Authentic Imposter

In exploring the age of crisis, we explored doubt and its impacts on the individual. Now we turn our focus to how our knowledge of the single truth changes our approach to grappling with doubt in our daily lives. We focus on developing practice and habits to combat doubt’s ability to shift us away from pursuing the directions our imagination demands. The title of this section draws from the everyday struggle many of us have grappled with: imposter syndrome. Impostor syndrome happens when an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and fears being known for their ineptitude.28 It refers to a lack of self-belief and a fear of exposure—that one day the curtain will be pulled back and our weakness and lacking will be visible to all. Feeling like an imposter is a psychological phenomenon that typically defies logic or history, an imprint from a lifetime of interactions within systems prioritizing otherness and competition as a means of measurement. Feeling like an imposter is incredibly isolating because it is a lessening of ourselves in comparison to others. The single truth and the relational universe teach us new foundations for how we should perceive ourselves and our efforts in an ever-changing universe. We become more human not by avoiding or denying our insecurities, but by reimagining them within our new structures of meaning.

In 2019 I was invited to participate in a disability leadership development retreat for my work on developing a free and open election campaign platform to support access to the process of local governance. It was an inspiring event full of changemakers impacting the disability space. Our final evening at the campgrounds ended with a large campfire where the participants spent time getting to know one another on a personal level. The space was ample, encouraging several small group conversations to form. In my huddle, we were discussing building organizations when a young pioneer researching social media addiction leaned over to me. “How do I get over feeling like an imposter?” he asked. My reply was quick but came as a shock to the group. “Everyone here is an imposter. Me most of all.” I did not say this about so many high-achieving individuals lightly, nor as an insult to anyone in the group. Instead, I was recognizing how the crisis of doubt infuses the individual with deep insecurity. As a result, we experience unease about our personal capacity, ability, and will to create what we envision. This is especially true when challenging ourselves, taking on tasks that make us bigger than we are. 

In a relational universe, our existence is constantly exposed to happenings outside of our vessel, so it’s unsurprising that we compare ourselves to others. The feeling of being an imposter is experiencing information through emotion, drawing from the space between who we are and who we are becoming. The single truth of perpetual change ensures that there are always unimaginable unknowns in whatever directions we choose. We don’t know what we don’t know, and that makes us nervous and uncomfortable. It is a biological learning from a time experience long ago when our survival depended on not being killed and eaten by a variety of predatory animals. We will never remove unknowns from the experience of being human, but we can reimagine how we digest and act upon this information. Systemic actualization provides tools to remove fear from human experience, but not until the individual embraces that the lack of knowledge does not equate to a lack of worth. It is a state of being that we all occupy, one we experience in many different directions throughout our lives—sometimes by choice, oftentimes out of our control. At the core of the human time experience is our absorbing and projecting of information. There is nothing the individual cannot learn and do well, given enough time. The feeling that we do not belong, that we are imposters, is nothing more than awareness of what we do not know. As we’ll explore, it is something to embrace and celebrate in our journey toward becoming more than we are.

Recognizing our imposter syndrome as an authentic aspect of who we are in this moment is the first step toward letting it go. The process of becoming more does not lessen us; it is expansive. Yes, there will be people within any given moment that will know more and be better at the things you are working on. However, we should never forget that our individual time experience contains a uniqueness that no one else possesses. Our personal event chains always hold the possibility of connecting dots others may miss, especially when we are aware of the immediate present and our objectives within it. Doubt is merely a framing of information, and even though our systems encourage us to feel one way or another, we are ultimately the architects. I have long taken solace in the knowledge that humanity shares a general confusion. It is knowledge that has served me well in aspects of life ranging from dating to productive work. It was a conclusion I reached during my summers working while attending university. Like many novices, I naively believed that individuals’ professional resourcefulness and imagination would translate into character and wisdom. As I became further acquainted with my peers and occupational superiors, my illusions were rapidly dispelled, a trend that has continued in every venture I have undertaken since. 

Everyone was just as clueless as I was. The only difference was that others had the lived experience to better navigate unknown waters. Their expertise did not elevate their humanity above mine, and I often observed those with power and knowledge behaving in ways that seemed more about feeding their own egos than elevating purpose. How many of us have experienced an environment where leaders were aggressive or belligerent? If you want to understand an individual’s insecurity, give them a moderate amount of power and status and observe how they treat others. My experience has led to many observations of people attempting to overcompensate their insecurities through aggression and exclusion. Pay them no mind and offer them no more energy than necessary. In your personal life, avoid them. At work, breathe deep and understand that their criticisms are not a reflection of your character or worth. Aggression toward those who lack knowledge and experience is an attempt to dominate. A projection of insecurity and weakness is apparent to all except the aggressor. These are the inauthentic imposters, pretending to be separate and removed from what is. They pretend to possess knowledge and awareness that is somehow out of reach of the other. 

When we embrace the authenticity of our ignorance, we also acknowledge that we share this struggle with others. In moments of conflict, the self-actualizer opens themselves up as a resource, paying little attention to past errors beyond the discovery of root causes to share lessons for the future. The gaps in knowledge and experience are inherent and ever-present in a universe governed by the single truth. To approach them with anger or frustration is to fundamentally misunderstand our time experience.

Consider how even our moments of success are never enough. In my twenties, I founded a retail and e-commerce business focusing on building a home beer- and wine-making community. It was a passion project and an effort to build something of my own. My partner and I took a 30,000-dollar investment, ordered some materials, rented and furnished a small warehouse, and began our journey. Over the next eight years, we built and supported incredible communities at the local and national levels. In total, we employed seven team members outside of ourselves, operated two retail warehouses, and generated about six million dollars in revenue through our direct channels and partnerships with big box retailers. We were shipping to every state in the United States and internationally. After eight years of operations, my partner and I decided to move our lives in different directions. 

Being thirty-four was a much different time experience than being twenty-six. We had families now, and it was time to part ways. Fortunately, we were able to arrange a sale with a community member who—at the time of this writing—is still operating the business. For some time, I struggled to determine whether my efforts were successful, especially within the context of the financial outcomes. When I founded the organization, my only focus was on building something great. Then, in my mid-thirties I wondered if I should have been spending my efforts on something more lucrative. One of the struggles with overcoming doubt is that it takes many forms, and when we evaluate ourselves and our progress, we often do it from the values of others instead of our own. That my capital and material gains would have been better off on an alternative path was, at times, a source of shame. Business, after all, is about making money, and the ultimate measure of a successful venture is quantified by net revenues—monies retained after expenses. I struggled with this question for some time, but I ultimately concluded that it was worth every moment of my focus and energy. 

To prioritize profit over the incredible friendships I made, the wide breadth of expertise I gained, and the countless lessons I learned was a diminishment of my humanity. But I, like everyone else, have been exposed to a single economic system that reinforces specific types of belief and behavior—systems of economics, law, and entertainment that tell us what we should and should not value. They paint a clear picture of who is and is not successful, a vision of humanity that only serves to perpetuate itself. It’s no wonder that the grass always seems greener. While this particular story is unique to my journey, the theme is one we share collectively. We inherit meaning systems by being born at a specific moment, in a specific place, to specific people. Within these relationship frameworks, we are made to feel as if there are right and wrong paths to follow, but that is simply untrue. The only valid measures of success are the ones we create for ourselves. Am I closer to the creation of my vision today than I was yesterday? If yes, great! If not, I will be better tomorrow. 

We become authentic imposters by detaching our personal value and worth from our circumstances. It is a fact we must revisit time and time again to create the habits necessary for overcoming our crisis of doubt. Individual happiness should not be tied to a moment because the relational universe teaches us that we are the totality of happenings, extending from our individual perspective to the vast cosmos. It is a difficult habit to practice because so much of our surroundings tell us not to. The infinity contained within each individual cannot be judged by a single moment, no matter how great or miserable it may be.

When we direct our focus and energy toward the past, we strengthen the grasp of history on our immediate present. Our fear of the past, or lack of it, in relation to a specific focus, will dictate our future. When we fear our past, we manifest a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dwelling on the past within our immediate present influences our thoughts, behaviors, and actions to generate the outcomes we hoped to avoid. The single truth teaches us that the past has no sway on the future; only the present does. Different moments will impact our perceptions in varying degrees, but contained within that same certainty is our ability to let those moments go. Embracing our authentic imposter brings an understanding that each moment of awareness contains a reset button. We cannot change the past moments that brought us to our immediate present, but we can redirect ourselves away from the trajectories we inherit toward visions of our own crafting at any time. To do this, we need to be able to summon an awareness of the moment by developing the necessary habits and practices. 

Our power to break the past’s grasp on our future stems from choosing not to engage with the self-harmful practice of focusing on what we are not. This is easier said than done, especially in times of distress, but it is completely within our reach. The single truth tells us there are only two states within the individual time experience: what we are and what we are becoming. We are never what we are not until we decide to make it so. The process of becoming is a result of directing our energy and focus. Therefore, when we focus on aspects of our circumstances that make us feel less-than, we give these aspects of ourselves a realness they otherwise lack. Of course, not all self-reflection is bad. Becoming better by constantly learning from our mistakes is a standard practice of all self-actualizers. We are rejecting associating our personal worth to any moment, positive or negative. Value derives from philosophies of meaning that shape our perspectives. Happenings only change our place in relation to the universe. While we typically intend our efforts to draw us closer to the outcomes we desire, at times we find ourselves farther away from accomplishing our objectives than before we started—at least it seems that way through the lens of our linear time experience. Given that we all share a birth into networks of systems rooted in competition, it is unsurprising that we draw value and worth in relation to the outcomes of our efforts. Know that this conditioning is not natural nor permanent. Each of us possesses the power to detach our self-worth from our circumstances. Through the lens of the truth, we recognize the practice of intertwining personal value to the outcomes contained within a specific moment for what they are: directing energy and focus on self-harm. 

Within our relational universe, the ideal reality is one where the individual can fully commit their focus and energy to the direction of their desire. We can imagine our time experience as a long fuse laid out straight. In this scenario, our birth begins our slow burn toward nothingness. Each moment that passes contains infinity, immense energy released within the spark. When we are aware of the value of our time experience at the momentary level, we recognize that focusing on what we are not—the imposter—is an active choice. We choose to make those moments a part of our experience. Moments of anxiety and self-immolation create insecurity. As explored earlier, I am just as guilty of expressing the imposter as any other; I imagine more so than most. It can be hard to recognize in the moment, which is why we practice awareness in several forms. Our authentic self is the one we have complete agency to define. It has long been established that no human should ever seek to proactively harm themselves or another. Why then do we self-loathe? Again, we turn to the single truth and the relational universe. We are this way because the systems governing our interactions within society make us this way.

Have you noticed that you consume more when you are stressed? It might be food,29 drugs,30 or entertainment—the list could be an entire book in itself. How often does this stress consumption turn to guilt or regret? Every moment of awareness is one of potentially infinite directions. Our divine powers of creation are not limited to the creation of positivity. As we have observed throughout history, many have leveraged their imaginative infinity to harm and destroy. Stress is a trait we share as a collective that has been preyed upon for over a century. Our media projects a narrow image of humanity while omitting many others. Our news is owned by conglomerates who intentionally sow discord for profit. The advertising and marketing industries exist to make us feel like we are always missing something. The majority of the information produced exists to elicit fears, wants, and confusion. How can we feel wholeness within our moment when everything built around us is designed to exploit? It is not easy, but it can be done if we reframe our understanding of meaning and value.

So how do we translate removing self-worth from circumstance into actionable practice within our journey of individual actualization? Moments of self-harm, whether they be mental or physical, are dangerous time experiences, so our best defense is to avoid them. Embracing our journeys as authentic imposters doesn’t make the individual immune or separate from the event chains defining their history, but it does infuse a detachment from the outcomes of said past. The individual possesses an absolute certainty of their ability to redirect their focus and energy within the moment. It’s not an excuse to be ambivalent toward our choices and impact on others, but an understanding that despite our past failings, we are more than the combination of our history paints us to be. Most importantly, being an authentic imposter is an act of deep empathy. To be one, we must extend the same to others. We must recognize and affirm that none are limited to the sum of their circumstances, so long as they choose alternatives.

Next Section:
Letting Go
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