Yes, there really is something called “impostor syndrome,” that feeling that you aren’t really up to snuff and are about to be exposed – but guess what? Turns out it’s actually a good sign. For reals. Would TVWriter™ kid?
Impostor Syndrome? It Might Be a Sign You’re Getting Better at Your Work
by Oliver Burkeman
Impostor syndrome – the feeling that you’re a fraud, and any day now you’ll be exposed – is presumably even more common than surveys suggest: after all, it’s not the kind of thing to which people like to admit. Indeed, it can be hard to tell when you’ve got it: those othersmight have a syndrome, your reasoning goes, but I’m genuinely out of my depth. It’s a classic case of “comparing your insides with other people’s outsides”: you have access only to your own self-doubt, so you mistakenly conclude it’s more justified than anyone else’s. This is a strange kind of self-doubt, when you think about it, since it’s premised on the idea that you’re highly talented at something, namely deception. Still, it’s no fun, and if new research is anything to go by, it might be harder to cure than anyone thought.
Two US sociologists, Jessica Collett and Jade Avelis, wanted to know why so many female academics opt for “downshifting”: setting out towards a high-status tenured post, then switching to something less ambitious. Contrary to received wisdom, their survey of 460 doctoral students revealed that it wasn’t to do with wanting a “family-friendly” lifestyle. Instead, impostorism was to blame. They also uncovered a nasty irony. It’s long been known that impostorism afflicts more women than men – one of many reasons that institutions match younger women academics with high-ranking female mentors. But some survey responses suggested those mentors might make things worse, because students felt like impostors compared with them. “One said she suspected her mentor was secretly Superwoman,” Science Careers magazine reported. “How could she ever live up to that example?”
This is only one of impostorism’s frustrating ironies. Another is that true frauds and idiots rarely seem to experience it….
Check out Oliver Burkeman’s new book!