I started jogging regularly about seven years ago in an attempt to lose my baby weight. My commitment to my jogging has waxed and waned through the course of three additional pregnancies and a miscarriage, but currently I’m healthy and running a few miles regularly. I like to enter races. I never set out to win these races, mind you. I do find, however, that signing up for races provides me with the accountability I need to keep running regularly. Plus, the race-day adrenaline is always so much fun. I would never call myself a runner, though, and for the first several years of running races I felt like a great, big impostor.
Perhaps you have heard of impostor syndrome, a social phenomenon that the majority of people will fall prey to at one point or another in their lives. Basically, the idea behind the impostor syndrome is that a person finds it impossible to internalize her own success and believe that she could be responsible for it. Instead, she attributes her success to luck or some other outside factor. Though she may appear confident on the outside, when she looks around she does so with a fear that somehow her incompetence will be exposed for all to see, and suddenly everyone will realize that she doesn’t really know what she is doing. Statistics seem to indicate that at every work place, at least a few people feel like they don’t deserve to be there and that their colleagues are infinitely more qualified than they are.
I have occasionally felt like an impostor in my career, but I most especially experience it as a runner. As I line up with my fellow racers at the starting line, I always nervously scan the crowd and size up who I think is going to cross the finish line ahead of me–and it’s nearly always everyone, in my mind at least. I look at the way that other runners are dressed, or what their postures are, or where they position themselves in relation to the starting line; much of it is nonsense, of course, but it’s difficult to convince myself of that when I am the Impostor. Anxiety kicks in and I question my abilities and my training as I stand there in those pre-race minutes. ‘They’re the real runners,’ I think. When the gun sounds, my folly is sure to be exposed.
It took me a long time to build my confidence, and I became a stronger runner and a wiser woman in the meantime. For years I wouldn’t call myself a ‘runner’ because I didn’t think I was good enough to be one of them. I didn’t run fast enough or far enough to meet my self-prescribed qualifications, so I told myself I didn’t really belong. I realize now that for a long time I cheated myself out of a really cool identity, one that I earned the moment I first laced up my shoes and put one foot in front of the other.
I cheated myself out of letting myself think I was a runner.
It turns out that there is a ridiculously simple truth to it though: you’re a runner when you run.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, ‘What does this have to do with motherhood?’ Fair question. The thing is, I have an inkling that many of us walk around as moms but really feel like great, big impostors. We want to look like we have it together and know exactly what we’re doing raising these precious little lives we’re somehow in charge of, but really we find ourselves looking at the other moms in the library/grocery store/gymnastics class and we’re wondering how we size up.
I mean, let me be real. My third son constantly has jelly or Oreo crumbs or some other incriminating food evidence all over his face. Not only am I the mom who doesn’t always select the healthiest foods for my kids, but I’m also the mom that forgets to wipe their mouths. The other day my baby had a diaper blowout at older brother’s guitar lesson and I realized all too late that I didn’t have clean diapers. I once caught my child riding his bicycle buck-naked in the cul-de-sac after a bath. (“I was about to get dressed, Mom, but then I saw my bike out the window and it looked so fun!”) And the night that we drove our oldest son home from the hospital as a newborn? I was ballistic in the backseat, wailing to my husband that I was so afraid I would accidentally kill this tiny baby out of sheer ignorance; I just knew I had no idea what I was doing.
In spite of all of this, sometimes I appear to have it together if you see me in public. Lest I have fooled you, let the truth be known. Perfect or no (big-time no!), I’m a regular mom, a real mom. I don’t want to feel like an impostor.
Mama friends, do you look around at the other moms and sometimes doubt that you’re doing this whole ‘mom’ thing correctly? Is this you? Did you ever consider that many of them are probably feeling the same way, looking at you and thinking, “Why can’t I organize my life like she does?” If impostor syndrome is as prevalent as statistics indicate it is (70 percent of people report feeling like impostors at some point in their lives), then you can take it to the bank that many of the people you meet think that you have it together and they don’t.
Let’s cut to the chase here with the same simple realization that it took me years to figure out with my running: there is no “us” and “them” with parenting. We’re all in it together, and we’re more alike than we realize. If you have a kid, then you’re a mom, and you’re probably better at it than you think you are. Most of the other moms are questioning themselves at times too; it isn’t just you.
So proudly corral your mischievous children, put your best jelly-smeared face forward, and take a step with your mismatched socks (and if it’s a perfect day for you, step forward with your perfect kids and faces and socks–we all have those awesome days!). Unite! It is only “us.”
We are moms. We know our stuff. And we are not impostors.