Ever felt like you were an impostor? Like you were just pretending to know what you know, that you obviously were not as smart as you think, and eventually everyone would find out and expose you like the fake faking faker you are?


I've been reading about Impostor Syndrome lately. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with that term, Wikipedia gives the definition as:

... a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. 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.

In other words, people afflicted with impostor syndrome think they are terrible at their job (or hobby, or skill, etc.), when in reality they're actually pretty good at it.

IMO this affliction disproportionately affects people who tend to live in their own heads; people such as this are known to the general public as introverts. I know because I'm one of them.

In all my years of being an introvert (read: since I was born), it has slowly occurred to me that the longer you reside in your own mind, the more you can analyze and examine and tear apart your thoughts and eventually determine that you did something wrong, or not in the optimal way, or (if you're particularly hard on yourself like I am) just manufacture some other way to criticize your own actions.

In many ways this kind of self-awareness is important, since we have to know what we suck at in order to get better. But too much self-awareness can lead to doubt, and doubt to worry, and worry to fear. We become afraid we aren't as good as everyone seems to think we are. After all, we don't think we're very good, so obviously nobody else will either.

So we, the introverts and others prone to self-awareness, get caught in a whirlwind of defeatism. That's when we start listening to the voices of doubt as they spin their sordid lies. They say that clearly we're not as good as others, not as good as we think we are, not as good as anything.

Our conscious minds fight back, knowing that we need to learn and practice to improve, but the doubting voices pelt us with insidious counter-arguments: why learn when we'll never catch up? We'll never know everything, so what's the point in learning anything?

As I said before: Good. Everyone has these voices. The trick lies in knowing when they are full of crap, which is most of the time.

You will never know everything. It's unpossible. The more experience you acquire, the more you notice how little you really know. But what's better is that you also get more and more OK with that. You start to realize and internalize that you don't need to know everything, don't need to know more than your cube-mate, don't need to know more than what you have to know to get your job done.

And yet, still, we sometimes listen to the voices and end up feeling like a phony. This is terribly counterproductive, since feeling like a phony is proof that we aren't one.

What's funny about impostor syndrome is that it's self-defeating. If we start thinking we are frauds, and continue to think it despite evidence to the contrary, then paradoxically we can be assured that we are not frauds. If we think we are not as skilled as we should be, yet continue to remain employed and receive praise and compliments from our coworkers and bosses, then odds are that the voices are lying POSs and that we are better than we think we are. Frankly, if we weren't good at our jobs (read: providing value to the business) then we probably wouldn't have that job anymore.

Yet we often lack the self-awareness to recognize when this is happening. That's the most humorous (or the most infuriating, depending on who you're currently listening to) thing about impostor syndrome: self-awareness is both the infection and the cure.

If you've gotten good enough at something to start reaping some success from it (whether it's keeping a job, getting a new one, starting a business, whatever) and you start to think that you don't deserve it, take a look in the mirror and slap yourself in the face. Wake up! You do deserve it. You don't get to the point where you start to feel like a fraud without having some success along the way. Hell, feeling like an impostor is almost a prerequisite for feeling like a success.

So, next time you listen to the doubting voices and start feeling like a phony, just remember that the simple fact that you feel that way means you aren't one. And, maybe, step out out of your head once in a while. It can get pretty noisy in there.

What do you think, dear readers? Ever think you're just an impostor, a fraud, a phony? Does it bother you, or can you get around it? Am I the one that's full of crap? Let me know in the comments!