I is for Imposter Syndrome: Do I Really Belong Here?


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The strange thing of the day is Imposter Syndrome.

Have you ever taken a job that you felt you might not actually be qualified for?  Have you ever felt like you were just faking it and fooling everyone into believing that you knew what you were doing?  Have you ever had that sinking feeling that you were the least smart/capable/skilled/professional person in the room and no one had figured it out yet?

You might have suffered from Imposter Syndrome.

Basically, this is a term used to describe the feeling that one is an imposter in a position (usually a job) and just hasn’t been figured out yet.  I saw a great infographic on it the other day.  A Venn diagram where the two bubbles were labeled “successful people” and “people suffering from imposter syndrome” and there was only one circle.  I’m pretty sure this wasn’t based on anything terribly scientific, but the idea holds.  Everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome at some point.

I think it’s strange that this is such a common phenomenon that there are internet memes about it.  How is it that most of us feel like we haven’t earned the right to be in the position we’re in?  How does that make sense?

It comes from a culture of perfectionism and elitism and competition.  It’s perpetuated by problems of prejudice based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, economic status, education status, and so many other things.  Imposter Syndrome is purported to be worse for those who come from any type of minority or underrepresented group.

Often, the feeling is that others might know that you’re an imposter.  The syndrome comes with a fear of discovery and what will happen when everyone finds out.  In many, possibly even most, cases, there is nothing to find out.  You have the skills needed to do the job, you have the right credentials, the right experience, and the right background.  What you don’t have, in many cases is the supporting societal assumption that you fit into the position you’re in for whatever reason.

I feel that in many ways, the existence of Imposter Syndrome is a failure on the part of our society to live up to what we tell children.  “You can be anything you want to be.”  I wish this were actually true, but too often reality gets in the way.  Not everyone has the connections needed to get into certain high stakes jobs.  Not everyone is able to get the same educational opportunities that lead to certain types of specialized work.  Not everyone can afford to spend years in school racking up debt in the hope of becoming some specific thing when they grow up.

All things being equal, you can be anything you want to be.  But all things are not equal.

And it’s that inequality that leads to strange things like Imposter Syndrome.

I struggled with this feeling a bit when I first started my new job, but I’ve gotten my feet under myself now, and I know that I’m getting done what’s needed and excelling in what I was hired to do.  I don’t feel like an imposter anymore.

What experiences have you had with Imposter Syndrome?  Where you able to move past them and realize why did belong there?  Or are you still struggling?


8 thoughts on “I is for Imposter Syndrome: Do I Really Belong Here?

  1. I spent most of my career feeling that. On one occasion, when something had gone wrong, I told my director that it was his fault for employing an idiot. He thought I was joking.
    Since retiring, I have taken up writing, and my old friend is with me again.

    Keith Channing A-Zing from http://keithkreates.com

    • This is a hard thing to grapple with in many careers. Everyone feels it but no one talks about it or admits it. They’re afraid of being found out. Just knowing I’m not the only one who feels this way makes it easier. It can be especially hard as a writer because it’s so hard to judge success outside commercial sales.

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