I remember the feeling I had when I got my most recent job – the way I held the offer letter, running my thumb through the ink. There was a feeling of elation and a numbing disbelief. I mean, how was it possible that someone would be happy and shocked at the same time. In my heart, I felt I had ‘hammered’. Especially since I was paid the figure I requested for. (Never mind that few months down the line I’d begin to want/need more).
So, in my long and happy drive home, I quietly began to ask: Why? What made me think I could get away with earning such a ‘daring’ named price? Was I worth it? Did I have the experience? And would these people, seeing through my many careless mistakes, not eventually find me out for the fraud that I am?
Months later, in unsuspecting conversations, this fear would slip out of my carefully worn corporate guise. I would blurt to a colleague or say to a friend: ‘I don’t know what they see in me’. And though the response is always one that suggests disbelief, it is the one thought recurring through my corporate journey.
It may have started from my undergraduate days, with the scramble to attain a certain grade—frantically digging through law cases like a bloodthirsty hound. I was attending tutorials, sitting through painful lectures, yet coming out with a score everyone dismissed as average.
So, I accepted my opportunities with my palms cupped and stretched out, like one receiving a kind gesture. I told myself I was lucky to earn just enough, even when I was stuck in a job I felt I had outgrown. And even when my heart bled for more, my 2’2 was a stamp in my heart. Average, ordinary, a fraud soon-to-be discovered.
On one hand, my constant self-erasure became a badge of honour, sitting visibly on my chest, my way to shield myself from pain, disappointment and a lifelong fear of failure. On the other hand, I also know and acknowledge it for what it is, a lie – an untrue assessment of who I am and my place in this world.
The thing is, many people are quietly struggling with impostor syndrome, hiding behind supervisors in the guise of being shy or reserved. Many have refused to claim their voice, speak their mind or insist on credit for their work. It is there, in the way we apologise for the spaces we occupy, the way we interrogate compliments. And in the many questions that follow us through the day. “Am I sure?” “Can I do it?”.
These days, I have been more deliberate in the fight for my life. This means working to love myself with something as radical and simple as saying: Yes, I can do this. Yes, I deserve this, yes good things happen, even for me – especially for me. It is a long step from where I need to be, but it is movement and I embrace, one yes at a time.