Impostor Phenomenon/Syndrome – also known as “I thought it was only me who felt like that!”

Attended a talk last year, held by Geek Girl Dinners, here in Brisbane. After investigating, the topic was something that I really wanted to hear about and it. The title of the dinner was “Impostor Phenomenon”. I’d heard of this term before, but after seeing the post advertising the dinner, I went off and did a bit of research of my own.

Impostor Phenomenon – “The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.” (courtesy of Wikipedia)

WOAH! Hit the nail right on the head there. I read it once. And again. And again. Was a rather strange feeling. It felt as if someone had gone inside my head and managed to pull out the exact way I felt about myself and written it succinctly for everyone else to see. Very very surreal.

So after reading that, I figured I had to go to this talk, if only to hear this person speak on the subject…I truly didn’t think anyone else felt like that and it was just my own insecurities playing havoc inside my head. They do that sometimes…

So off I went. And I wasn’t alone. There was a fair few people there that night, I’d estimate around 15-20. So I’m thinking “Surely, SURELY, these women don’t feel the same way….do they?!”. Well, yes…they did. While Angelina (that was the name of the speaker, an amazing woman, who’s full name is Angelina Fabbro – go check out her stuff!) was speaking, I’m looking around the room. Seeing heads nodding. Seeing eyes widen in surprise. Seeing some fidgeting (and I was fidgeting myself) because it felt like you’d been found out. It was an extremely bizarre yet awesome experience.

I think I wasn’t alone in coming away from the talk feeling like I wasn’t alone. That it wasn’t just me that felt like that. I know it’s not limited to women, but I’m pretty sure we make up a higher percentage of people who feel this way. Probably because we’ve been told for so long that we *SHOULDN’T* be doing the jobs we’re doing, they’re not “feminine”.

I should also emphasize that Impostor Phenomenon/Syndrome is certainly not limited to women – I just became more aware of it through the a predominantly women-focused group, and I have heard it spoken about by more women than by men.

I wish I could tell you why my brain thinks the way it does, and diminishes my successes and amplifies my failures. It just does. I don’t feel successful – most of the time I feel like I’m treading water, waiting for something to grab my leg and pull me under. Or worse, that someone is eventually going to look at me, see me the way *I* see me and think that I’m a total failure and that I’ve just managed to bluff my way to where I am now.

But if I were to look at myself honestly and objectively, from an outsiders point of view, I would think of me as successful. I would see the accomplishments, not the failures. I think it’s very human to see flaws before we see the good, especially in ourselves. I’m definitely a glass half-empty type of person, something that I’ve been trying to change for many years, and it isn’t just in regards to my work life. It’s in regards to almost every aspect of my life.

I’ve worked extremely hard to get where I am. And if someone were to voice those feelings of falseness and fakery to me, I would probably be extremely angry and argue that no, I am in fact successful and I have worked hard to get here and I am good at what I do…even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. Which means that somewhere deep down I really do feel successful…I just don’t always admit it to myself!

UPDATE – Turns out I’m really not alone. After posting this to my Twitter feed, I got a huge amount of replies back, mots of which were along the lines of “Me too!”. I also received a link to the following blog post: “I’m a phony” (an amazing read, well worth the time). My favourite quote from the piece (attributed to Dave Ward) is this: “I think the more you know, the more you realize just how much you don’t know.” So, so true.

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