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I had heard about the Impostor Syndrome several times in the past but never really bothered about what it meant until I encountered the character Renee Bennet portrayed by American Actress and Comedian Amy Schumer in the 2018 Drama Comedy movie I feel Pretty.
The movie tells the story of Renee, an insecure techie who worked at the back end, managing the website of a Beauty Company Lily LeClaire along with her Co-worker Mason. In an effort to upgrade her beauty ratings, she had enrolled in a Cycling Gym. Unfortunately, on her first day, she injured herself during a routine and no one cared except for one person. Renee struggled with her self-image and did not see herself as beautiful so she constantly second-guessed herself and downplayed her skills and abilities to the extent that she chickened out from applying to a job she had always wanted because the job profile emphasized ‘beauty’ as a requirement.
Later that night, she got inspired to make a wish like the character in a movie she had just seen. Grabbing her raincoat, she went out into the rain and made a wish to be ‘beautiful’. The next day, she went to the Cycling Gym, and while cycling, had an accident that caused her to pass out. She woke up later; feeling transformed like a completely different person and even started to see herself as an extremely beautiful and physically attractive woman.
Wearing this new persona, she went to work the next day and applied for the Receptionist position she had initially avoided. With this same confidence, she asked out a man she met at the Dry Cleaner’s while waiting her turn. She eventually landed the Receptionist job at Lily LeClaire and performed so impressively there that she soon became a confidante of the CEO Avery LeClaire, and won the admiration of the company’s founder Lily LeClaire who invited her to travel with them for an important pitch for their new product line.
While in Boston preparing for the pitch, at the pinnacle of her ‘new found life’ she found out that she had lost the ‘magic’ after another minor accident in which she banged her head against the bathroom’s glass door and became paranoid afterwards. She did not believe the ‘old her’ could deliver what was expected of the beautiful and charming ‘new Renee’. Fear overcame her and she flew back to New York without the knowledge of her employers and hosts. On returning to New York, she avoided going back to work because she feared that she would be found out to be a fraud.
Days later, she learns about Lily LeClaire’s Launch for the new product line that she had contributed a lot to in terms of customer profiling, targeting, branding, and marketing communications. The news seemed to help in jolting her out of the doldrums and self-pity, which she threw herself into because she suddenly became interested in finishing what she started at Lily LeClaire. After apologizing to her friends for looking down on them during her ‘magical transformative phase’, she took the bull by the horn and worked out a new Launch presentation for the new product line and sought the help of Mason her former co-worker at Lily LeClaire’s back-office to execute it.
On the day of the launch, she found her way backstage and came up to unveil the new product line. While she was making her presentation, she discovered that there was no magic after all, that it had been her the whole time. She embraced herself and went on to reconcile with the other people in her life, her boss Avery, her friends, and her boyfriend Ethan.
The Other Side…
Reflecting on Renee’s journey to self-realization, I discovered that many people go through this same journey in different forms. Every now and then, we find ourselves faced with challenges or realities that make us question our capabilities and doubt ourselves. Sometimes, we find ourselves performing really well at something and instead of acknowledging our abilities or letting ourselves get recognition for what we do or contribute, we let doubt cripple us and choose to downplay our achievements instead.
I realized that what we feel like in those moments of self-doubt despite being aware of our abilities is an impostor. We feel like, if we own this label, if we accept that this is who we are, people might find us out and they would come to realize that there is not much to us at all, that we are as a matter of fact, frauds.
A Closer Look…
Who is an Impostor?
Simply put, an impostor is a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.
Still on Renee’s journey, I thought about how it felt to feel undeserving of your work, undeserving of your achievements, and how possible it is for normal people to go around having such low perceptions of themselves. The Impostor Syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostor experience, or fraud syndrome) refers to a psychological pattern in which individuals feel undeserving of their success. These people are convinced that they are not as creative, intelligent, or talented as they appear. Despite external validation of their capabilities, people with Impostorism attribute their success to luck or some other forces. They constantly battle with self-doubt and live in fear of being exposed. Research has shown that it is not gender specific as it affects men and women equally.
Before Renee came across the Ad for her dream job at Lily LeClaire, she was an obscure, socially awkward woman who was only confident in her small cubicle at the back office making sure that the website worked smoothly. She was the Lady who did not think that she was good, or beautiful enough except when she was with her best friends Aidy and Busy. She felt invisible because she believed she did not fit into the conventional definition of beauty. So, even when she knew what she had to offer, and knew that she wanted to be at the heart of Lily LeClaire as the Receptionist, she chickened out from applying to the job the first time. It took a little push and an illusion that she was suddenly someone else to make the bold move that eventually changed her life.
This new Renee, was confident, fierce, creative, and had the right words for almost any situation. While living in the bubble that was now her new world, she fell into the Superiority Complex trap. She started to rub her success at both her job and relationship in her friends’ faces, she became unnecessarily obnoxious and even insinuated at a point that she was trying to help their miserable lives when they went out on a group date, so their lives could stop being boring. She felt that she knew it all and was in the best place to give them tips on how to behave and what to do. For a while, she forgot what she had to overcome to get where she was, and became disconnected from the essence of who she was. Needless to say, her friends did not appreciate her help much and began avoiding her.
In all of this, she was still very much afraid of being found out. So, when she lost the “magic” while in Boston, she did not have the courage to go through with the Marketing Pitch, she ran. At that point, Renee was confronted with the possibility of a really bright future as the VP of Marketing at Lily LeClaire, something she had not planned for or given much thought to. She had not aspired that far, therefore, she had no idea what to do when the opportunity came, she was afraid of messing it up and took the easy way out, by running.
This brings me to something else that some of us might be guilty of, Self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is a phenomenon where one deliberately prevents himself from achieving or reaching goals. It can affect any aspect of life such as relationships, career, or personal wellness goals. Although several reasons might be responsible for people’s self-sabotaging actions, a prominent one is a lack of self-belief.
It took Renee confronting the possibility of losing something she really believed in and really wanted herself to act. In this movie, she had a second chance to take back control of her life and also make use of the opportunity presented to her at Lily LeClaire. In the real world however, she might not get a second chance. So, how can a person who is prone to these behavioral tendencies manage them to find balance and get the most out of him/herself while pursuing personal, relationship, and, career goals?
Talk to people who can help; Talking is quite therapeutic. Many times, people openly admit that talking about their feelings or sharing their concerns with others helps them unburden whatever troubles them and to a large extent, ease their worries. Having mentors who can guide you and help assess your challenges objectively, getting counselling, and just sharing with close friends and family can help you see through and navigate those feelings.
Change your thinking; Impostor feeling comes with superstitious thinking that fuels the impostor cycle. For real change to happen, a person experiencing impostor phenomenon needs to first acknowledge the problem and accept responsibility to work towards change gradually. You will need to consciously work towards cutting down on any obsessive need for perfection and learn to enjoy the process or moment sometimes.
Realize that no one is perfect; One thing we humans have in common is our imperfection. When you have perfectionist tendencies, the fear of failing can cripple you in different ways. It could prevent you from seizing an important opportunity or break you badly if you do not do well at something. When you come to the understanding that no one is perfect, you will learn to appreciate yourself more and be kinder to yourself. This also helps you accept mistakes as a part of your growth and learning journey.
Acknowledge your expertise and remember what you do well; Being able to identify the things you excel at and have the capacity to learn and improve on, helps to boost your confidence naturally and reduces the chances of you panicking and trying to take the easy way out when faced with a challenge or opportunity.
Make deliberate effort towards completing tasks; Procrastination is one of the major signals of self-sabotage. Putting off things until a later time when we have to rush through them reduces the chance of us putting our best foot forward and delivering good quality work. Setting personal delivery goals on tasks and social activities help us to be better organized and get the best out of our work.
Celebrate your achievements; It takes some level of work and commitment to achieve anything, whether at work, academics, business, or something else. When you attain a milestone or reach a goal, it is perfectly okay to celebrate, share the news with friends, and family, go out, do something fun.
Value your relationships; There are times when you will be out of ideas to get yourself back on track, your relationships with people in your life will come in handy at those times. Also, there are places where good words and recommendations can get you to that your hard work alone might not get you to. Take care of the people who add value to your life and they will take care of you in turn.
Realize that failure is not the end; Sometimes, when you do not succeed at something, it does not mean that is who you are. Sometimes, you will need to try more than once to get something you want; it does not reduce or make you less. When you learn to see failure as a path to learning, you will stop being afraid to fail. On the other hand, failing at something is an evidence of your effort to do something. It also gives an opportunity to find what you are best suited for, depending on your skills and talents.
After all is said and done, it is important for us to remember that we are capable of so much more than we think or know. The human brain has evolved over thousands of years, giving the world, art, science, industrialization, technology and innovation with continuous advancement across various fields of life and endeavor. Therefore, we must come to the realization that who we are at our highest points and who we are at our low points, who we are at moments of uncertainty are all parts of us, and while we project our strengths and shiny good sides, we have to work consciously on our not so good sides to become better.
Ogechi is a business communicator, story teller and an unconventional thinker who loves to help people and businesses find better ways to express their messages. She is a creative and cultural enthusiast with a penchant for learning about people and places around the world. You’ll find her reading something, trying out a new recipe, or just really talking when she isn’t helping people communicate better.