What is ‘Imposter Syndrome’?


UPDATE: wow, never thought this post would take off this much! thanks

In: Other

The feeling that whatever job you’re in, you’re not qualified for it and got the position due to a fluke and that people are going to figure out any minute that you’re just an impostor who has no clue what you’re doing.

The feeling that you don’t belong wherever you are, because you think you’re not smart/good enough to be there. Comes with a fear that everyone will eventually discover that you don’t belong on the team.

I think it mostly happens in highly technical environments, where it can be hard to evaluate where exactly you stand in comparison with everybody else. Finding things you’re not good at is easy, finding everybody else’s skill level is hard, and so it’s very easy to get the impression that you suck, even if on the whole you’re comparable or better than other members.

Example: “Maybe I shouldn’t answer this question, because I don’t think I’m really qualified to answer it.”

People sometimes feel, for whatever reason, like they do not merit the position they hold or are not qualified to do what they are supposed to be doing. It can become a fairly crippling problem that leads to all kinds of avoidance strategies so that you “don’t give it away” and get fired.

Sometimes this is for good reason, because the person in question has indeed been promoted too far, or has indeed begun to lead or perform activities that they really are not qualified to do. Then they are indeed an impostor masquerading as someone who is qualified to do it – for example, someone pretending to be a doctor, or pretending to be a police officer, or pretending to be a qualified and insured contractor for a given area of expertise. However, people doing this deliberately probably do not have “impostor syndrome”, because they know that they are masquerading or pretending in order to get the work or in order to do whatever it is they are trying to do.

Sometimes it is for no good reason, and it’s just a feeling and a fear that develops over time, when someone is perfectly well qualified to hold that role, or perfectly able to do the job in question. Getting some therapy for this would probably be a very healthy thing to do, before it develops and becomes more crippling!

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of incompetence at something, particularly when you’re in a position where someone expects you to perform at a certain level. You would feel as if you’re not capable of performing at that level. Say, for instance, you’ve become really good at the piano and you’re looking to join your first orchestra. There’d be a “presupposition” that you are capable of playing together, in time, and on key with other members! This can lead to a feeling of anxiety and incompetence which we call imposter syndrome. And it can be quite debilitating because once you start to doubt your abilities, you’re prone to what some people call the “yips.” You don’t really “self sabotage” per say, you more “fail unintentionally” and then feel even worse about yourself and your abilities.

Paul McCartney is one of the most successful and popular musicians of all time, and generally agreed to be a musical genius. I heard him once say in an interview that before every concert he wonders if this is finally going to be the time that they figure out he’s no good. That is impostor syndrome.