“Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds” (Wikipedia). It seems that 70% of us will experience impostor syndrome (IS) at least once in our lives. And apparently it is spread equally among men and women: women tend to experience IS more in relation to performance; and for men it is driven more by a fear of being unsuccessful.
If (like me) you have experienced IS at any point in your life (or several points), you are in good company, including Maya Angelou, Jacinda Arden, Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nicola Sturgeon, David Tennant and Emma Watson. And many of my most accomplished friends and colleagues have described feeling this way too.
So, what causes impostor syndrome? Perhaps we were heavily criticised as children, at home or school – or both? Maybe expectations for our academic (and otherwise) achievements were too high? Or maybe we are just perfectionists? Perhaps it is a combination of all these factors – and more? Whatever it is (or is not) for you, let me finish with a real-life example…
On Friday I had finished working through a short but punchy training course on academic referencing. Even though I check references in academic papers and reports ALL THE TIME, I wanted to make sure that I knew what I knew (if you know what I mean). And I found the course quite tough, so I had been putting off taking the final test.
Sleep-deprived (blame Martha, one very naughty rescue kitten, who brings worms into my bedroom as “love gifts” at night), I sat looking at the link to the test again. I figured if I could pass it feeling like that – Hormonal Zombie Kitten Mum – I really couldn’t be as silly as I thought. So, I sat it, and – you know what – it wasn’t so bad. I found I had retained all of the information, and I DID KNOW about referencing after all (who knew). What’s more, not only did I pass, I got 100%! (That sounds very much like bragging, but it’s information that illustrates my point very well.)
Will I learn from this? Probably not. I suspect I will have to learn to make friends with the impostor, to love her, to be amused by her, and to let her keep me on my toes and keep striving.