San Francisco loves costumed festivities like Bay to Breakers, Burning Man and SantaCon. Costumes offer opportunities to shake off the boredom and monotony of daily life in exchange for a sillier, sexier or more confident alter ego. To be honest, I didn’t know I wanted a unicorn onesie until I saw a group doing a pub crawl in fuzzy animal onesies.
I used to get really concerned about picking a great Halloween costume as a kid. All of the other kids got gorgeous princess dresses or badass costumes of the latest superhero on TV. Instead, I got the homemade witch costume that my mom insisted was good enough for trick or treating. It’s the most mom-like characterization of a costume. I wanted to experiment with embodying another identity and she treated my costume like anther checkbox on her overly long to do list.
When, I got older, I got to have more say in my costumes. Many women got through the sexy fill-in-the-blank costume stage that the movie Mean Girls aptly poked fun at. I was never a sexy mouse like Karen but I did have sexy devil, sexy cop, sexy pirate, and sexy bee as part of my repertoire.
These days, I’ll improv costumes or pick ones that seem more sensible or dare I say utilitarian. My boyfriend and I dressed as bacon and eggs this year for a friend’s Halloween party. Our first remarks about both costumes were how comfortable they felt. It’s a decidedly boring approach to a light-hearted activity. Not to be completely devoid of whimsy or imagination, but I do have a dream of attending a masquerade ball. I devoured 19th century novels when I was younger that featured masquerades where a mysterious stranger would approach the protagonist but then they would be unable to find him to decipher his cryptic message. The entire book would be a slow reveal of unmasking him to reveal his true identity and true intentions as well as the real message.
Historical recreations of mystery dinner parties aside, I’ve realized that Halloween is not the only time of year that I don a costume. I’ve had an unconventional career marked by writing my own job description on more than one occasion, building the company as I build the role, and being the only fill-in-the-blank in the room when this pioneering occurs. It’s an honorable path but also a lonely one. And more importantly, it’s a path that requires faking it until you make it, wearing the mask of confidence when inside your insecurity threatens to consume you.
I’m a non-technical person who works in tech as well as an underrepresented minority. I’m also a lowkey psychology nerd. So I’m all too familiar with concepts such as stereotype threat and impostor syndrome. Stereotype threat occurs when members of a stereotyped group such as black women are exposed to stimuli that remind them of the salience or existence of stereotypes about their group and then experience changes in performance. For example, seeing a headline about the trope of angry black women before giving a presentation could negatively impact my performance. Impostor syndrome is the state of typically underrepresented groups feeling inauthentic, inadequate and under-qualified for usually high status roles. I can’t speak to stereotype threat, but I know that suffer from impostor syndrome and walk around with a mask of faux confidence to cover it up.
Impostor syndrome has become the mask that I live in professionally. On the outside, I masquerade as a hyper competent, confident professional woman — overplanning, overthinking, and overanalyzing every micro-interaction and macro decision. Even though I know the statistics that most people deal with the impact of impostor syndrome, it persists in feeling as though there is something wrong with me specifically. That I lack the necessary skills or knowledge so that I can feel the confidence that I so often masquerade to others. The insidious nature of impostor syndrome is that the higher you rise and the more that you succeed, the more under-qualified that you feel as the stakes continue to rise. Faking it until you make it is a recipe for faking it for the rest of your life.
So instead I’ve decided to remove the mask and speak honestly and freely about the gaps that I see between how I feel and what I do. Because making those doubts plain reveals how hollow they are without the veneer of fake confidence. That’s the thing about costumes and the people beneath them. It’s easy to be silly while wearing a unicorn onesie and less so when you’re wearing a suit. And it’s easy for my self-doubt to stay protected when it has the facade of fake confidence. Better to remove the mask to be able to remove the doubt.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.