything would be fine.

To be fair to my own self, I’ve come a long way since these spirals were commonplace for me. A loooong way. But I’m still not perfect. Panic brain loves to drive.

One time I was buying a yearlong roundtrip plane ticket for university – September to May, for the school year. The confirmation stated September 2015 – May 2015.

Panic brain started off with, “What a fucking idiot you are, you bought the wrong ticket!” A side of perfectionism there to keep things interesting.

Logic brain slowly woke up with, “Excuse me, what? You can’t even do that.” And I called the airline to fix it, and five minutes later everything was fine. Problem solved!

For the astute among you, I assume you picked it out right away: you can’t just buy a plane ticket into the past like that.

Unfortunately for me, panic has become integral to the process. It doesn’t have to be long or dramatic anymore, though it sometimes does happen still. I have longer periods of time in between each one. More often nowadays it’s just a little thing: that quick heart-drops-to-your-stomach feeling is now the thing that signals the rest of my brain to wake the hell up and get to work, because we’ve just landed in some serious (or not-so-serious, as the case may be) shit.

I am held together by sweaters and stress.

I absolutely do have the tools to deal with this, and there were many talks given during the conference that point to other solutions I hadn’t before considered very closely, if at all. Simply put, there is more work to be done.

In happy news, since if anyone’s read this far they deserve something nice, I did have a truly wonderful time on the trip. I met some lovely people who I hope to keep in contact with (panic brain whispers not to hold my breath, though. Just a whisper), because I had some genuinely fun and intellectually stimulating conversations. Which is something I’ve been missing a lot the past few years – my job doesn’t exactly lend itself well to that sort of thing. And oh my stars did I miss it – I didn’t even realize until about halfway through the day that I was actually enjoying myself. The people and the conversation were a delight, and that’ll stay with me for a while.

And finally, I’m a fair bit more set in my goals now. I know I didn’t post any of those good ol’ resolutions this year (re: blog neglect), but I have them written down somewhere secret, and I know where I’m heading. The winter will be spent on creating a foundational action plan and putting the pieces into place, while spring will see me step a bit away from teaching in favor of making time for a new role. The summer is fuzzy, and will remain that way until I discover a way to see the future, but I’m okay with it because if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life it’s that weird things just happen sometimes. Trying to pin down a timeline with more precision is willfully ignoring that setbacks occur, and if I’m to try to worm my way out of semi-perpetual panic mode, I have to be as prepared as possible for things not to work out the way I envision. But by the end of the year, with any luck, I’ll be making websites for people on a regular basis. Freelance or day job? Again, fuzzy.

As I try to be with all things, I can at least say this: I’m simply open to opportunities that may come my way. I might end up doing something completely different than I would have ever thought possible. It’s happened before – I spent most of university scoffing at people who asked me if I was going to use my language degree to teach, after all. Joke’s on me, I guess.

Til soon,

– Me

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