A Millennial’s Guide to Imposter Syndrome

Gather round, little ones, it’s your dear old veteran Millennial here to give you my wise and sage advice on how to survive as an adult. (And by survive, I mean cry less and unironically use #tooblessedtobestressed in your Twitter bios, so your ex-boyfriend Scott thinks you are doing more with your life than binge drinking at the open bars at all the weddings you get pity invites to)

Just a little recap on what’s been going on in my life as of late:

  • I left my job because of the toxic work environment, and then my open position was offered to my shitty ex.

  • In the past six months, I have spent approximately 200+ hours generating free content so I can still get rejected by agencies who claim entry level positions call for over seven years of experience on an intern’s salary.

  • A former student of mine tried to blackmail me to change her grade, and when I refused, she attempted to slander my name and take away my identity as a successful black woman in academia.

  • I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck, grabbing every possible freelance gig I can get, while being told I should have thought about this when I decided to get a degree in English.

  • Barely made every deadline I’ve self-imposed on myself, and then self-imploded when staying up past two in the morning, vibrating from five hour energy drinks, and hallucinating little people running across my keyboard.

Is that list the penultimate list of events that describe my last few months? No. But if I wrote out all the smaller good moments then this would turn into the gratefulness journal my Co-Star app told me to make three weeks ago, after also sending me a notification to “stop shit talking.” It was a personal attack, but it needed to happen.

But, in all seriousness, in the past twelve months, I have struggled with a crippling sense of imposter syndrome. For those of you reading this who don’t know what that is, let me give you a terribly personal definition. Imposter syndrome is when you walk into a room you were invited in, and believe it was a mistake. It’s when you have a talent or skill you wholeheartedly believe in, and doubt how valuable it is to anyone else apart from you. It’s when you internally repeat the motto, “fake it til you make it” over and over like a prayer, because you truly think that you aren’t competent or qualified to take up the space you are in. I have been living in this form of purgatory from the moment I pulled into my college dorm parking lot.

I want to be a writer. And sometimes, recently more often than not, I can barely type out a few words without hitting the backspace like I imagine I will hit my morphine drip when I give birth. I read from other blogs, “literary masterpieces,” and even bullshit fortune cookies, and everything seems like a better string of words than I could ever put together. I get jealous that I didn’t come up with a storyline first. I hate myself for not having a larger arsenal of language, because I honestly see myself just spitting out the same thirteen words I remember from my sophomore vocab test. When I went through my first undergrad workshop, I wasn’t too unimpressed with myself. I had a nice portfolio of writing from high school and I genuinely wanted people who also loved writing to see how much effort I poured into these pieces. I will never forget the first response I got from my ENG 270 submission: “It sounds like you just used a thesaurus for every other word. I even copied and pasted one of your paragraphs into google because I wasn’t sure you actually wrote it.” This wasn’t a compliment. She never intended for it to be, despite smiling and brushing off her comment with a laugh and shrilly adding, “that’s because I like it!” Four years later, I would sit in my first graduate level workshop, where a woman, literally knitting a scarf during my discussion, would look up and tell my professor she had nothing good to say about my writing, because it was unoriginal, and that shows a lot about how shallow of a person I was. Then she continued to knit.

I have probably a hundred more instances in which someone in a class of mine would micro-aggressively imply I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was taking up space. Their space.

Sometimes I think back on those times nostalgically, because things haven’t really gotten much better in terms of how I see myself in other spheres, especially in a professional environment. When I first started working, I felt like every opportunity I got came from a weird domino-like fall. I wrote a letter to become our department’s ambassador, a girl quit in the office so I got to step in as an assistant, my supervisor knew the director and nominated for a peer tutor role, my boss’s wife saw me and offered me a TA job, the rhetoric director needed an immediate teacher and my contract was up that week so I jumped in. To most people who have worked with me, these look like a series of FORTUNATE events. So many of my peers would make jokes about how I was the luckiest person in the world. I always happened to be at the right place at the right time.

But, in actuality, I spent three weeks on my application letter and researched everything I could find about the department and their outreach programs. I would hang around the department office during my lunch and offered to pick up menial tasks and put in probably a hundred or more hours of free work so that when the assistant job was opened, I could go through and extensive interview process to then work in a role that paid less than minimum wage. I spent all of my free time running errands and taking on project tasks for everyone in the department, so when a tutoring job was available, the director knew I was passionate and reliable, despite being the youngest hire. I worked tirelessly to engage with my community and produce content and host events, and so many times my work was credited to someone else. But I know how much energy I gave to my hustle. I said yes to everything. I killed myself to get into every position I found myself in.

And now, it’s a little surreal to catalog everything here on this screen. When I graduated school, I entered into one of the most toxic work environments I could have imagined. And the tragedy of it was that it was the same place I had just given my early adult life to. The people I thought were family devolved into my worst critics. More than once, the word “disappointing” was used as a descriptor for me. I won’t get into too much detail, because this blog isn’t the space I care to give a voice over to those who have hurt me, but I will say this: they hurt me. I spent days on an edge of myself I don’t quite know how to explain. More than once, I wanted the noise and the pressure and the disappointment to stop. Whatever that may have meant to me at the time.

Those who were older than me continually made jokes at my expense. I was too young to know what an address book was. Well, Kathy, believe it or not, basic inventions like an address book have transferred over to my generation. It’s just on our phones, but convenience doesn’t take away from the concept. I was too impulsive. I put too much effort into my appearance (a real teacher doesn’t have time for that). My voice was too high. I made too many puns. I didn’t drink adult liqueur. My family traumas weren’t comparable to the established mother of two kids. And so on. I was not only being told that I didn’t belong, but that my age and my demeanor would always be in direct contrast to the people in my same circle.

I am young. My voice sounds like Kourtney Kardashian’s when she talks about her gluten-free diet. I have a 6-1 dress-pant ratio in my closet. I have been known to choose chicken tenders over a chop salad. And have no idea how a retirement plan works.

But something that a lot of people choose to leave out of these conversations is this: I identify with everything above and I STILL am at the table with everyone who criticizes those traits. I have been one of the youngest professionals in everything I’ve done. And if anything, that’s an impressive show of ability. I have curated and executed entirely new curriculum plans. I reinvented projects to increase digital literacy in our student body. I offer extra hours to workshop with my students and spend my nights working on manuscripts and writing campaigns. I am a part of the hustle. I have broken myself to fit in here and I belong.

Right now, I have received a total of 38 rejections from copywriting and editing jobs across my state. I have no savings account and the closest thing I have to a dependent is my cat, Mellie. I regularly stay awake until 2 am writing for people who have no intention to pay me, but offer the solace of “increasing my portfolio.” And the best relationship in my life is the one I have with my Amazon firestick.

BUT, what I want everyone to know is that I am so perfectly content with all of that right now. I made the choice to leave an environment that no longer brought me joy. I Marie Kondoed that shit. I am taking the most terrifying leap to walk away from a home. Or at least that’s what I thought I was leaving. I am really taking the step away from constantly feeling like a failure who couldn’t live up to the image of herself put in place by other people who routinely took the value away from me, my work, and my spirit.

To leave you all off on a little cliffhanger, I will say that I‘m hopeful. So stay tuned for what’s coming up. I won’t do a “previously on” recap, because we are leaving last season behind us, ladies.