Tarot Topics: Impostor Syndrome

Welcome to a new series on this blog, Tarot Topics! I’ve been studying and slinging cards for about six months, and I feel called to write a bit about some of the cards that come up for me around specific challenges and experiences I’m working with. In this first post I’ll be talking about tarot guidance for impostor syndrome, but in future posts we’ll explore topics like white anti-racism, dealing with expectations and feelings of needing to fit in, FOMO, and spoonie life. I hope you’ll join me, and let me know if there’s a particular topic you’d like to see in the series!

All right, so impostor syndrome. I feel like it’s everywhere I look, particularly among marginalized communities. Whether we’re talking about business, art, celebrity, or activism, a lot of marginalized folks have trouble believing that they’re “qualified” for an opportunity, and mainstream culture works with this feeling by socializing white men to believe their own hype while others assume we have to earn any available opportunity (and even then, our work or expertise often doesn’t lead to success).

Recently, I attended a keynote where writer Luvvie Ajayi talked about the years of writing it took before she had a mindset shift and started thinking of herself as “a writer,” someone who could focus full-time on her writing and speaking. It made me think of a media training I attended a few years back where a trainer coached women and non-binary folks in the room to describe ourselves as experts, as the thing we’re striving to be, because if we don’t advocate for ourselves no one else will. Admittedly, I’m not sure about giving that advice to white women, and I’m interested in more systemic approaches to the problem than just teaching individuals to use the master’s tools, but I do find that a kick in the ass can sometimes be handy for combating impostor syndrome, and the tarot provides that with a number of cards. I’m breaking the nine cards I’ve chosen up into three major themes: “just do it” (get out there, do the thing, don’t wait for permission), “you can do it” (you’re already qualified) and “you deserve it” (give yourself a dang break).

Just Do It

a wand decorated with red gems, and a large glowing red gem at the top, with a serpent or dragon curled around it and blooming flowers surrounding itWhile any of the aces could probably fit in here, I’ve chosen two for this topic: the Ace of Wands and the Ace of Pentacles. The Ace of Wands is maybe the most “just do it” card in the tarot, suggesting that you should go ahead and jump in, try your passion, and don’t worry about planning everything in advance. If you’re feeling the “oh my God I’m so unprepared” part of impostor syndrome in the face of a new opportunity, this Ace says “don’t worry, just learn as you go along!” The Ace of Pentacles, on the other hand, offers a different energy. Particularly for work or material opportunities, it also challenges the idea that you’re unprepared, but in a more grounded way. It tells you to trust in your resources and abilities, that you will manifest the thing.

a black masculine-presenting person dressed in medieval garb is smiling with a hand to his ear as if listening for something, carrying a wooden staff in the other hand and standing under a tree branch where several birds are perchedFrom the Court cards, I think the Page of Wands is a good accompaniment to these messages. Again, this Page says that you don’t have to be an expert, or even worry too much right now about follow-through. It’s time to try things, to pursue your passions. Even if it’s not the right opportunity, it’s a good opportunity, right now. Unlike the Ace, the Page has experience, but may not be super confident yet. I think of Pages as being a little like entry-level employees. They’ve spent their years of study learning the lessons of the suit, and now they’re ready to put it into practice, but they’re not experts yet and that’s okay. You have to start somewhere!

You Can Do It

Okay, so you should do the thing, but what if you’re still uncertain about your abilities? Or what if you’re experiencing impostor syndrome later on in a thing, when you’re afraid the project might crash and burn and it’s all your fault and oh my god why did I sign up for this?

a thin person in a green dress is kneeling and bent over their knees, protecting their head from nine curved blades all pointed at their backTwo Nines come to mind here, neither of which is really my favorite card, but they have important lessons to offer. The Nine of Swords, which I was pulling pretty much constantly early this year, suggests a lot of anxiety and late nights worrying, which is never fun, but its message is actually an encouraging one. It says that you’re blowing things up too big, that the fear is really in your head rather than externally justified. You got this. The Nine of Wands, similarly, has some guidance to offer when you’re freaking out at the end of something and feeling overburdened. It suggests that you look to your inner strength, that the problems you’re experiencing are a test of faith that you can totally pass.

a young pacific islander in a magician's hat, manifesting a glowing white infinity symbolAlong with these tough cards, I’d also offer The Magician. The Magician can seem like a really unattainable archetype, manifesting all this cool shit, but they’re number one in the major arcana. They’re an early lesson reminding you that you already have resources and talents, that you can combine those and make magic even when you feel like you’re early in your journey. The Magician isn’t about gaining a bunch of new skills, but rather about combining everything you’ve got, along with an assist from the awesome power of the universe, to make shit happen.

You Deserve It

a black figure with large bare breasts wears a headdress with a large green gem in the center and flowers on their shouldersOkay, so the last six cards were about work and manifesting and doing the thing, but I think those of us with impostor syndrome also need a bit of tenderness and nurturing. We need to parent ourselves, to believe that we in fact deserve good things, no matter how much unfairness society has put on our backs. My favorite major for this is the Empress, a card that reminds us that we deserve healing, love, and support. We don’t have to work non-stop, all the time, to deserve the label of “expert” or “competent.” We can indulge in pleasure and self-care.

a Native person stands in the center of a waterfall, surrounded by butterflies and birds, holding a cupThe Queen of Cups brings the powerful message “you are enough.” When we’re striving to be recognized as experts and leaders and badasses without fully believing that we deserve such titles, this message is sorely needed. In fact, even if we don’t achieve the thing, we are valuable. We are enough. This Queen invites us to focus on things we love, follow our intuition, and stand up for our own self-knowledge.

Finally, the Nine of Pentacles is a card that supports both of these by encouraging us to invest in ourselves. This Nine says that we deserve luxury–not necessary in a capitalist white feminist kind of “having it all” way, but in the sense that it’s okay to prioritize our own needs sometimes. In fact, it’s critically important.

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