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Down The Rabbit Hole: Facing Imposter Syndrome and Comparison Anxiety

Hot take, Pole is hard.

I know right? I’ll give you a moment to soak that in.

… you good?

… ok great.

So, as I was saying, pole is hard. It will push you past where you feel comfortable and often have you telling your instructor, “Why do you hate me?”. Then shrug and go, “Guess I’ll die”. The skin will pinch and bruise, the muscles with protest, and you will find yourself becoming an amateur dermatologist figuring out the best way to get your skin the right balance of not too moist and not too dry. A Grippy Goldielocks, if you will. With all that said, what will always be the strongest obstacle to overcome will not be the disorientation of a fast spin, the struggle for strength, or even dry slipping. It will be your mind.

Contrary to popular belief, not all voices in your head are a sign of psychosis and require immediate in-patient care. (Though to do pole, I feel you have to be a little certifiable right?) They’re the voices telling us what we are capable of, and what we are not. Limiting us, challenging us, and making us doubt our dreams. It may be the voice of an overbearing parent or that bully from 7th grade (you know the one), a coach, or a professor that to this day you believe hated you (they hated themselves I promise). More often than not, it’s your own voice whispering discouragement to keep your ego at bay. The call is coming from inside the house.

You flip through Instagram and TikTok, story after story, video after video, seeing pointed-toe perfection, and wonder just what the hell you are doing here. It can be frustrating to no end when you’ve been working on your Iron X for months with no consistent success, then someone brand new comes in and is able to go right into a deadlift and nail it on their first try. And so it goes, the spiral of anxiety and comparison.

“If only I had the money and work schedule like her, I could train as much as I wanted and be just as good”

“If I was as strong as him and had a background in fitness, I could do those dynamic moves too”

“If only I had been a dancer or gymnast, then I could fearlessly flip and bend like them”

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, we descend farther down into our self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

“Why am I even doing this? I’m going to look like such a fool. I don’t belong here.” 

Another side effect is the tendency of getting wrapped up in numbers and assumptions. Maybe you are moving up a level and feel out of your league, or feel embarrassed because you’re at a lower level than your peers. Maybe you are wrapped up in score sheets and placements and let that affect how you view yourself, your progress, and your routine as a whole. Maybe as you’re building your routine you question if the judges will “get it”, and make decisions based on how you think they’ll score it.

If any of this is sounding familiar, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. You are not alone, and you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Remember why you are here and why you made the decision to try a class, a showcase, a competition, a Groupon package, or whatever. Whether it’s because you love to perform, the creative outlet it gives you, the new sense of confidence, or discovering all the amazing things your body can do; never lose sight of those intentions. Of course, we want bragging rights and validation. Of course, we’d all like to place and take that medal-biting picture. This is completely human and reasonable.

The truth is, those medal-biting performers that seem flawless in your eyes are struggling just as much as you. I have been backstage with competitors who had paper towels balled under their armpits because they were nervously sweating uncontrollably. There have been performers with earbuds in their ears and eyes closed until seconds before getting on stage to tune all the anxious energy. Champions that execute an amazing, entertaining, and memorable piece will still get off stage and cry because they messed up on something no one else even noticed or cared about.

Doing anything out of your comfort zone will always be intimidating and make you face your own demons head-on. Maybe you don’t see a lot of your body type or ethnicity represented so feel you don’t belong. Maybe you’re a stronger comedic, creepy, or theatrical performer than you are with poise and grace. Maybe you can’t afford a pricey, custom-made costume and have to go a more budgeted route. Maybe you’re coming back from a pregnancy, injury, or trauma that has left you not at the ability you were before and are slowly working your way back. Maybe you have a crippling fear of being on stage or social anxiety.

If you take away anything from this, take away that you are seen and you are supported. When you go on to that stage or in that studio, you are surrounded by people that want you to succeed.  Comparison is the thief of joy so run your own race, and take satisfaction in the little triumphs.  Baby steps towards bigger goals are still wins. A win is a win. Do it for the love of pole and for you and no one else. Celebrate yourself and know you are doing fantastic. I see you.

Also, with every perfect video post, at least 100 flops and falls came before it. We’re all just doing our best.


Casey Danzig
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