Sports and the Death of Impostor Syndrome


Here’s something I love about the whole doing-sports thing I’ve gotten into lately: it completely wrecks your impostor syndrome.

Like most mortals out there, I suffer from a sometimes-paralysing sense that, unlike everyone else in the world, I’m just making it all up as I go along, flying by the seat of my pants, and someday someone’s gonna find out I’ve been faking it all this time. If you told me that everyone reading this blog is in fact my mother, logged in from a shedload of different locations, and maybe some people who just showed up to laugh at my terrible writing? A little part of my brain would believe you. Sounds legit, like.

I’m no expert (not even pretending to be) but it seems to me like impostor syndrome is fed by two big things: the fact that you can’t hear the uncertainties in everyone else’s head, and the way that the validation we get for most of the things we do is so fuzzy. Take here: I know some people read this. I know how many people read it. I haven’t a clue what the vast majority of you actually think of it, ’cause we don’t live in a world where people grade every article they read on the internet.

Sports are different. There are skills I can do (most of the time, at least) today that I couldn’t do a month ago. I know that I can do those things, because I try and do them and don’t fall on my ass. Or I try and do them and only fall on my ass half the time. At the gym, I know I can pick up heavier things than I used to be able to pick up, because when I go to pick them up, they actually leave the floor. I can skate eleven more laps in 5 minutes than I could this time last year, and I know that ’cause I skate as fast as I can for 5 minutes and count my damn laps.

It’s real, concrete, physical skills, and physics doesn’t lie. I can’t tell myself I’m faking those abilities, ’cause I know I don’t have a hidden mechanical exoskeleton or a cunningly disguised extra system of weights and levers helping me along.

And that’s a really nice thing. I’m not sure how much it translates to everything else- if after a while, your brain gets used to the idea of actually being able to do the things you can do, and quits worrying about whether everyone’ll find out you’re faking the stuff you aren’t faking at all. But it’s still nice.

3 thoughts on “Sports and the Death of Impostor Syndrome

  1. [quote]If you told me that everyone reading this blog is in fact my mother, logged in from a shedload of different locations[/quote]

    Damn, how did you guess?😛

    I know what you mean though, I often have days where I feel like a fraud in my job, like all the other programmers out there are these super geniuses and at any time they’re going to realise I’m not one of them.

    As for sport though, I’ve recently taken up running (ZombiesRun! Is amazing https://www.zombiesrungame.com/) and it’s really been very motivating to be able to track my progress, see that I can run just a little bit faster than last week, or further than I could a month ago. It’s really nice to have some tangible metrics that show you’re getting better at something.

  2. Pingback: Link Love (2014-03-01) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  3. Really interesting post! I’ve sort of thought about this in terms of productivity, but not in relation to imposter syndrome. I’m in grad school, and a lot of times a day’s work looks like sitting down with a pen and paper writing out some ideas that I later realise are wrong and/or unhelpful, which can feel like I’m moving backwards even if it’s only through that process that I eventually come up with correct ideas. My hobbies tend to be either sporty or crafty, so progress is a lot clearer — I can’t fake landing on my feet after a back somersault, and I can’t deny that I’m successfully wearing a pair of pyjama trousers I made.

    I do these hobbies with the mindset of “I’m doing this for fun so who cares what anyone else thinks?”, which is a different way of telling the imposter-thoughts that they’re irrelevant. I used to think that about math too, but if I want to stay in academia I need to convince people that I’m actually good at this, and I need to believe that myself, which leaves a lot more room for imposter syndrome to talk. But perhaps “I am not faking the skills that I have” will translate better from hobbies to career.

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