The Sunny Side of Imposter Syndrome

Though the term “imposter phenomenon” and I are birth-year twins – give it up for 1978! – it’s only been in recent years that what we’ve come to call Impostor Syndrome has gotten mainstream attention.

Impostor Syndrome: That nagging gremlin voice that says, “I’m a fraud and everyone’s going to find out any minute.”

Sound familiar?

Often, this nagging feeling of fraudulence eats away at us subtly. For some, it can present as tentative language or reluctance to advocate for ourselves. For others, it fuels secrecy and bluster, anything to hide the truth of our inadequacy from others.

At its worst, Impostor Syndrome can keep us from moving forward, especially in our careers, as we read job descriptions or consider business ideas and then believe the gremlin that says, “You can’t do that. You don’t begin to have the skills!”

The real bugger of it is that, sometimes, that bugger is actually right. Not that we’re frauds but that we aren’t fully qualified for whatever it is that we’re doing or aspiring to.

What. What?

You heard me. You weren’t qualified to learn to read when your kindergarten teacher sat you down to teach you or, even more impressively, when you went to a literacy initiative in your adult years. You weren’t qualified for your first job waiting tables or making smoothies or mowing lawns when you started. If you’ve been particularly daring in your career – and lucky and you’re a mighty fine communicator – you’ve had job after job (whether hired or self-created) for which you were barely qualified when you stepped into the role.

And yet you got in there and you sounded out the phonics and figured out how to carry a boat tray and treaded water until you figured out one role after another. The gremlin was right that you weren’t qualified in the moment; it was dead wrong that being unqualified was prohibitive.

Learning, by very definition, is an arc from not knowing to knowing – and realizing along the way all of the other stuff we don’t yet know. We will always be learning which means the gremlins will always have buffet-loads of fodder to feast on and spit back out as Impostor Syndrome. And the more growth-oriented we are, the more driven we are, the more we accomplish, the more learning we will need to do, the more we will recognize what we don’t yet know, and the more present those gremlins will be.

So what if, my friends, when we recognized within ourselves the sense of being an impostor, we practiced seeing it as a sign of growth and ongoing accomplishment?

What if, instead of kowtowing fearfully before the Gremlin of You’re a Fake, we high-fived it for reminding us of how far we’ve come and how far we might still go?

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