Seeking Out The Way Forward

Note: This is, by far, the most personal (and therefore most difficult) blog post I’ve ever written. There are some ‘professional’ acquaintances who’ve advised me that I really didn’t need to write it, even that it might harm me professionally if I write it. However, whilst I respect their viewpoints, I feel that it is necessary for me personally. Also, to write it is to acknowledge that what I do and what I am is not just some sort of corporate role.
Educators have a very personal relationship with others, be it the students, their parents or the staff and people we mentor along the way. Educators are not cold and unfeeling, but give something of themselves and are very personally invested. Educators are also not superheroes, but men and women with their own vulnerabilities, their own internal dialogues of questions, doubts and introspections That’s one of the reasons why, so often, it’s referred to as more of a calling than a job.
So, for better, or for worse, I’ve written it. Big intake of breath, here goes ……

You know that old saying about other people’s opinions not defining us and how we’re all supposed to pay no heed to what others think of us?

Do I believe it? I want to.

Do I live it? No.

Do any of us, really?

That was a rhetorical question – I don’t have a clue what the answer is. Am I in a camp of one, or are we all just convinced that we’re winging it, one step away from being called out as a fraud at any moment? One step away from being found out as the Emperor strutting down the street in his birthday suit.

Not only have I had to confront and acknowledge that my decisions are very swayed, even driven, by what others think, but also most of the time professionally my assumptions have been that others’ views of me were not very complementary. I don’t know whether or not it became easier to deal with this when I learned that it had a real name – “Imposter Syndrome.”

I really don’t know the extent to which others experience imposter syndrome. There are frequently reports written that suggest it’s far more prevalent than most realise, the hidden bulk of the iceberg below the water that few acknowledge openly and out loud. This is especially the case as, it seems, from the reported evidence that it’s far more prevalent for people in senior roles and that the more people rise in their careers the greater its manifestation. It also becomes obvious that in such circumstances as a person rises in their career, it becomes harder and harder for them to openly admit to this complex to others around them. Certainly, that’s how it’s long felt for me. There’s nothing worse to me than the thought that on telling those around, “I feel inferior and lacking in the skills and competencies of my role,” to be answered with, “Well, now you mention it, here’s the list of all the ways we also think you’re lacking and inadequate.”

To ‘the victim’ it feels like you’re sitting on a fragile pile of cards, that one good gust of wind from the wrong direction can send you tumbling and throwing you in to a very visible and fully justified humiliating heap. Almost anything could bring it all down and reveal you for what you truly were all along.

Like me, I think most closet imposters are able to keep enough of a lid on it, to find escapes for their anxiety and the stress and to get on with their jobs, even to give all the impressions externally of being self-assured, confident and clear in their convictions and what they’re doing. In fact, if you can’t do that you’re unlikely to reach or sustain a high position for any length of time. So, maybe all imposters at high level are practicing effective coping skills. But, this does come with a heavy price – the continual stress, anxiety and the doubts that hold you back from chasing the best opportunities or fulfilling your true, full potential. Just squeaking by isn’t much of a way to go on.

Many years ago, when living in New Delhi and being Director of a Group with over 4,000 pupils, I wrote that my biggest responsibility in managing my own life was balancing the priorities and interests of those 4,000+ children with one child – my own child, my son – Thomas.

Those who know me well know that just over a year ago I lost Thomas, my son, in tragic circumstances. For nearly five years I had lived and strived as a single parent. So, suddenly in a moment my whole world was turned upside down. Thomas was 16 and in so many ways, my life revolved around him. I’m not going to claim I got everything right – parenting is one of those responsibilities where perfection is impossible and the best anyone can say is that they strive to be the best they can each day, to learn and to endeavor to be a bit better the next day.

There is no question this has been the biggest test of my life. Over the last 13 months my emotions and feelings have gone on the most gut-wrenching roller coaster ride you could ever imagine. There have been times of anger, woeful self-pity, optimism that is suddenly overturned and plunged in to the depths of pessimism.

Many times I saw hope in immersing myself in past loves, including writing posts for this blog. However, every time I sat down to write a voice in my head would say things like, “People are going to see you for the fraud you always were. They will denounce you. How can you advise or counsel anyone about anything to do with children when you couldn’t protect your own one single child?”

The result is that whatever sense of imposter syndrome I had before has been magnified massively. It feels like the moment I stick my head above the parapet, I will be there to be shot at. That instead of being able to do some good and bring something of value, I will be the subject of sniggering, derision and even disdain.

As a result, even this post has been written, re-written, deleted and begun again more times than I can count. As I sit here writing now I still don’t have any idea if I’ll have the courage to finally publish and press the button.
In recent weeks, as a result of some reading, things heard in podcasts etc. I have had two significant thoughts that may enable me to finally move on here;

1. The first is that after writing nothing on this blog for well over a year, there’s every possibility that when I finally press the button and publish this post ……….. nobody will even notice. We can all make the mistake of believing that people are paying far more attention to us, our actions (or inactions), our motives etc. than they really are.
So, I might feel like I’m bearing my soul and publicly admitting to my vulnerability and fears about being a fraud and an imposter, and nobody even notices.

2. Maybe the bigger revelation – or at least it was in some way revelatory for me – is best encapsulated by the youngsters’ online saying, “haters gonna hate.”
For anyone who seeks to produce anything in the world, however much they strive to perfect it, there will be those people for whom it doesn’t work. There will be people who either have an issue with the person, the message, the means by which it’s communicated etc.
You really can’t please all the people all the time – and that’s OK. Nobody ever achieved any measure of success in any creative arena if they set out to produce something (or to be someone) to appeal to everyone. The fact is that some of the most highly regarded creative works in the world are rejected, scoffed and sneered at by some.
I went on to the Amazon website and looked up some of the most successful and highly regarded books published. By way of examples, the novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has 11% 1-star ratings, The Handmaid’s Tale has 16% 1 and 2-star ratings. The Secret – 12% 1-stars,. Even the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita (in no particular order) had between 5 and 18% 1 and 2-star ratings.

So, I need to get some realism. There are surely already those in the world who never needed me to have a dead son to decide they don’t like me, what I stand for, my views and approaches on education or even the colour of the shirts I wear. And that’s Ok. It’s their right. I never wrote for everybody and I never will. And i can’t live my life on the basis that I need to please everybody all the time

The fact is that everything that’s happened has not put out the light or diminished my drive and enthusiasm to bring about some real change in education. Change that can help to ensure that the school and learning experience meets more of the needs of more children more of the time. If I can make even the tiniest scratch, it’s good for every person impacted, even good for the world and good for me along the way.

And if there are some people who want to reject me or my writings, especially because I’m an educator who couldn’t protect his own child and keep him alive in this world, that’s OK.

But, I will write – quite possibly profusely (the dam may be about to break and I’ll discover a flood had built up ready to gush. I will write because it’s the right thing for me to do. I’ll also write because I think it’s what Thomas would want me to do. Will I magically be free of the sense of being an imposter? I doubt it very much. My only hope is that the more I work and write anyway, the less those feelings will be relevant or matter.

Thomas, from now onwards this blog is dedicated to you and your memory. You were a wonderful young man. Sensitive, caring and with a fierce sense of justice, right and wrong and how the world ought to be. Your passing has revealed the frequency with which others looked to you as a person to reach out to, a person who would care, a listener ready to do whatever you could to lighten their burden a little. The quality of a life is more significant than the quantity. You, my son, were a quality human who lived a short quality life. I love you, my son.

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