Any moment the jig will be up. Any day my boss will call me and delicately, with empathy mixed in, inform me that it’s clear his predecessor hiring me was obviously a mistake, that he’s not quite certain how I ended up in my job since I’m under qualified. He may even apologize for this horrible misstep on the organization’s part, for the stress this mistake must have caused me.
New position? No. I’ve been in my position almost a decade. Poor evaluations or negative feedback? No and no. But apparently many women experience feelings like this.
My rational mind knows I have worked hard. I’ve had a quality education. I have a masters degree in my field. I have almost three decades of work history. I have progressively advanced during my career.
But there’s this undercurrent running through my subconscious and making appearances as self-talk that tells me I’m a fraud. I’ve lucked my way to my position; I’ve fooled everyone. Fingers crossed no one discovers this folly!
Imposter syndrome was coined in 1978. It’s also referred to as imposter phenomenon and impostorism. That’s my favorite. I’ve got a bad case of impostorism…isn’t there an ointment for that?
Imposter syndrome involves persistent doubt about one’s abilities, knowledge, contribution, etc. and fear or anxiety concerning being discovered as a fraud.
It was considered to be especially prevalent in professional women. But recent studies have found it affects both women and men equally. But let’s save gender for later. I have some thoughts!
Imposter syndrome is not a recognized mental disorder, though it’s prevalent in those dealing with depression or anxiety.
Researcher Pauline Clance proposes that there are six traits prevalent in cases of the syndrome and that two must be present in an individual for them to have the syndrome.
1.The imposter cycle. Experiencing it. Living it. I’m just going to drop this diagram from Brown University right here.
1. I experience this with every work project. I experienced this with every college assignment. I experience when hosting a get-together. I go through this cycle even with Christmas shopping.
2. Needing to be special or the best. Oh I just loathe attention so I’ve never wanted anyone to regard me as special. But if I got a 99 on an assignment and someone else got 100, it hurt my soul.
3. Regarding oneself as, or projecting an image of, “Superman/superwoman.” I immediately don’t think this applies to me. It may have once (mom, full time editor, full time graduate student…seemed doable at the time, but I now see I was the walking dead.) I’m definitely way more realistic about what I’m willing to take on now.
4. Persistent fear of failure. My brain screams WHO ISN’T AFRAID OF FAILURE? But yeah, a 99% isn’t failure. But it sure felt like it to me.
5. Tendency to deny talent or discount praise. Indeed, praise makes me very uncomfortable, but not just because I don’t like the attention on me. It was luck, pure chance that things turned out well…nothing special on my part.
6. Feeling guilty or embarrassed by success. I realized I’m never specific about my job when someone recently asked me what I do. I mentioned the field I’m in and that was it. The follow-up questions sought specifics, so I redirected the conversation. It is such an ingrained habit; it is like muscle memory.
What to do? Well, therapy and awareness are huge. It’s your self-talk, the voice you hear without hearing, your inner monologue. If I’m constantly telling myself I’m a rabbit, I just may believe it one day. (I jest!)
I have to catch myself and force a script rewrite. But now I know that it’s baseless self-talk and not grounded in reality. I shut the voice up and tell myself I’m capable, that hard work, skill, knowledge, and experience make my wins possible, not some fluke of fate. And I also have to remind myself that being proud of myself is not being full of myself. That message was definitely imprinted on me when I was young - that pride is not a good thing, that it’s essentially vanity.
So I’m getting increasingly better at shutting these thoughts down. I wanted to share this topic so that if you experience this, something may ring true for you and you’ll know other feel this too.
One nice result of awareness is that I came to see how unnecessary my default level of preparation was. I saw that if two hours of work is what a task needs, five days of work is not going to produce an end to world hunger. It just means I’m frazzled and tired. My daughter (your favorite blogger!) has told me more than once that I’m way more relaxed than I used to be. She is 100% correct.
Postscript on gender:
Once a predominately female issue. Currently, not so much. Women entering the workplace en masse in the 1970s, a world that belonged to men. No wonder there were feelings! Impostorism afoot! But what I find really interesting is that men experience it in similar numbers now. And I have to wonder if the decline in manufacturing jobs and increase in both outsourcing and technology play a part. With these changes, a lot of men (along with women, but this may have been the first major change/set-back for them) had to enter new fields and learn new skills. I’m in no way claiming a causal relationship, but I’m definitely planning on reading and thinking more about this.