The problem with Imposter Syndrome

At its core imposter syndrome is really just another symptom of inequity and bias

I was unfamiliar with the concept of imposter syndrome until a few years ago, when a friend mentioned it over dinner. As she explained, I found myself getting a bit irritated with the whole thing but couldn’t really put my finger on why. Instead of exploring this further I listened, we talked through the workplace problem that had prompted the conversation in the first place and had another gin.

I heard the term many more times over the subsequent years, came to understand more about its meaning and began to view self-doubt more as a spectrum. A degree of healthy apprehension before a new challenge is normal and probably no bad thing; it keeps us curious and striving to learn. Imposter syndrome however is a pattern of behaviour where individuals doubt their abilities and accomplishments; they have a persistent fear of being exposed a fraud. When presented with objective evidence of success, this is chalked up to ‘luck’ or ‘right place, right time’ rather than merit. It also particularly affects high-achieving people in intellectually demanding jobs (sound familiar?).

I found myself slipping into this way of thinking

In short, imposter syndrome is a pattern of behaviour which is self-destructive. Becoming entrenched in this way of thinking prevents making steps to improve areas that actually require development. It holds people back from pursuing goals due to feelings of inadequacy. So many of the people we speak to talk about the power of saying ‘yes’ and being open to opportunities. It is far more difficult, or impossible, to adopt this mindset if you consistently feel like you don’t deserve it.