Vol IV, No 8 - August 23, 2022
I’m writing this editor’s message in the car at the start of The Great Depositing of Offspring to College. Two weeks of packing and driving (and more driving and lord love a duck, MORE driving) and unpacking and last-minute shopping and, you guessed it, MORE BLOODY DRIVING. We will return, exhausted emotionally and physically, as empty-nesters, a stage of life 21 years in the making. Getting two intense and complex young adults semi-launched ain’t for the faint of heart and we’re all a bit off-kilter from the changes.

What hasn’t changed for me is the enormous vat of Impostor Syndrome in which I marinate. It’s not a pleasant marinade, smells like flop sweat, cheap air freshener, and toe jam, and does nothing for me whatsoever. “You have no idea what you’re doing and you’re gonna be discovered as the fraud you are, and just in case you don’t know that imma remind you constantly until you reek of uncertainty.” Flute playing? Yep. Writing? Hooboy that’s a yes. New job in a completely new career field? OMG so, so much. Parenting? Y’all realize I’m making it up as I go, right?

It’s a sneaky little troll and it suuuuucks. It’s also universal and I know I’m not remotely alone in this. This month’s featured article by Matt Zakreski is on the topic of Impostor Syndrome and how to smack it out of your life or manage its over-involvement in our lives. It’s good. Like, really good. Go read. Enjoy. Follow him on his socials and learn things.

And with that, we’ve arrived at the first college for round one. Change is inevitable; Impostor Syndrome marinade is not. Besides, who wants to smell like toe jam?

Have a peaceful Back to School season, and I’ll be back in September with another message once I chuck that Impostor Syndrome marinade out the window.

Jen Merrill is a writer, musician, teacher, ed-tech marketing advisor, and gifted-family advocate. The mom of two boys, she homeschooled one twice-exceptional son through high school while happily sending the other out the door every morning. Her book, If This is a Gift, Can I Send It Back?, struck a nerve with families; her second book, on the needs of gifted parents and self-care, will be finished shortly before the heat death of the universe. In addition to writing on her longtime blog, Laughing at Chaos (currently on hiatus, returning this summer refreshed and relaxed), Jen has presented at SENG, NAGC, and WCGTC.

Jen brings both her acquired wisdom and her experience as a teacher and mentor to her work in the service of parents, teaching them techniques and mentoring them into their own versions of success. Her goal is to support parents of gifted and twice-exceptional kids, because they are the ones doing the heavy lifting and are too often ignored, patronized, and discredited. It is her hope that her sons never have to deal with these issues when they raise their own likely gifted children.

Dr. MaryGrace Stewart, founder of IDEAL4Gifted, led us in a half-day of conversations on "Planning Your Gifted School Year" last Saturday, and you can see her again when she discusses 2e with President Barry Gelston on our Expert series in the GHF Forum, 12:30pm PT, September 18. Check out IDEAL4Gifted's website to see Fall 2022 course offerings for full-time or part-time study options: https://ideal4gifted.org/.
Imposter Syndrome
by Dr. Matt Zakreski

When I was in my early 20’s, I attended the wedding of my friend from high school’s (I’ll call him Chuck) older brother (I’ll call him Peter). The wedding was a fun and lovely affair, and I enjoyed hanging out with Chuck’s family and friends from back home in New Jersey. As the evening wound on, and people continued to take advantage of the open bar, it came time for speeches. The father of bride spoke, followed by a heartful speech from the maid of honor. Then it was time for the best man speech… but the Best Man (Chuck) was nowhere to be found.

I was dispatched to locate him, and tracked him down to a bench outside, where he was surrounded by paper bags and plastic cups. It became clear quickly that Chuck had suffered a bout of performance anxiety, which triggered a panic attack (hence the paper bags), which he tried to manage with alcohol (hence the plastic cups). Now, he was in no condition to give one of the most important speeches of his life. Hefting him up and propping him up “Weekend at Bernie’s” style, we staggered back into the ballroom. His parents were equal parts enraged and concerned and asked out loud what was to be done. 

Then they all looked at me. Then at each other. Then back at me. They asked me to give the speech in Chuck’s place.

I’m a theatre kid by nature (yes, I know, that’s shocking if you’ve met me), and we always say that “the show must go on.” But this show?! How could I possibly step in at this moment, at these stakes, for this person? There had to be someone else, anyone else, to do this. I was starting to freak out myself, and then Chuck’s dad told me something that I’ll never forget.

“Stop focusing on what bad things might happen if you do it and start focusing on what bad things will happen if you don’t.”

You see, there was no one else to give the speech; no groomsmen, no other friends, no charming uncle. And Steve had basically been an older brother to me while growing up (the plight of being the oldest child is that you must outsource your wiser, older siblings). While I wasn’t the perfect person, I was the best option available. And if I didn’t step up, then there would be no speech, and the wedding would feel seriously waylaid. Steve deserved to be honored at his wedding. And if it came down to having the speech by someone else, or not having it at all, then I knew what I had to do.

I gave the speech. It wasn’t perfect, but it was plenty good enough. And I got a standing ovation, once word spread about how I stepped in and stepped up at the last moment. Despite my initial anxiety, I felt good; I knew that I had made the right decision.

I often tell this story when people ask me about Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is fundamentally an anxiety disorder, and anxiety often tells us that our problems are bigger than they actually are and thus are insurmountable. If we try to succeed, we’ll definitely fail or make things worse, so our best move is run away and/or do nothing. Despite how they might feel to us, none of the previous sentences are true! Challenges are perplexing by nature, but the only way to ensure that a challenge stays unmet is to never seek to meet it. When we let our anxiety win and dictate our behavior, we run from challenges and thus never grow from them. When you feel like an Impostor, that’s your anxiety trying to create a narrative that you shouldn’t try because there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. But you are just fine.

Paradoxically, because anxiety tells us to run from our problems, the best way to make anxiety go away is to face it head on. Impostor Syndrome is no different. Because Impostor Syndrome comes from a sense (explicit or implicit) that you are different and, therefore, somehow lacking, it leads to a belief that if that difference came to light, catastrophe would occur. So, we run away, and hide our skills and talents and best selves. And the world is worse for it. Because there is no bar to clear to be “good enough” to do what you want to do. You already are that person because you’re you. Whatever flaws or skeletons exist in your backstory are no better or worse than anyone else’s. You deserve whatever spotlight and attention you desire.

The fact is that all of us who put ourselves out there in the public space (whether you’re a teacher, a mental health professional, a coach, a speaker, or a parent) are acutely aware of our shortcomings. For example, I’m not a trained educator, nor am I a university professor, nor am I the most polished person. I look at the people whom I perceive as being and having those things, and I am wildly envious of them (looking at you, SBK). But then I find out that people look at me and the work I do, and THEY are jealous of ME. What?!?! How could they be jealous of me when I’m so terribly flawed? But then, I realize, is that they don’t see my flaws; they see the things that I have that they wish they had, just like I do when I daydream about being Jim Delisle when I grow up.

Maybe you have an opportunity to give a speech or present at a conference. Maybe you’re very aware of the fact that there are better, more famous, more articulate, cooler speakers out there that could be giving that talk. I won’t debate that point with you; those people exist. But they’re not in the position to be giving this talk; you are. And you were chosen for a reason, flaws and all. And if you start to think about what terrible things would happen if the people in charge only knew about how truly bad you really are, then here is where I will encourage you to take a deep breath and remember the quote above. “Stop focusing on what bad things might happen if you do it and start focusing on what bad things will happen if you don’t.”

My favorite thing to say about Impostor syndrome is that the people who have it are all the cool people that you think have their lives together (spoiler alert: we don’t). You face your mortality every time you put yourself out there in the world; that’s the truth. But you do it, and continue to do it, because what you say has real value. And if you don’t say it, there’s a very real chance than no one actually will. That’s the real threat of not choosing to act; that things will be worse because a vacuum is left empty. And it’s not pity! While those cooler speakers exist, they’re not waiting in the wings to take over. No one rushed in to grab the mic at Steve’s wedding; it was me or no one. I chose to face my fears and was celebrated for it. You can, too.

So, the next time you’re faced with the concept of putting yourself out there, do yourself a favor. Focus on what you have and what you bring to the table; not only is it much better than nothing at all, it’s actually pretty amazing. The mic is being handed to you. I hope you take it.
Matthew “Dr. Matt” Zakreski, PsyD is a high energy, creative clinical psychologist who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the specific needs of his neurodiverse clients. He is proud to serve as a consultant to schools, a professor, and a researcher on Giftedness. He has spoken over 200 times all over the world about supporting neurodiverse kids. Dr. Zakreski is a member of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children (NJAGC), and Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE). Dr. Zakreski graduated from Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology (IGCP) in 2016. He is the co-founder and lead clinician at The Neurodiversity Collective and his website is www.drmattzakreski.com
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