Why Imposter Syndrome is Your Friend

When I was a kid, I used to like playing make-believe.

Well, some forms of make-believe. Playing house was never my thing. I either had to be the baby and be ordered about, or be the Mum and do all the pretend cleaning.

Playing church was even worse. Sitting in the ‘pew’ while all the fun happened up front, I’d finally stomp out in disgust. “This is boooooring!” I’d shout. “How come I never get to be the priest??!?!?”

Playing store was fun, though. Lining up the merchandise, exchanging it for Monopoly money. Who knew I’d be setting the tone for my entire life?

Now that  Alan and I have our bakery and I get to play store for real, it still feels like make-believe. Our friends come in, acting as customers. We make pleasant conversation. They choose their bread and hand over their money. It’s like being six, permanently.

I never feel like I imagine a small business owner is supposed to feel. I just sort of feel like me, making it up as I go along.

We live in a smallish city, small enough that total amateurs like me are allowed to help out backstage at symphony concerts and the barber rocks out on weekends, singing to his fans (and customers) in local restaurants.

It’s cool. It reminds me of grade school, when we would put on a play and make the props out of cardboard boxes and tin foil.

Seeing this taken up a notch or two has made me realize that even the bigger centres, with bigger budgets and a bigger pool of talent to draw from aren’t really that far removed from  a grade 6 production of Guys and Dolls.  We all know a little bit about a little bit and make up for our lack of confidence in enthusiasm and goodwill. And an occasional bit of bravado.

And it’s not just in the artistic pursuits where this holds true. We all tend to think that doctors know a lot about a lot. I’m lucky enough to have one who admits that he doesn’t. On the rare occasion that I do actually darken his doorstep, he’s just as likely to say “I can’t help you with that” as he is to dole out pills that may or may not work. The fact that I tease him about this is probably wrong, but it’s fun and I hope he realizes that I actually do respect him.

What I’ve come to realize through the years is that Imposter Syndrome, that idea that you don’t actually know what you’re doing, is in fact true. We are all imposters, holding on to tiny corners of knowledge that we think are solid but are, in fact, fluid and ever-changing.

We look to people to be experts, not understanding that they had to learn their area of expertise and, if they’re any good at all, relearn it and change their minds and try again.

We think our politicians are Leaders, as though that is a different sort of person from the rest of us, and look to them in awe, when, actually, almost anyone can run for public office and if you work an election or two, it suddenly dawns on you that the country is being run by janitors and decorators and science teachers, just like us and you become filled with a slightly different kind of awe.

I’ve spent time backstage with divas who need to be reminded to take deep breaths so they don’t throw up from nerves, wearing fancy dresses that they don’t feel they belong in. And then I open the door and they walk out and pretend to be singers, to an audience so caught up in the magic that they don’t realize the fear that had to be overcome before the first note came out.

I’ve watched my doctor cringe with embarrassment when faced with something that he couldn’t fix. And while I did tease him, I also thanked him for his honesty. Because I value that more than a solution.

I think the Imposter Syndrome is a wonderful thing if it keeps us compassionate and curious. I truly believe that our highest calling is student, that we are on this earth to learn – about ourselves, each other, this world. And in order to do that, you have to be at the very edge of what you don’t know, curious, compassionate, willing to make mistakes and try again.

I have also learned that this is frightening for many people. We want to know, to be sure. And some will fight so hard to convince you and themselves that they do know, they have the answer and that answer will never change. I tend to walk in a wide circle away from these people.

We are all imposters, making it up till we figure it out and anyone who tells you differently is more scared than you are. Give them a cookie and a pat on the head but do not believe the words that come out of their mouths. They are incantations that only have the power we give them and far too many have let those words of fear lead them too far down the road to ruin.

We are all six year olds, by turns frightened and over-excited. Life is magic and make-believe. It’s all cardboard sets and tinfoil stars. Let it delight you, let it teach you. Be a proud Imposter.


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6 Responses to Why Imposter Syndrome is Your Friend

  1. Mary Ann Rosenbloom says:

    Another super WOW!

  2. Karen says:

    Whaaaat? I just had this exact conversation with Alan as I picked up my current addiction (aka Salty Rose Foccacia!).

    I was telling him I felt too immature and young (ha) to be a business owner. Responsibility scares the bejeezus out

  3. Karen says:

    …of me. In my brain, I still feel like a little kid.

    Your essay couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!!! Nailed it, again.

    Now to go out my big girl panties on…

  4. George Meanwell says:


  5. Jan Van Stralen says:

    insightful and fun piece Barb…from one Imposter to another 🙂

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