I'm so bored of Imposter Syndrome!
Imposter Syndrome is a phrase that has got me rolling my eyes and if it's never sit quite right with you either, I'm going to explain why.
What’s the most common question that is asked every International Women’s Day? “How do you handle Imposter Syndrome?” and I’ve had enough of it. Why are we assuming women don’t feel confident enough to be there? Why are men never asked about their ‘Imposter Syndrome’? And why are we putting women in a double bind so that if god forbid, they admit that they don’t feel like an imposter, they are seen as arrogant?
Let’s start off with the phrase ‘imposter syndrome’. It exaggerates vague feelings of doubt (that by the way are human) into something a lot more malicious. The definition of an imposter is someone who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain. I understand that sometimes when you have ‘Imposter Syndrome’, you might feel like you’ve tricked people into hiring you. But you are not your feelings. And there is a HUGE difference between feeling that way and intentionally misleading and manipulating people.
Another issue I have with the term is that it’s overcomplicating a simple issue, slapping a complex label, and ostracising one area of your life from your life as a whole. If you feel ‘not good enough’ in the workplace, it is very likely that is not the only time you feel like that? Building a complex narrative around it and saying it’s ‘Imposter Syndrome’ actually makes it harder to fix. Whenever you build a story around something, you remove yourself from the crux of the matter: how you feel, because the stories you tell yourself are in your head and the healing happens in your body, where your feelings are.
What strikes me so peculiar about all these International Women’s Day talks and the interviewer asking “How do you handle Imposter Syndrome?” is you are assuming they have it in the first place. They are essentially asking “Do you feel like you shouldn’t be here?”. Imagine someone inviting you to a party and then when you turn up, the host tells you “You must be feeling so intimidated! You are way out of your depths here”. You’d be bloody confused! You were invited after all! Jobs work the same way. And maybe this is why I don’t have Imposter Syndrome.
If I get hired for a job, I trust the judgment of the person who has hired me. They know why they hired me and whilst I don’t need to know their reasons, they must have had them. Therefore, I am good enough for the job. If they even had a second of doubt, they wouldn’t have hired me. They would have asked someone else. You are allowed to have moments where you question your ability, but in those moments, trust the people who hired you. You didn’t deceive them.
Here’s a practical example. When I had my first Zoom call with all the people doing a TedX talk on the same day as me, it was intimidating. There were CNN war journalists, a leader of a political party, the head of a well-known charity and pretty much everyone had a fancy title. I could have focused on that, but instead, I reminded myself that everyone offered something different and I was invited to be a part of this group for a reason. I could be intimidated by it, or I could be honoured by it. I chose the latter and if I had chosen the former, the people I would have been doing a disservice, were the people in the audience. An imposter will never perform as well as someone who knows they deserve to be there! If I continued to focus on our job titles, I would have been too intimidated to perform at my best so I instead, focused on my own lane. I didn’t need to compete with them, I needed to perform alongside them. We were all jointly responsible for making sure the audience that day left feeling satisfied, which meant I needed to contribute to the day but I wasn’t solely responsible. I could see being put in the same group as them as a threat, or a challenge.
And to prove that job titles or even how many years of experience mean nothing, the person I was most intimidated by, ended up being the only person who forgot their words on the day. Don’t put people on a pedestal when they are human too!
I guess my anger around it is when you ask every woman “Do you have Imposter Syndrome?” over and over again, it starts to sound like “You should have imposter syndrome!”. It’s a leading question. The reason why I believe men aren’t asked this question and women are is because women are assumed to lack confidence in their ability whereas men are welcomed to trumpet their accomplishments. This is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you ask me the question so many times, it makes me question it when I never previously would have.
I can recognise that it can be useful to see people in high authority positions admit that they aren’t always confident either and that you aren’t alone in those feelings. It sends the message that even though they have these moments, despite that, they succeeded to the highest rungs of their industry. Where it stops being helpful is when ‘you are not alone’ becomes the thing that women bond over. There’s a stereotype that women bond over bitching but what’s much more common than this, is women bonding over their insecurities. It’s the cliche of someone saying how fat their thighs are and another person reassuring them by saying “NO, my thighs are bigger!”. This is what we are doing with Imposter Syndrome in the workplace. And what happens when we feel like we have to undermine our accomplishments in order to be included with our peers is that we will start seeing this label as part of our identity.
To be honest, I believe that shift has already happened. There are life coaches who now specialise in Imposter Syndrome and last year, when I joined a few new speaking agencies, in every interview, I was asked if I do speeches on Imposter Syndrome. I told them I can do talks on it, in the same way that I give people advice on divorce, having never gone through one myself but if they wanted a talk full of personal stories, I wasn’t the person for the job. Each agency told me that it was now their most requested speech and I must say that saddened me. Do we really think the discussion of Imposter Syndrome has reduced the amount we feel it? Or do people now feel pressured to fit into what’s expected of them?
It’s like the story I tell in the introduction of The Selfish Romantic about how every panel talk only wanted to ever ask me about negative dating experiences and therefore I was forced to tell those stories when all I wanted to talk about were the positive ones. If you ask me about being body shamed in my dating life, then all I can talk about is body shame. In the same way, if you only ever ask me about Imposter Syndrome, then I’m forced to talk about the rare experiences where I feel inadequate. Can we create some room to talk about how I know my worth in the workplace financially? And create some space to talk about the fact that I know I bring a lot to the table on a job. Especially on International Women’s Day!
It’s OK to have worries about your performance without turning it into an overarching aspect of your personality. I do have moments where I get scared to say yes to a more challenging job. I have moments where I worry if I did a good job. But do I have Imposter Syndrome?
I am a five board accredited life coach.
I have four books to my name.
I’ve done a TedX talk.
I’ve been doing this job for 8 years.
I’ve earned this spot and I goddamn deserve to be here!
Oh and so do you!
If that makes me arrogant, then so be it! It’s not like men have ever shied away from being arrogant.
Lots of love,
Let’s fill the comments section with people trumpeting their own accomplishments! Where have you earned your right to be? Why do you deserve to take up space? Be as arrogant as you can get!
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