It's that time of year. It is just above freezing and rainy. We were planning an epic hike last weekend. It was grey and rainy and uninspiring. Between my schedule and Lindsay's schedule, this was our first weekend we both had off for the month of October. I stole a couple of hours on Sunday to hike up Flattop just to keep my sanity. (cover photo: Shiro lost his bow tie on the trail). It was extremely windy and wet. Probably good we did not attempt an epic 14 mile bushwhack into the unknown. That said, I want to take a moment and talk about something kind of, not really relevant: Impostor Syndrome.
According to Wikipiedia, Impostor Syndrome is "high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "frauds", despite evidence of their competence." The article continues on to state that studies suggest that this is common in high achieving women. My personal experience would would agree with this last statement. To be clear, this is not a clinical psychological disorder. This is a term used to describe feelings that supposedly nearly 70% of the world's population experiences at some point in their lives. (again, citing Wikipiedia)
For those of you who may not know much about me, a brief nutshell of things about me that other people say is "successful". I am a 27 year old Civil Engineer. I have been employed with the State of Alaska Department of Transportation since 2009, for 8 years as of May 2017. I have been trusted to supervise various jobs and currently ensure testable materials comply with federal regulations on up to 15 construction projects. I am a volunteer EMT/firefighter and have been for almost 4 years now. When I started, I was completely uncertified. I now hold various certifications relating to emergency responses. I have had countless experiences in the outdoors and my advice on gear is sought out by friends and family. And, I have now started a website sharing that information. Generally, people think I am relatively smart and good at what I do.
That said, despite all of a lot of positive feedback coming my way, I certainly have Impostor Syndrome. Probably not a bad case of it, but it is there. I don't feel at all competent. I look at my job and despite being able to turn out assignments quickly and efficiency, with less than a year of experience and training in my current position, I don't feel like I am really that great at my job. While a lot comes with age and experience, I don't feel like I am qualified enough to answer some of the questions that come my way, even when I know the answers. I keep feeling like someday I will maybe graduate from my internship and really know what is going on around me. Oh, wait, that already happened, and I do know what is going on.
People make comments on how I am gong to move up and be a boss or something someday. Fuck, I don't even feel competent at managing zero people. (Also, I really don't want that responsibility and headache) There is no way I could manage real, live people. But, for some reason, no one else seems to think this about me. Probably because my own perception of myself and how I interact in this environment around me is off.
I have always been interested in emergency services. The first thing I wanted to be as a kid was a firefighter. Later on, I wanted to join the coast guard and rescue people in Alaska. My first job ever was as a lifeguard. You kind of get the picture. Then I became an engineer. Oops. But, I redeemed myself and became a volunteer firefighter. I like to explain volunteer EMS to people as "We don't get as many calls as a career department, but people manage to fuck themselves up just as bad. When someone calls 911, they expect the same professionalism and competency no matter where they are. They don't care that it is your weekend off from your full time job and you haven't had a bad trauma patient in 6 months or started an IV in 3 months." After over 3 years of constant training, running calls, and gaining my state EMT certification, I still feel like a kid in a costume when I show up in a fire truck.
No one else thinks that about me. Fuck, I have proctored EMT tests. I could teach any willing participant CPR. I have given presentations on how to work a scene safely in traffic and how to be safe in avalanche terrain to my department. I have shown new people the proper way to insert airway adjuncts, described the intricacies of how our medics rigs are set up, shown the proper way to tie a figure 8 knot. Hell, I impressed my proctor (a career firefighter for many years) during the knots portion of my test by my creative and competent use of the handcuff knot to hosit a tool. I probably do know things. A lot of things. But that's not how I feel.
And oh man, to the finale, lets talk about my feelings of inadequacy in the outdoors. I go to reel rocks and ski films and the banff festival and fuck, I suck. I realize perfectly well that the outdoors are my hobby and recreation but shit. I can't even begin to imagine doing some of those things, even on a tiny scale. Mixed climbing? sounds fun but nope. Ski mountaineering? Yes please, but yeahhh nope can't do it. I don't have the skill or the training. I do have some of the gear. But shit, I don't know how to use it (probably not true). While going to these films is absolutely inspiring and seeing what the possibilities are is amazing, they also sometimes remind me of how little I know. I feel like what I do is just meh and normal. What, hiking flattop again? Everyone does that (again, not true).
No one would ever call me an expert. But most everyone would call me competent outdoors. I mean, I am supposed to be able to rescue someone, I should probably know stuff. While I have a certain level of "well lets just give er a try and see how this goes", I also believe in education and preparation. I try to recognize high risk and high consequence activities, for example travel in avalanche terrain, and seek out proper training and knowledge to help mitigate risks. I try to know the area I am planning on recreating in before I head out. I try to learn the particular hazards of an area and be prepared before I find myself in a bad spot. I think most of my friends see value in taking me outdoors with them. I don't think anyone would be sad to be stuck with me if we found ourselves in a tight spot.
To the average backcountry skiier, I am probably a pretty avy-savvy partner. That said, I don't feel like that. I want to second guess every choice I make on the mountain. I have to force myself to voice an opinion. It is hard for me to defend my position when some else holds a different one. "No, that is only a 20 degree slope, " they might say. It is hard for me to speak up and tell them is is actually 25 and I just measured it with my inclinometer. But, at the end of the day, it is my life and safety at risk. So I speak up. Even when I don't feel qualified to.
So what do I do? I keep doing my shit. I keep reviewing my jobs at work. I keep running patients to town, putting out fires, and participating in rescues. I keep blogging. I keep going outside. I keep posting about that shit hoping one day this site takes off and people I don't know want to read it and use it as a resource (and don't think I am just an "impostor). I keep dreaming, even when it scares me, even when I don't want to, even when I really just want to give up and implode on myself and tell everyone I really know nothing. Most importantly, I tell myself that what I think might not be true, and I just keep doing.
Maybe these feelings will go away with age. I am still young. However, I doubt it.
So get out there and do what you love, even if you don't think you're good enough. Even if you feel like an impostor. (just be smart about it) I'm not saying that if you feel like a horrible skiier and your friends laugh at you every time you try to go down the bunny hill and you constantly crash that you should immediately try to take an unguided backcountry skiing trip in the Andes Mountains. But, if you are competent at the resort and your friends think well of your skills and you maybe taught your little brother how to ski and you have always wanted to try backcountry skiing but are scared to, maybe you should just try it. Even if you don't think you are good enough. Chances are, you are the only one that thinks that.