Being a Holocaust Survivor Gave Her This Superpower

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend Yoka, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who is an active member of The Human Library, a published author, educator and fellow multi-passionate soul. Yoka is interesting for 1,000 different reasons, but it was when I started talking about my personal battle with imposter syndrome that my mind was truly blown. 🤯🤯🤯

“What’s imposter syndrome?” she asked with her trademark smirk, and I really thought she was just messing with me.

“You know,” I explained, “the voice that tells you you’re not enough. You’re not smart enough . . . pretty enough . . . young enough . . . nobody cares about what you have to say . . . it’s not original anyway . . . so why bother . . .”

On and on I prattled, waiting to see that flicker of recognition in Yoka’s eyes. But it never came.

“Oh, I don’t have that,” she said while I stared dumbstricken.

“Well, in that case,” I said, “I have two questions. Why do you think that is?

And can I bottle you?”

~

From the age of two, until she turned five, Yoka was hidden from the Nazis by the Dutch resistance. Her parents reasoned that they couldn’t keep any of them safe if a toddler who didn’t know the rules about what not to say was running around. Since Yoka had few identifying characteristics of her heritage, she could be hidden in the households of non-Jewish families who had other children . . . that is until the neighbors started asking questions.

Taking part in the resistance could earn you a one-way ticket to the concentration camps, so Yoka learned early on that when her host family started getting jittery and nervous, she was about to be secreted away to live with a different family somewhere else. Yoka moved 16 times in the course of those three years, and by the time she was reunited with her parents, she was convinced she knew what was best for herself. That emotional intelligence she developed from observing her host family’s temperaments? That would serve her in the future, too.

But the most interesting development was her sense of self-belief. For three of her formative years, no one parented her, so she came to rely entirely on herself. Given that there was no one to ask for advice, she did what she wanted. So when her parents attempted to reassert themselves as the powers that be, Yoka’s five-year-old attitude was, “Nah, I’m good. I got myself this far.”

And, fascinatingly, that same self-belief is what led Yoka to never develop any concept of imposter syndrome.

I’d like to honor Yoka for responding this way.

Adversity can certainly have disempowering aftershocks, too. Much of what happened in her later years begs the question of why she doesn’t have the most raging case of imposter syndrome in the history of humanity. But that’s just not how she rolls.

For those of us who didn’t have life lessons that aligned in an oddly serendipitous way to smack the inner critic out of us — a fact about which we have much to be grateful — we’re going to have to work at what comes to Yoka naturally.

Which got me thinking about how different life looks once you learn to slay this demon.

You’ll finally do the thing  you’ve been talking about for years, but just haven’t started yet. 

You’ll complete projects you’ve started — and rock the confidence that comes with adding “finisher” to your identity

Future-you will look back at current-you and shake your head in disbelief that you ever wondered if you had what it takes. The same future-you that has gotten comfortable with vulnerability and showing up and being seen

What would life be like with a Yoka-esque sense of unwavering self-belief? 

Would you like to find out?

Listen to the companion episode.

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