Impostor!

I had never heard about Imposter Syndrome until I read “Overcoming Impostor Syndrome: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Coding” by a staff at LiftApp. It’s a fascinating read that I think a lot of people in their 20s would benefit from reading. I was reminded of the post recently by something a friend said, which alerted me to the fact that I think the article is more timely in my life than I realize.

What is impostor syndrome?

According to Wikipedia, impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is:

a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

This GeekFeminism Wiki (I didn’t know websites like this existed!) You may feel inadequate and that you don’t measure up to the standard necessary for what you do, leading to:

  • not applying for jobs, promotions, and other employment opportunities
  • not submitting papers to conferences or journals
  • disclaiming or understating their experience/skill when speaking or writing
  • nervousness about talking to others in their field, especially if those others are perceived as highly skilled/experienced
  • feeling like a fraud
  • worrying that someone will find out their lack of qualifications and fire them
  • having higher stress
  • overpreparing for tasks
  • attributing successes to chance or luck

According to this 2006 article by Inc., impostor syndrome may be more present in women:

The impostor syndrome may be especially problematic among women. In the business realm, female CEOs are still rare enough that many believe their performance is being watched more closely and that their success or failure reflects directly on their female peers. Fundamental issues of nature and nurture also apply. “There’s a lot of evidence that boys growing up tend to blame things outside of themselves when things go wrong: The other team cheated; the referee wasn’t fair; the teacher didn’t give us enough time to study,” says Young. “Girls tend to blame themselves. So when they don’t make the sale, the customer isn’t saying he doesn’t like the product–he’s saying, ‘You’re inadequate.’”

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook has spoken openly about impostor syndrome before. In the Globe and Mail, she describes how it has affected her, despite being a Harvard grad, having worked for the World Bank and Google before Facebook:

“Women systematically underestimate their capabilities,” she says. “If you ask a man why he did a good job, he’ll say, ‘I’m awesome.’ A woman will say, ‘I’m lucky I got someone good to help me.’ ” When offered their first job after university, 57 per cent of men negotiate for themselves. Only 7 per cent of women do. “Women don’t feel they deserve their success,” she argues. “They don’t even understand it.”

Does this sound like you? It sure sounds like me. I’ve noticed it more and more as I’ve moved up in leadership at work and especially this fall after moving into the Office full-time.

  • I fear talking to anyone of any level of importance or making decision that affect others because I assume my decisions are under-informed.
  • I fear I haven’t earned my place
  • I fear people will soon realize that I’m really green and have more to learn than is worth spending the time to teach me
  • They’ll realize that I’ve led people astray due to my lack of expertise and regret letting me influence others

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a large contributor to the stress I’ve experienced the last year.

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  • Beth

    Wow, Jess. I’ve totally struggled with this ever since the beginning of undergrad, but could never pinpoint it like you just did. I’m definitely with you on this one.