This piece over at Cyclone Life about Impostor Syndrome reminded me that I’d been meaning to write something on the subject for a while.
Before My Year In Flux began I suffered from Impostor Syndrome (that feeling of being a dummy who is fraudulently out-of-his-depth and about to be discovered as a charlatan at any minute) to a painfully high degree. Six months on from beginning My Year In Flux, I no longer have this affliction, and in this post I want to explain why.
Impostor Syndrome describes the status of feeling like you don’t know as much as you think you know on a given subject, that those around you know infinitely more, and that you might be found out as a fraud at any minute. It’s an affliction from which even the most successful and outwardly confident people suffer. For me, this aptly describes my own feelings during every job I ever had: despite being a relatively high career achiever, becoming Marketing Manager at Europe’s biggest arts centre at the tender age of 24 before going on to start my own successful Digital Video Agency at 27, I never felt like I knew what I was doing and was always worried I’d be discovered as an impostor. Even 5 years into my Video Production career, I’d always turn up to film shoots with sweaty palms, expecting everything to fold due to my own ineptitudes, even though I would have spent the night before cramming with unnecessary amounts of research and list-making.
Then in March 2013, My Year In Flux began, and everything changed.
How I overcame Impostor Syndrome
The central theme of My Year In Flux is the importance of constantly embracing novelty. I now believe that process, which I’d characterise as curiosity-discovery-learning-sharing, to be a MAJOR antidote to Impostor Syndrome.
I’ve fallen for newness in a pretty big way, so novelty certainly isn’t a novelty to me any more (fnar fnar), in fact I am now living outside my comfort zone across almost all walks of life: my ‘job’ for the year is to try a new Weekly Challenge every seven days and then tell you about it here, and I don’t have a comfortable home to relax in after the ‘work’ is done because I complete my Weekly Challenges whilst exploring new places (like the beautiful Costa Rican Caribbean coast, where I volunteered with leatherback turtles) and meeting new people (such as the amazing Genner family who are cycling from Mexico-Argentina) through my travels across the Americas. Another factor is stuff, or more precisely the lack thereof: my toolkit for life is now pretty minimal, and I have found that living out of a 40 litre backpack is surprisingly good for the soul, because there is little opportunity for wallowing in material possessions (though some days I try!), and stepping out to discover something new becomes the most natural thing in the world to do.
Episodic Experimental Escapades
So you guessed it, I’m enjoying my new life, but how exactly has a hard diet of novelty helped me overcome Impostor Syndrome? It’s quite simple: within the Flux lifestyle there is no space for experience or expertise, nor -by extension- is there room for impostor anxiety. My life has become an iterative process of trial-and-error, a series of episodic experimental escapades. Every few days, as I touch down in a new place and a new Weekly Challenge dawns, I’m starting afresh. Last week, for example, I arrived in the Bolivian Amazon, knee-deep in truly incredible scenery and wildlife, yet unable to snap away at it due to my Mental Photography challenge, which had a strict ‘no photos’ policy at its heart.
Through a constant flow of new sights and sounds, new challenges and new limitations, I have found, to my surprise, that my mind has begun to work in positive new ways too.
By the time I move on to a new challenge and (usually) a new location, I’ve digested exactly a week’s worth of information about a new subject and a new place. A week isn’t a big unit of knowledge, it doesn’t promise black belt status, it merely shows a healthy curiosity with those unknown, unexplored cul-de-sacs we spend most of our adult lives avoiding. For example during my Surf Challenge I spent a week slowly gaining confidence on the board, before almost drowning in a dangerous pacific rip current. Not great, but then I didn’t set out to become a great surfer in a week, I set out to try surfing, simply because I’d always wanted to, and danger is a big part of the sport, after all, so perhaps my week was indicative of how my surf career might have gone if pursued further. And this, for me, is the crux of the psychological development I’ve enjoyed through My Year In Flux: instead of feeling the frustrating urge to master a subject to the point where I could never be ‘found out’ as an impostor, I spend my days basking in flux and uncertainty, lustrously loping through the long grass of yet another new subject, knowing that however badly this week might go (and with the surfing it could barely have gone worse), I’ll be rebooting again next week with a new place and a new challenge, accompanied only by my supportive and ever-patient wife and the same tiny 40 litre bag of essentials.
An extraordinary relationship with novelty
In this Flux lifestyle then, where there is no space for success or specialism, nor room for corrosive habits, comforts and laziness, I can say that I no longer feel like I am going through life as an impostor. Novelty has taken me hook-line-and-sinker and in six short months I have become a healthier, happier person.
So now that I have such an extraordinary relationship with novelty, I want to share the love and encourage others to get off the sofa and into the novelty zone, because it’s a very healthy place to be. And believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
Have you ever felt like a fraud? Is trying lots of new stuff in life truly a route to happiness? Tell me what you think in the comments below.