Yesterday, on my way out of the gym, I held the door for another woman who was also on her way out. “Thank you!” she said, “And by the way, you run REALLY fast!” I didn’t know how to respond so I nervously laughed and said, “Oh! Thanks, but–” She interrupted, “I saw you run 7.5 on the treadmill and I think I would blackout if I ran that fast!” For whatever reason, I couldn’t muster a simple thank you and move on. Instead I launched into a complicated explanation about intervals, speed training, and the difference between those paces and easy pace.
On the drive home, I reflected on this interaction. What compelled me to feel like I had to explain myself to this woman? The truth is, I felt like if I had accepted her compliment about my speed, I’d be a fraud. A simple thank you would need a disclaimer: Thank you, but I can only do that sometimes. Usually I’m quite slow. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how often I do this in all areas of my life. Nice outfit? Thanks, but I bought it on clearance. Nice blog post? Thanks, but it felt really hard to write. It all ends up being a battle of the reality others see versus the impostor I view as myself.
I have a bad case of impostor syndrome and it’s holding me back as a runner.
Impostor syndrome is the feeling of inadequacy or chronic self-doubt that persists despite the evidence of success. It’s worrying that others will some day realize it was all an act and you’re really not all that you appear to be. It’s feeling like your running accomplishments only happened because it was a good day, or no one else showed up, or because there was a full-moon three nights before.
Impostor syndrome prevents me from enjoying or relishing any growth or success I have as a runner. I take a moment to celebrate a PR in a race, but move immediately to picking apart my performance, reminding myself of the times I had to slow down, or of past training runs I skipped. I steal the glory away as quickly as I get it. It appears as I toe the starting line of a race. When I get there, I feel ready and able, but then I look around at the lean, elite runners at the front of the pack and that voice in my head whispers, You don’t belong here. It screams at me mid-race, Oooh, you’re breathing this hard at mile 4? You’ll certainly bonk by mile 8. This is going to be a terrible race for you. See I was right; you can’t run that goal time, afterall!
Right now, impostor syndrome is already trying to foil my upcoming marathon training. As I wrote out my schedule on the calendar it told me, You’ve never run 60 miles in a week- there’s no way you’ll survive week 15. How is it even possible that I am already prepared for failure that may or may not happen 15 weeks from now? Because I feel like a fraud simply by dreaming about my goals.
Am I hardwired to believe I can’t be who I dream of being? Is impostor syndrome in my DNA? As a Minnesota gal, I’ve always been told not to be boastful and not to pat myself on the back too much. Celebrate a little, but then get back to work! A gold star for you, but don’t go bragging to your friends about it! In some respects, this has made me a hard worker. When I do well, I try to do better. When I accomplish something, I seek something bigger. That’s great … until it isn’t.
When impostor syndrome won’t allow me to enjoy success, to savor the feeling of a job well-done, or to relish the hell out of nailing a really hard workout I’ve completed, it’s holding me back from success. When I celebrate an accomplishment, I can learn from it. I allow myself to reflect upon what I did to get myself there, and I allow myself to hear the voice that says, You are a success. You worked hard and it paid off. You are capable of reaching your goals. If I can allow that voice of confidence more time to speak and more room in my brain, I am also pushing that voice telling me I’m a fraud to the background and giving it a little less space.
So as I prepare myself for my upcoming marathon training, I am going to work hard to remind myself I’m not an impostor; I am the badass marathon training chick that lady in the gym noticed. Go me!
Do you suffer from impostor syndrome in running or in the rest of your life?