Benny scours the DSM and brings us another installment of Therapeutic Meeples. What is the Imposter Syndrome? And what does it have to do with Camel Up Cards? Both fair questions.
This is one I’ve been stewing in for a while. It seems to be a challenge that hits all creatives. Even folks who are just good at what they do. High achievers especially so. It’s that nagging thought of doubt or self-recrimination. The idea that maybe it’s all an illusion. The success is actually unwarranted and in a moment agents of some sort will swoop in and take it all away.
I spend a fair amount of time with creative people. My mother had been an internationally known artist, two of my uncles are writers, even with clients, many many of them have been creative types. I think a lot. I think about why these creative types are so burdened by this feeling of being an imposter. That they are somehow illegitimately receiving praise they aren’t worthy of. That they are a fraud just waiting to be found out.
In 1978, clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term Imposter Syndrome. The very notion that someone who is deserving of the accolades would then begin to doubt their self to the point of believing they are a phony. To be fair, Imposter Syndrome (or any of its associated names) do not meet criteria for a DSM diagnosis. To this end, Imposter Syndrome is too fluid. It comes unabated then flees just as quickly.
While there seems to be no rhyme or reason, consider for a moment, ego. Ego is an incredibly fragile device. It builds us up, then drops us just as fast. Often it is an outside force that waylays the ego. An unkind word, a disapproving glare. Someone somewhere wants you to stop your meteoric climb. Jealousy? Maybe. Though more likely is the case of stay in the group, outliers can cause trouble. Outliers can cause a group to work harder than the group wants to work. Therefore a vested interest is present.
Let’s assume for a moment a group can paint a room in 4 hours. They pursue the work slowly and probably do a fine job. Now, introduce a variable, an individual who works slightly harder than the rest of the group, the job gets done in 3.5 hours. The boss takes notice. Now the group, even if that new individual leaves, has the implied expectation that the job only takes 3.5 hours to complete. It has been evidenced once, therefore, it is now the new rule. The group grumbles because that is more exertion than they want in the first place, they enjoyed the slight breaks they had to check their messages or converse about the latest drama series.
The group then applies this doubt to any new individual who comes in. They have done it at 4 hours before and they sure aren’t going to change for a new individual with new ideas. Maintain what has always been, the status quo.
Social media can also drive this. Again, “staying in one’s lane,” doing what is expected. Praise and insult may be hurled with equal measure. Though for an individual to continue standing out, they may focus purely on the praise. Thus, inflating the ego. The belief that in the individual is deserving.
We see this in games too. An individual races to the front, but the opponents begin a campaign to drag that person back. I had a particular experience with this playing the Camel Up Cards game (Z-Man Games). I like the parent game, Camel Up, much better. In both games, camels are racing. Players are betting on which one will win. In the card game, the betting is open. Everyone knows which card you bet on. In the full game, the betting is blind, there may be some speculation, but it is never truly known until the end who placed which bet.
Do I plan on playing this game again? Not a chance! I felt defeated and ganged up on.
To that end, the one play I had of the card game, I took a bet card, feeling somewhat confident in what was happening. My opponents knew which card I took as the bet is open and proceeded to do everything in their powers to make sure the camel I bet on would be in last place. Was it a brave move to go for it? Sure it was! Would I do it again? Absolutely! Do I plan on playing this game again? Not a chance! I felt defeated and ganged up on. Nothing I did would move that camel I bet on further along. The fate was sealed once the opponents decided they were truly against me as a united front. In my eyes, this is a factor that makes the game something I would never play again. Sorry, but that level of insult is not something I feel I deserved.
My ego would play this out in imposter syndrome style and argue that in fact I did deserve it. I jumped out into a position ahead of the pack and the pack brought me down. All it lacked were the chants of “One of us!”
I seem to have an ego that rights itself again though after such situations. It shifts my focus back to what I accel at. My belief in me is all I need. Not everyone has this. Maybe it is years of being around creatives, maybe it is something that just exists in me. I have no idea. I keep going though, I strive for the next mountain top.
It would be really awesome if I had a dollar for every time I had a thought about quitting the game design side of it.
This does not mean I am immune by any stretch though. I regularly have thoughts about not feeling like I make a difference in my professional career. I have even more negative thoughts about designing games. I have those thoughts multiple times a day. It would be really awesome if I had a dollar for every time I had a thought about quitting the game design side of it. Recently, I wanted to throw away all of my in progress designs and just be done. Usually this is followed, within a span of a few hours, with a crazy idea about how to fix one of the designs or improve it or even a brand new idea I can quickly prototype.
Why? Why is it that I get these thoughts? I am successful. I should be happy with that. I am happy. Though in continuing to strive, I keep having thoughts to slow myself down or derail my progress. Why? This is what occurs to me, since I largely avoid the group mentality, that this is some sort of built in survival mechanism. That we have a limiter to keep us safe or to keep ego from building up too far.
Like in the movie, Speed, if the ego goes above 60 ego bytes per second then it will explode! Boom! Oops, I’ll clean that up later. Here’s the tricky bit, imposter syndrome shares a bit with quantum physics. It is present and causing grief, but when it’s examined, when it is put under the microscope, it moves! It retreats to its dark corner.
Analysis is fun, I feel like I spend several hours each day self-analyzing. It certainly helps the imposter stay at bay. It makes me feel like a lion tamer, holding up that chair and snap the whip at the imposter. There are moments certainly where the doubt creeps up that that imposter fluffs out its mane and unsheathes those pointy claws. I may feel like backing up, but I hold my ground. It isn’t something that can beat me unless I let it.
It’s an odd thing to think that I get to be in control. I always fought so hard as a youth to be in control, then as an adult, I felt that need less. There were always bosses or outside influences to listen to. I can’t really do that as a counselor though. Clients want answers, ideas, suggestions, anything really. This made me shift to being more in control.
Telling yourself that you are worthless, undeserving or any other such statement only helps to reinforce this feeling of being an imposter.
The easiest thing for me to control is my breath. Breathe in, breathe out. Once I have that under control, i start on the rest of it. Kicking the negative thoughts out, bringing my focus to the present and getting it done. Bring that microscope, whip, whatever you need and bring that imposter down. You are not your thoughts. You are not your brain. You are you. You have the tools. Focus. Telling yourself that you are worthless, undeserving or any other such statement only helps to reinforce this feeling of being an imposter. That your success is unwarranted. That your achievement is granted by mistake. It isn’t.
Say it with me, I worked hard! I deserve this! One more time. I worked hard and I deserve this!
Why would a gamer rate it a 1? Sometimes without even having played it! The insult! It flies straight in the face of ego and expectation.
Continuing to want to work hard is a challenge. The insults will abound. This may be a way to know that you are experiencing success. I know many designers and publishers who focus on the 1 ratings of their games on Boardgamegeek.com. They ruminate on this 1. Why would a gamer rate it a 1? Sometimes without even having played it! The insult! It flies straight in the face of ego and expectation. The notion that someone would give their game that score is hard to appreciate. It’s coming though. Every single game on BGG has received at least one “1.” It is inevitable as the change of seasons. Not all games are for all gamers.
Let it be then water off a duck’s back. See it, recognize it for what it is, then cast it aside. It has no purpose. The imposter is false. You are true. Remember in all things that your goal, your want, your purpose are important. Build yourself up. Let the ego rise, but do so with foundation and support under it. You’ve got this. I see it in you. You are true.