A Lesson in Impostor Syndrome

This is a bit of a more personal post, but I’m pretty sure it’ll translate for a bunch of you. So instead of sitting on my hands I’m going to publish it and put it out there. Let’s start with something that you’ve probably experienced (statistically speaking, anyway), if you’ve been connected to grad school in any way.

Impostor syndrome.

Yup. I’m going there. And if you’re a traveler who doesn’t care about grad school at all, hang tight. It’ll come back around.

So anyway, what is impostor syndrome?

So impostor syndrome popped up around the late seventies, but has really hit its stride lately. I’m relying on Wikipedia for the wording here, but it refers to “high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Another way of putting it is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.”

Even as I typed out that definition I was thinking, “I can’t say that I’m a high-achieving individual, that’s ridiculous.”

Clark Park Philadelphia - Impostor Syndrome
High achieving hang upside downer? Yes.

So it sounds really cool and super fun to feel, right? And if it still doesn’t make sense, Buzzfeed has you covered. Number 7 and 10 are particularly accurate.

I’ve been dealing with it in my professional life for quite some time now (everyone I know through grad school is nodding earnestly here), so it’s no surprise that as I spend more time traveling and with this blog imposter syndrome has somehow infiltrated my mind space. I didn’t notice it at all until I went to a travel blogging conference. Now, I am by no means a “high-achieving” blogger, but I would say I’m a bit more than a “casual” traveler. But somehow that little, silly voice of doubt came creeping in.

An Impostor Syndrome Story

Let me set the scene for you.

You’re at this fabulous conference, surrounded by people that travel. And we’re not talking they go on vacation every once in a while. Some of them have been traveling longer than you’ve been driving – and that’s even with the extra parking lot training. But it’s okay, you like hearing about their stories. Destinations that are on the very top of your bucket list, places you’ve always wanted to go, and some places you’ve never even heard of. You’re happy to listen and soak everything up.

Yet, for some reason you’re not sharing your own stories.

I don’t know, it’s really mostly traveling in America for little trips. Nobody’s interested in hearing my story. Imagine their faces if I tell them a story that pales in comparison…they’ll definitely question why I’m a travel blogger.

So you see where this is going, right?

Fast forward to the end of the conference. It is a beautiful night out and you’re in St. Paul, Minnesota. On a river boat on the Mississippi River, nonetheless. As the sun sinks beneath the horizon, you take a chance to stare at the skyline. The paddlewheel is spraying you with the tiniest bit of mist and the stars are coming to life. You take it all in for a moment, just how happy you are to be here. Then you return to the conversation at hand.

St. Paul Riverboat - Impostor Syndrome

The current topic is something along the lines of the most incredible landscape you’ve ever seen. This is a conversation right up your alley. Talking about the way a place makes you feel, describing every sense’s experiences, yes! This is a good conversation (with great people, I might take the chance to toss in here), but your mind is only half there. The other half is combing through every single experience you’ve ever had, trying desperately to find an answer that will not make you sound like a fraud of a traveler.

I can’t say the Grand Canyon. How lame of an answer is that? Sure, it’s pretty grand (self-high five…gosh I love puns). But that’s really going to give away how little of the world I’ve seen. I can’t say that. I won’t say that. I just won’t say anything. Just listen. You like this!

Yup. You read that right. Full of feelings of inadequacy even though nothing is leading to that being true. Fearing being exposed as a fraud.

Awesome.

But, and I’m sure my therapist and my boyfriend are both cheering right now, I’m trying to manage it. It’s tough. But I do have three more actionable steps that I’m trying to keep in mind. Especially as I try to take this blog to the next level and also try to find a job on top of that.

What is impostor syndrome and how do you manage it? This one is for all of those struggling with impostor syndrome in their life or career. Share this so they can find it and click through if you are in need of some impostor syndrome tips!

How I Try to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

Don’t Minimize

I’m starting with this one because one of those lovely individuals on the boat gave me this idea. A few minutes later I confided in Steph my internal dialogue that was running rampant. And (thankfully!) she was not having it. She gave me a quick pep talk about not minimizing my experiences or what I’ve done. And you know what? She is 100% right.

I know you’ve seen ‘em before, those lovely pictures that have “don’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter 20” stamped on them. And if you haven’t, there’s definitely one on my Facebook page this week. You’re on your own journey and you should never feel the need to think less of your experiences. I said it up there, all I care about is how experiences make me FEEL. Not how esteemed the experiences make me look. I should embrace that and never minimize!

And even if you’re not in the throes of impostor syndrome: still don’t minimize your experiences and/or what you’ve accomplished!

Stay Present

Did anybody in that conversation know I had a frantic inner monologue filling the space between my ears? Hopefully not. But impostor syndrome has the ability to make me not the best listener in the world. And I hate that! But I’m going to try and stay patient and tug my thoughts back to whomever I’m speaking with so I can really stay in the present moment. I don’t want to miss out on some awesome conversations because my mind is going one thousand miles per hour.

If this is just impossible for me, you had bet I’m going to get my journal out and try to face these feelings.

Be Open About It

This does not mean that I will tell people I feel inadequate all of the time just so they tell me I’m awesome. People, that is NOT what impostor syndrome is. Please don’t ever tell your friend who decides to open up that they’re just whining or looking for attention. And while we’re at it, don’t tell any bloggers who decide to post about it that they’re whining either.

Telling people what you’re experiencing is scary sometimes. But if you pick a core group that will always be there to support you, while still giving it to you straight, it might help. I’m giving it a try. And, well, I suppose I’m telling more than a core group through this post. But those are just details.


Let’s Chat!

  • Have you struggled with impostor syndrome? Has anything helped you to manage impostor syndrome?
  • Jamporter

    OMG yes, this is me in both my professional life and my travel blogging side gig! Even as I write that I’m thinking puh-lease it’s not a side gig it’s a hobby! I try to remind myself that we all have a unique approach and view of the world, and that no two experiences will be identical. I love this post!

    • RIGHT? So glad you can identify with second guessing what you’re writing AS you freaking write it! It can definitely be a challenge, but you have GOT this! Keep at it, and thank you so much for stopping by. Can’t wait to read some of your work. 🙂

  • I loved this, especially your honest story! As I’ve said to you before, travel, I’ve found, is not about the actual place but more about what you’ve found while you were there. They may sound similar but they’re two different things. When you go thinking of the best, the most obscure, the craziest destinations to check off your list, it’s awesome but you miss half the experience! I do know how you felt there though; I used to feel that way when I just started travelling.

    Ok, getting off my soapbox now lol. So handling impostor syndrome: (1) like you, I open up to people but I’m careful about who they are. If I’m not sure they’ll be supportive, I’ll pick other people. (2) I look at how far I’ve come on the journey. It helps me see that though I have a lot left to learn, I HAVE learned a lot. (3) I get back to my life purpose and ask if it’s worth putting myself out there. It often is.

    Thanks for sharing, Amanda! Will now end this long comment lol.

    • Daisy! I’m sorry I’m responding to all of your comments at once, but seriously thank you for all of your support. 🙂

      You’ve got some fabulous techniques for dealing with impostor syndrome. I NEVER look at how far I’ve come, regardless of if it is traveling, my professional life, or anything else. I should definitely give that a try. I think it is so dang important to have an idea of your life purpose (for at least the next year or two) so you can come back to it in times of need. Mine used to just be “finish grad school,” which was terribly uninspired and in fact outdated right now. So I’ll be doing some work on that in the coming weeks!

  • Oh my goodness, yes!
    I’ve actually had this topic earmarked for a post, but because I didn’t think I’m a “good enough blogger” I haven’t written it. Yes, seriously. How ridiculous, right?!

    • I totally, totally understand where you’re coming from! Ridiculous? Maybe, but it sure seems validated in your head, doesn’t it? I encourage you to post it and continue this conversation, Ange! You’ll have to let me know if/when you do. I’d love to read it!

  • This is so relatable (on sooo many levels!) Thanks so much for sharing your story and tips – I definitely suffer from #1 so I need to work on that. xo

    • I have just gotten around to responding to all of these comments because I was so blown away with the response. When we get in our own heads, we forget how relatable these types of things can be! Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. 🙂 Glad to be back so I can chat!

  • OMG yes girl yes! I feel that way a lot, and at times feel like I’m not worthy of praise because I still have so much growth. I love how you said to stay present and be patient! I have to remember that growing a biz takes time! Progress over perfection! Great post!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Christina! I want to take this time to tell you how seriously blown away I am by your progress lately. You have been doing some fabulous things and I cannot wait to see where it all takes you! You are 100% worthy of praise because you are kicking butt!

      • AWWW thank you girl for the beautiful and kind words! xoxo <3

  • Allie Bigoness

    Amanda, you blow me away again here on your blog. I love this post, this is so relatable. Seriously, honestly I’m jealous of how many places you’ve traveled too. I admire you and you inspire me always to embark on the journeys I’m dying to go on. I want to find a way to make those trips happen, every time I read your blog I feel inspired to fit these trips into the budget. I’ve been feeling the imposter syndrome lately with my painting mainly because I’m self taught so I feel like a fraud, I’m not that great, should I even sell my artwork? But I have to remind myself that just because I’m self taught doesn’t mean I have talent and doesn’t mean my practice doesn’t matter. You experiences matter Amanda because they inspire me!

    • Oh Allie, thank you so so much! I always love how supportive you are and this is no different. 🙂 I am SO jazzed to see how far you’ve come with your paintings, even from the time of this comment. You are doing INCREDIBLE things and watching you overcome this self doubt is truly inspiring.

      Also, I have faith that you will make the trips you want to make happen eventually. And they’re going to happen when you need them most. 🙂 I know you and I are both incredibly impatient people, so it doesn’t sound like it. But I truly do believe that!

  • Katie Arruda

    This post spoke to my soul! First off the way you wrote it so eloquently – just beautiful. Secondly, you are not alone! I feel like we have very similar blogging styles (we focus on a lot of US travel) and I feel that way TOO. I have to work full time, at least one job and I did the grad school grind too and its tough trying to find your space in this … well space.

    But when I get down on myself that I am blogging about the Worlds Only Corn Palace of South Dakota while other bloggers are riding elephants in Thailand I remind myself. This country of ours has SO MUCH beauty to explore. So much to photograph and write about. Its not how many miles you traveled but the pictures you take and the words you type.

    I have to remind myself daily a few things – Live in the present (I am an anxious wreck who worries about the future)- do what makes you happy and most importantly, “Comparison is the theif of joy”.

    xo-
    Katie @ Katie Wanders
    http://www.KatieWanders.com

    • Katie, thank you for your kind words. They really mean so much to me!

      You are so ABSOLUTELY right about the US. And by the way – I adored your post on the Corn Palace, so there’s that. 😉 I think I can safely say I fall into the “anxious wreck” category too. My most recent vacation taught me just how much that was messing with things though, and it’s pretty scary! Do you have any techniques for when you feel your mind getting out of control? Right now I just kind of flounder, and I’m curious to see!

      Thanks for stopping by, my dear. 🙂

  • I nearly cried reading this! It’s so beautifully written and I’ve told the story of that conversation on the paddleboat at least 3 times since returning from TBEX. It is so important that we don’t minimize! Every experience is valuable and everyone has a unique story to tell. You’re amazing and so is the Grand Canyon! XOXO

    • Thank you so, so much Steph. For everything you said to me at TBEX and your comment as well. 🙂 I’m glad you’ve been telling the story too! What an amazing night. Hope to recreate it very soon!

  • I cannot tell you how 110% we share the same feelings. I too feel like a “travel impostor”. There are so many times I have got down on myself and wanted to scrap my blog, but my boyfriend convinces me otherwise. I have never shared my blog with friends and family, too scared to share it via social media forms like Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, because I fear people I know will think it’s lame or ridiculous, especially since I am not a full-time traveller. You are a few steps ahead of me when it comes to building that confidence, so I have so happy to have read this article – I think it’s time to start having some confidence and celebrate my successes! Great post, Amanda 🙂

    • Amanda, I was reading your response and seriously shouting “UH YES!!!” at every new sentence. Sometimes you just look at how many travel bloggers (heck, travelers) there are out there and you just think that your voice doesn’t have anything to add to the noise. BUT. I LOVE your blog. And you should definitely keep at it if it’s making you happy, aside from the comparison traps. I just started admitting I have a blog to my friends like…three months ago? So I know exactly how that feels.

      Hang in there, chica!

  • I struggle with this constantly and it got SO MUCH WORSE when I was in grad school. This is such a well written post, and I think it was so brave of you to help get the dialogue going by sharing your own experience. Knowing that we’re not the only ones, that people we really admire and think are so successful feel the same way, is so reassuring.

    • Grad school seriously does a number on your mind, doesn’t it? What did you study? My officemates and I always joked (in a very serious way) that we should all have been given appointments with therapists on the first day. You are not alone! We are not alone! Thanks for stopping by, Erin. 🙂