Today I read an interesting post about impostor syndrome – that fear so many of us have that we don’t belong where we are or deserve what we have, and that sooner or later, and probably sooner, we’re going to be found out for the frauds that we are and then ridiculed and banished with much fanfare.
On the plus side, it tends to beset successful people. Genuinely stupid people and fraudsters apparently do not suffer from impostor syndrome, although for different reasons. On the down side, it doesn’t really go away. But it can get better.
You can read the original article on Quartz.com here. Somewhere near the top, there is also a link to an ‘impostor syndrome test’ that you can take. But in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, here is the link to the test. And if you’re a psychologist and wondering if this thing has ever been validated, apparently, yes.
I was a little surprised to find that I scored only 45 out of 100, but I noticed a real pattern in answering the questions. Some of the items refer to not thinking your achievements are as wonderful as other people say they are; some are about believing you just got lucky and don’t deserve your success; and some relate to being the best at everything and doing each and every task to perfection. Those of you who know me will realise that this last one obviously wasn’t an issue for me because I am, indeed, perfect. Just kidding. This was the killer. I don’t really suffer with the luck one. I am super-vigilant to be the best and if I do succeed, it’s because I nearly killed myself doing it. Not driving myself into the ground will therefore result in total failure, and yes, discovery and ridicule. I do the discounting thing too, of course. Like most people, I often don’t really understand that other people struggle with the things that come easily to me, and so used to find it hard to take credit for them. More recently, I understand this concept better. I do indeed have skills and talents that other people do not have, and vice versa. But even so, if these things come easily for me, I still find it hard to acknowledge other people’s awe at my achievements. But I am getting better at accepting credit. No, I don’t feel I belong on a pedestal (honest), but like most people, I do like to be told, even by myself, job well done.
What was interesting to me answering these questions though was the realisation that just a few years ago I would have answered them differently. And I can actually pinpoint what made the difference. A few years back, I started a conference – the Weight Stigma Conference. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was in the right place, at the right time, and worked really hard and pulled it off. It was successful beyond my imagination and has now been running for four years. This year we will be in Vancouver – follow the link for more information. And no matter what else happens with my work, my research, anything else I do, it still stands there as a testament to Something I Did That Was Great. It wasn’t the achievement I was aiming for when I started my PhD, and my supervisor keeps pointing out that my CV is looking fab, now could I please do some research and get it published. But knowing that it’s there has changed my perspective a lot. Now, sometimes, ‘good enough’ can be ‘good enough’ without me being terrified that it simply has to be more. Sometimes. Not all the time. But it’s a start. I guess the take home message is – do just one thing that you’re really proud of, one thing that even you can’t say ‘oh, it was nothing’ about, and then sit back and … oh, wait. Actually, final suggestion – try and make your one thing something that isn’t an annual event!!