The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators. The term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.
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. (Wikipedia)
A long time ago, when I was at primary school, I was selected to be part of an extension project run by the Northern Territory Government (I was living in Alice Springs at the time). The program was developed for gifted students and was to help accelerate their education, or something. I never really understood the program, especially as it only ran during primary school and didn’t continue into high school. I certainly enjoyed it though, because we learnt problem solving, puzzle solving, team work, an early introduction to algebra (still one of my favourite maths subjects), and had options to undertake external school activities like languages (I learnt some French), screen printing, photography and others.
Most of the time I was in the class though I felt I didn’t belong. I felt like I was clever and smart, but not as clever and smart as the boys in the class. Initially I was the only girl in the class, and I felt (and had always felt) that those boys were smarter than me. Later when other girls joined the class that I had felt smarter than, I felt less like and imposter and more like someone who belonged.
It was only when I was describing this to my girlfriend the other day, and her mentioning of imposter syndrome, that made me realise that yes, that was the problem. I had passed the tests to be a part of the extension program, and would not have been a part of it if I wasn’t genuinely accepted, but I couldn’t accept that I was sufficiently bright and capable when I first started the program.
I don’t recall this ever being a problem when I was working for the Department of Immigration. I started at entry level and worked my way up to the lofty heights of an APS 6 (not that lofty). I held a lot of power (referent, connection, and expertise) part-way through my career (which I maintained for the remainder), felt like I belonged, worked hard for everything I achieved.
When I started my internship with IBM, I didn’t know everything, and that was ok, because it was a pre-entry level role, and I was there to learn (and be paid the equivalent thereof). Clearly I shone, because I applied for a mid-level role in a field I’d only just finished studying, an was offered the job.
Again I felt like I didn’t belong, that I’d somehow fluked getting the role, that someone at some point soon would realise that I didn’t have the faintest idea of what I was doing. Despite being told by other colleagues that IBM would have been very silly to have not offered me that role, and that I had everything that IBM wanted in an employee, I still feel (even today) that I don’t know enough, that I am somehow lacking, in my current role.
It creates a burden of anxiety, which I carry around daily at work, and it is really annoying. Clearly I would not have been offered the role if the management team thought I was not capable of it. Clearly I would not be given the responsibility of the various projects I’m on if I was not capable of managing them, and judging when I needed help. Clearly I can do what I’m paid to do, but I don’t feel like I can, I feel like I am an imposter.
I know that part of the solution requires time, requires me to continue learning and achieving in my current role. The annoying thing, for me anyway, is that this even happens. That many people (often women) have their abilities, knowledge and skills questioned to the point where they don’t feel confident about them, that they question their own worth, abilities, knowledge and skills. I want to live in a world where people’s worth is not questioned, that’d be nice.