Working in A Dream

There are a lot of ideas that can turn daily existence into a mental hellscape. Especially when you have anxiety. Alexis deals with one in particular in Chapter 8—but before I get to her experience, I need to walk you through mine.

When I was a child, my parents put me in therapy at a relatively young age. I was placed in therapy because I was hitting other children. One might wonder why I was doing that, but one wouldn’t have far to look. My father had been beaten by his father, and though he considered himself far less of a tyrant than his father (because he used his open hand instead of his belt), my father still seemed to think that hitting my sisters and I was the best way to get through to us when we did something he didn’t like.

I won’t say “when we did something wrong,” because my father wasn’t preoccupied with that. He was an abuser, and preoccupied with control. It wasn’t about teaching us a lesson, it was about teaching us to fear him and to blindly do as he said.

I am lucky to be in a situation where at 23 my parents divorced and I no longer had to deal with my father at all. Back when I was five, though, I was still very much within my father’s reach and learned hitting from him—and subsequently, was put in therapy.

I’m lucky that my parents had the resources to put me in therapy. Although it didn’t allow me to escape my father, it did allow me to reflect on myself and learn to control my own behavior. My therapist Eddie—a wise looking woman with owlish glasses and big frizzy waves of gray-lined hair—taught me how to identify my emotions, follow them to see where they were coming from, and then find the most constructive way forward while still honoring what I was feeling.

These skills—called emotional intelligence, for those of you interested—helped me immensely. But, Eddie also taught me that what I perceived as happening wasn’t always the reality of what was happening. This was a double-edged sword. What Eddie hoped I would gain from this is the ability to dispel my anger or fear through examining a situation and deciding it wasn’t actually aggravating/threatening. She wanted me to challenge my perceptions of things so I could achieve understanding. While that skill has served me well, it also leads me to question things that don’t require questioning.

Which is why I deal with imposter syndrome today.

I can’t blame Eddie’s lessons fully for that. However, it’s a lot easier to believe you’re a monster when you’re willing to question if you might be than if you’re not. It’s a lot easier to believe you don’t deserve your dream job when you’re aware of how much luck goes into the hiring process. It’s a lot easier to worry you might not be perceiving reality as it is when you have anxiety.

Mix those three things together, and you have the perfect recipe for imposter syndrome.

Anytime I catch a break to do something I love, I worry that I’m not good enough. My anxiety’s favorite refrain is that I’m not good enough anyway, so it’s really easy to slip into a full-blown episode of imposter syndrome if I’m not paying attention.

Alexis goes through the same thing in this chapter. We start the chapter with her at the airport. She and Lizzy have a much needed catch up, and here Alexis is powerful and decisive. She’s confident in her creative abilities. She’s defensive of her sister, and that defensiveness keeps her from doubting herself. Of course she’ll be able to pump out a comics script for her sister in a month. It’s writing, and it’s something she can do to help her sister. Of course she’ll do it. There aren’t any stakes, no one to tell her she can’t. Just a challenge against herself and the clock.

But the second after she gets on the plane to go to Burbank and work with Terry, that confidence starts to falter. The stakes are higher. What if the people she works with don’t think she’s good enough? What if she can’t contribute? What if she asks stupid questions? What if she lets Terry down and he hates her?

The possibility of failure and all the terrible things that could come after is an anxiety thing. But the fretting that she won’t be good enough to do a job that she’s qualified for is the imposter syndrome talking.

The idea that she’s only been given this opportunity because she’s a fan instead of because she deserves it and is capable of it is particularly difficult for Alexis to deal with.

Terry does a good job navigating those feelings, despite the miscommunications and embarrassing situations the two of them have. But by far the best thing he does for Alexis is when they’re sitting in his car in the Bizney parking lot and he tells her that he never would have brought her here if he didn’t think she could have gotten here on her own eventually.

Sometimes the best way to defeat imposter syndrome is to go back to what the individual knows to be true. It doesn’t work for everyone, and everyone has different cornerstones that they run to. But for me, when I’m feeling like an imposter, I use logic and other people to remind myself that I’m capable.

For example, my new boss at the dream job has been giving me more tasks recently. My anxiety and the imposter syndrome would love me to believe that’s because I’m not doing the ones she’s already assigned me well enough—but in reality, it’s because I’m kicking ass and she trusts me with more work. Logically, it wouldn’t make any sense to give tasks to someone who can’t do the ones already assigned to them well.

And when it comes to doubting myself, I think the world of other people. Even if I think I got hired because I got lucky, my team selected me out of everyone who applied because they saw something in me. While I might not be good enough, they wouldn’t make such a mistake.

Even though Alexis might feel lost, she trusts Terry. And if he says she would have gotten here eventually on her own, that’s enough to get her over the hump of her imposter syndrome in the moment.

That is until five seconds later when Ron knocks on the car door window and sends her on another anxious spiral.

I’ve had plenty of supportive male coworkers who make room for my voice and want to hear my ideas. I’ve also had my fair share of sexist, bigoted, mansplaining drivel.

Ron is written to be a lot of things—but even though he’s fairly antagonistic towards Alexis in this chapter, he’s one of my favorite characters in the book. Ron is queer, bitchy, protective, and above all the person in the book who never cuts Alexis a break and pushes her to be everything she can be.

To be frank, I wasn’t willing to put an actual bigot into this story when said story was meant to be an escape for me. I did, however, want someone who would trigger all of Alexis’s trauma regarding those sorts of people. I also may have wanted to turn the fabulous gay villain stereotype on its head, so watch out for him not being as bad as you think he is. He’s an antagonist, but not a bad guy. Part of what keeps him from being that bad guy? Rhonda.

I love Rhonda. If Ron is one of my favorite characters in the book, Rhonda is a dream vacation with paid time off. She’s also a woman in a place of power who is focused on getting her job done—but also on helping other women in the workplace. There’s a reason I write Alexis feeling a sudden ally-ship with Rhonda from the moment she walks in.

The delightful push and pull of Rhonda and Ron’s relationship is what keeps them both interesting and relatable. They give each other the opportunity to humanize instead of being monolithic villain and savior stereotypes. That’s the entire reason I let her catch them talking in the hall; so that Alexis gets to see Ron and Rhonda as people. Without that little push, Alexis wouldn’t be able to confront Ron at the end of the chapter, and she definitely wouldn’t have regained any of her confidence.

Sometimes I think imposter syndrome stems from thinking of oneself as a fallible human and thinking of everyone else as infallible gods. We see the whole of our own experiences before us and compare it to everyone else’s highlight reel. Granted, I do use that to get myself out of episodes sometimes (“this infallible person believes in me, so I can’t be as bad as I think I am!”). But when that doesn’t work, remembering that everyone else is just as fallible as me really, really helps.

If after hearing about all this you think you might suffer from imposter syndrome too, I’d encourage you to click on this link and take this Imposter Syndrome Test that was developed by Pauline Rose Clance. I got a 78 on it, which is on the higher end of the scale, just for your reference. If you have imposter syndrome but the coping mechanisms I list in this blogpost aren’t for you, check out this article about how to deal with imposter syndrome. Hopefully you’ll find something in there that will help.

After such a tension filled chapter and heavy blogpost, I’d like to leave you with the same realization that Alexis has at the end of the chapter: doing your best is enough. That’s all you or anyone else can ask of you. And anyone who beats you up for that (including yourself) doesn’t bear listening to.

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