Once in a while, not a long while, but a short while, I feel completely outpaced by those around me. I look around and realize that I am unqualified to breathe the same air as others. (Basically, the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect we see playing out in national politics.) Don’t bother arguing with “We are all equal” and “You’re underselling yourself” and all that. I know I’m correct in my feeling of worthlessness and I just want to wallow in it. So there. Maybe it comes from shyness. Maybe it’s rooted in constant comparison to others as a child. It doesn’t matter, really. It’s there, it exists, and I’m dealing.
In the past, that feeling might have talked me out of participation. But what I’ve done more recently is give the other party an out. Just today I wrote an email that included, “I truly don’t feel qualified to be seated on a panel with these two people!” What’s the goal with a comment like that? To have the organizer say, “You’re right, I rescind the invitation”? Because I’d be pissed; the sitter is already booked. I think that it’s a signal to the other end of the email exchange that I know what I suspect they know: I’m not as (smart, qualified, accomplished, talented, professional) as the others. It’s a warped humility. A grownup version of “These jeans make me look fat.” It’s a hope that you’ll be disputed and reassured. It’s fishing for compliments. Ick. I need to stop that.
With another “I’m a total fraud” event coming up this week, I was heartened by a Neil Gaiman post about Impostor Syndrome. Besides recommending Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, which deals with feeling like an impostor, Gaiman relates an anecdote about himself and an American hero both feeling like impostors despite storied and pages-long resumes. If Neil Gaiman feels like an impostor sometimes, I guess we all do. Maybe it’s even healthy to feel like we are the least qualified in a group on occasion as long as it doesn’t paralyze us into inaction. If so, I’m super healthy.