Last month I was in Brussels for the final review of the EU-project that has been funding my PhD. I was nervous and felt like I didn’t belong. The review went well and our work got approved. But what fascinated me was the state I tuned into during those three days in Brussels. Somehow I kicked off a disastrous domino effect the second I left my door. This experience left so many insights that I decided to deconstruct it in the hope it might be of help to anyone else suffering from imposter syndrome. Here are 8 signs that imposter syndrome might be pushing you into survival mode and what you can do to overcome it.
You don’t have a seat reservation. I boldly skipped that step on the booking pipeline when I was asked whether I wanted to make a seat reservation for only 9 Euro. Why pay for an assigned seat when I would certainly have a random seat reserved for free? Well, it turned out there was no seat reserved on my train ticket. So I spent the entire trip moving from one seat to another, worsening my impostor syndrome status more and more every time the legitimate owner kicked me out to claim his spot.
The weather is awful. There’s no beautiful weather in disaster movies. That’s why as soon as I got out of the train the weather went from warm and sunny to cold and cloudy in a matter of minutes. I knew it was a sign that something bad was going to happen. Instead, I arrogantly went on a stroll, took a picture of the typical Belgian roofs, applied a pinkish filter and posted it on Instagram to dissimulate the omen.
You packed the wrong clothes. You aren’t supposed to wear jeans in review meetings like that. So I packed a very elegant pair of white trousers for that day, together with tons of pads and tampons because I would have had my period for the entire stay… And realized the irony of that when it was already too late.
A button of your shirt is missing (not the one you are thinking of!) The upper part of my outfit for the review was a crisp green button-up shirt, which wasn’t crisp at all when I took it out of the luggage. Plus, I couldn’t close the right cuff. I started to beat myself up because I should be more left-handed and I’m not. Once I finally realized I had simply lost the right cuff button, I was kind of relieved. I went to the review with a wrinkled shirt and one cuff open. The fashion of imposters: you can easily spot us this way!
Food is highly unavailable. I went to eat at 7:10am, fearing people would have had eaten all the scrambled eggs during the previous forty minutes that breakfast was supposed to be served. Sadly, there were no scrambled eggs. Not because of hungry guests, but because the lady hadn’t prepared the breakfast yet… I came back ten minutes later. The eggs were ready, but the coffee machine was pouring only warm water instead of espresso, or coffee, or cappuccino, or double espresso (I tried them all of course). So the lady brought me a coffee from another machine and I went to get some milk. Only, there was no milk and I had to bug the lady again. Oh yes, it’s hard to get food in surviving times!
You remember you are Catholic and that Jesus has your back. While I was finally having breakfast it started to rain. All of a sudden, I realized I had forgotten my umbrella in that bar I went to for a tea the evening before. Oh no, my precious fancy umbrella that my mum gave me last Christmas! Oh no, I’m wearing white trousers too! I took a deep breath, got out of the hotel and walked fast under the rain towards the train station. Meanwhile, I sent a voice message to two of my girlfriends. I shouted what happened with the umbrella and asked whether they could say the Sequeri prayer for me. Sequeri is an old prayer that other people say for you when you lose something. Please, please, please Jesus! You helped me find my cellphone twice… umbrellas can’t be much harder!
You smell of green apples. It’s well known that in stressful situations your body produces excessive sweating that causes that horrible wet stain around your armpits. This is a given for me as well. On top of that, in stressful situations my ecological deodorant can’t cope with my sweat, which starts to smell of… green apples. I swear, when I’m agitated I always smell of Granny Smith green apples. Since it’s unlikely that tons of Granny Smith apples are eaten whenever and wherever I’m stressed out, it must come from my body’s hormonal response to feeling like an imposter!
You’re grateful you lost your umbrella because you were running out of inspiration. After the review, I went back to the bar to see if my umbrella was still there. It wasn’t. They really took it. Oh Gosh, I thought, how stupid it was to come here yesterday, hoping the wooden tables and the selection of organic teas of this bar would have given me the inspiration to write a blog post. Instead, I sat there staring at my tea the whole time feeling dizzy after nine hours of meeting and left the bar frustrated, not only because I wasn’t a good researcher, but because I wasn’t even a decent blogger. Wait a minute! What if I could write a blog post about the umbrella and all the unfortunate events of this trip to Brussels?! Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like such an imposter…
And now it’s your turn! Have you ever embarked on a business trip that made you feel you were an imposter? How did you cope with that? I’d like you to share your experience in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post subscribe to the Breaking Thirty Newsletter for more.