To attain “success” without attaining positive self-esteem is to be condemned to feeling like an imposter anxiously awaiting exposure.Nathaniel Branden
An international public speaker, Hugh Kearns, came to the Uni at the start of my second year of the degree, and it was an extremely insightful two days of training. He gave practical advice on planning the PhD, discussed the importance of sharing your research across different platforms (part of the reason I started blogging), and, made us aware of something called ‘The Imposter Syndrome’.
The Imposter Syndrome is, essentially, feeling like a fraud in your life. Whether it be in your career – the arts, sciences, management, business, or in your personal life, everywhere and anywhere in society. This syndrome essentially stems from the thought that if you are good at something, you have to do it right all the time and never make mistakes. But, as we are all human, and do make mistakes, some people believe that mistake is the ‘ proof ‘ we are not good, so must be frauds.
This sounds so logical on paper. Everyone knows mistakes happen. But, in my case it is true. I am a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s just a matter of time before someone realises. It was just a lot of luck, good fortune, and kindness of other people that meant I was accepted into this degree… Those were a few of the panicked thoughts rushing through my mind at the start of the talk. Then, Hugh gave us some topics to discuss with our neighbour, which were then shared with the room…
It was amazing. Following a simple discussion, research, academic, and non-academic staff alike, from assistants to professors, put their hands up to say they too felt like frauds. They gave examples of situations they were in and their fears, reflecting mine. These are the people who have changed policy, have huge followings for their research, bring hundreds of thousands of pounds into the university to fund their research. How could they feel like a fraud? And what’s worse, if they with all they have achieved are frauds, what am I?
Apparently the Imposter Syndrome is something a lot of people feel, and interestingly enough, the more work you put in trying to feel less like a fraud, subsequently the higher up in rank you go, and thus the cycle continues.
The two days of training were invaluable, as there was considerable amounts of self-reflection. This primarily stemmed from some of the ‘warning signs’. These included aspects I wouldn’t have ever considered to be linked to imposter-ism – such as perfectionism, over-committing, what I like to call ‘practical procrastination’. It was eye-opening and slightly scary, thinking the traits that make me a ‘good worker’ in many people’s eyes may not only be traits that feed into feeling like an imposter, but may actually a form of subconscious self sabotage.
It’s funny though, because even with this awareness of the Imposter Syndrome, it is hard trying to believe that you aren’t a fake, if you’re that way inclined. If you have these self-doubts, or can see how a little bit of luck and good fortune has lead to the various opportunities that have arisen. Trying to overcome these negative thoughts with positive ones is tiring.
I haven’t yet overcome those thoughts and feelings. Like all things in life, it will take time. Maybe if I just work harder, they will go away (or is that the Imposter Syndrome talking?!) What is comforting though, if I get too overwhelmed with these worries, I think back to the day in Hugh’s talk, picture the sea of hands in the air and think, at the very least… I’m not alone.
Thank you for reading! I do hope you enjoyed. Do you ever feel like an imposter? Please share your thoughts/comments/suggestions, I’d love to hear them! For more information on the Imposter Syndrome, check out Hugh Kearn’s info:
- Webpage: http://www.ithinkwell.com.au
- Twitter: @ithinkwell
- Facebook: ithinkwellHugh