sonder n. - the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you. (Source: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.)
Impostor syndrome n. - a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary, striking especially smart, successful individuals. (Source: Scientific American.)
Chances are you have never heard of sonder. But I wish it will enter our lexicon, this word that names the shock of awakening to our truth as human beings, the sensation that negates impostor-style thoughts leading us to feel like outsiders, faking things. It's a still point for belonging, authenticity, and humbleness to enter our hearts.
Words have power. Once something has a label, we can more easily invoke and recognize it for what it can do. It becomes immediate and accessible. As part of his effort to define neologisms for emotions that do not have a descriptive term yet, John Koenig created the word sonder. You don't have to fall for his word. But it is useful, so here goes. Because if we as high-achievers can access a simple tool to shake us out of our insecurities once and for all, why not? It's powerful to see with sudden clarity that we are pretty invisible in the grand drama of life; that we can drop into our worthiness and capability because it's a choice we can make; that there is absolutely nothing to prove ever again; that our success isn't luck, isn't undeserved, isn't nothing, isn't everything - it is just life.
A burden lifts when you get this, the fact that everyone around you has an internal life as rich and conflicted as yours, lives by inner songs and noise, by obsessions, quirky habits, experiences of self-consciousness, insecurity, shame, impossible dreams. It's a relief to know, we all want to be happy. Everyone cares for some thing. We all know fear and stumble upon inner beliefs that block us. We are important to ourselves. That matters, but it doesn't matter nearly as much to others. So we may as well choose worthiness. It is human.
Impostor syndrome reflects our error in judging where we stand in life's grand drama. Sonder says, "Let it go." All that doubt we have about ourselves, all the ways we think others judge us? Nah, others don't give it weight. Others are pre-occupied with their own stuff. Whatever they notice or not notice says more about them than about us. We are not so important on the big scale.
We are not alone in muddling our way through life at times. We are all important and not important at all. None of us are flawed nor perfect. All our lives are messy and beautiful at once. We all feel like frauds at times. To know this is a relief. It lifts loneliness. We don't have to take everything so personal. We can be, sigh, just ourselves. We can give ourselves permission to feel good.
Consider this: Energy spent compensating for our self-doubt (overconfidence, deflection, playing things safe, arrogance) is energy taken away from dancing with any fears that stop us from stepping into who we are and showing up as we are. To act as if we got it all together, faking confidence, is exhausting. When we act rather than are, we grow ever more insecure.
"I want to unfold. I don't want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie," wrote Rainer Maria Rilke. We are what we are. We can stop comparing ourselves to others today. We can tread lightly, laugh, marvel, let go. We can unfold and be truth.
The humor in this: We each bring unique gifts to the grand drama of life and as such we areimportant. We are amazingly impactful when we are ourselves. We can shine in our capabilities and genius, because...we as we matter to us. No worry there, no self-consciousness, just us showing up the best we can. Might as well have fun with it. We are unique and we share humanity. Can we hold the balance?
Anyway, isn't being you all you can do? And want to do? Dropping the narrative of the impostor isn't arrogant. It doesn't make you recklessly confident. It's merely a way to enter our life's work with meaning, authenticity, and energy. Because we regain a sense of belonging, we can enter mastery, authentic ownership as well as humbleness.
Some practices with which we can cultivate sonder: How about becoming more aware of others, how they might be living their own movies, dreams, and insecurities? How about focusing on being, showing up, rather than on results and comparison? How about reflecting on the truth of ownership? We may not be at the center of life, yet we are absolutely essential. "I am larger, better than I thought, I did not know I held so much goodness." - Walt Whitman. We can wake up and claim who we are, knowing in our bones the delight and love of being us.