The Great Pretender

So I was watching this Blank on Blank interview with Heath Ledger, and something he said caught my ear.

“It’s a pattern for me, going into any job, carrying a certain level of anxieties and doubts, self-doubt. Fears about my inabilities, y’know. ‘I fooled them. I can’t do this. I’m not an actor. I shouldn’t be here.’ I think everyone goes through that. I certainly do. But I recognise it as necessary and without it I wouldn’t try as hard to overcome.”

Anyone who has seen Brokeback Mountain should be left in no doubt that Heath Ledger was a very talented actor. I found it really interesting that someone as brilliant and seemingly chilled as Heath had all these insecurities underneath. It reminded me of an article I read a few weeks ago, describing a psychological phenomenon called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It’s essentially a label given to a constant feeling of inferiority and failure to acknowledge ones own accomplishments. Known to be especially prevalent among female academics, people with the syndrome admit feeling that their achievements have been built in large part through luck, and any minute now everyone is going to realise that they’re just not good enough, despite evidence of their success.

And imposterism has real consequences. Many intelligent women will turn down more ambitious projects or careers simply because they feel a fake. Is it partially responsible for the relatively small proportion of women in STEM subjects? Perhaps.

All this felt familiar to me. It was something I kept to myself for a long time, but I’ve never really felt comfortable academically. I find it very difficult to get to grips with (and then retain) certain ideas and my memory is just awful. I often feel out of my depth and have doubts about whether I’ve picked the right subject. My attention span is virtually non-existent, making revision a constant struggle. Combining these insecurities with my tendency to hang around gorgeous, funny, intelligent people, means that a lurking feeling of inferiority is never far away. By comparing my insides to others’ outsides, I will always come up short.

But something clicked when I watched Heath’s interview. He said that without his doubts ‘I wouldn’t try as hard to overcome.’ I listened to it again. I guess that’s true for me too. Of course, I could do without the stress that accompanies them (and I’m working on that), but I can’t deny the motivation they’ve given me to keep at what I’m doing and struggle on.

If you’re still in any doubt that these insecurities are more common than you thought, here are a few other talentless low-achievers who have spoken in public about feeling like an imposter: Tina Fey, Emma Watson, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, Kate Winslet, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. I don’t know about you, but that seems like pretty good company to me. And these people all managed to push through those feelings and get to where they are today.

Forgive me if you feel I’m airing my dirty laundry. That wasn’t my intention. Generally I use my blog as more of an escape and keep things light; I won’t report on my neuroses and anxieties unless they have wider significance (because hey, that’s what diaries and boyfriends are for!). But I think it’s important to see behind the facade every now and then.

To anyone reading who feels that they may have a streak of imposterism running through them (and you can find out here): you’re not alone. All around you, other people are struggling with exactly the same thing, to a greater or lesser extent. You are not the only person that feels inadequate. You do not need to constantly compare yourself to the people around you because you are your own person with your own strengths and weaknesses; if you feel you don’t measure up to someone else in one way, you more than make up for it in others, whether you realise it or not. Have more confidence, extend yourself, be brave. I’m rooting for you.

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