The Impostor Syndrome

Masks
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Earlier this week, I was talking with a friend about the fact that she doesn’t feel like she deserves a lot of what she has achieved (and she has achieved a lot, actually). I couldn’t feel more empathy. The same thing happens to me.

Why do I feel like I’m an impostor?

Keep in mind that I am:

  1. Not precisely attractive
  2. With an arguably acceptable level of formal education
  3. Not quite brilliant, in my opinion (some folks discern)
  4. With a terrible, terrible memory

Still, I’ve been lucky enough to work in great places and with extremely smart people, first in Mexico and now in Canada. How am I supposed not to feel like an impostor? I do have experience, I guess, and I generally work hard when I find something interesting. But I guess there are a lot of people with those qualities and even more who, nonetheless, have not been “lucky” or “fake” enough to be on my situation.

This, I learned a few months back, is called The Impostor Syndrome. And although the Wikipedia article states that:

The most effective technique to overcome impostor syndrome is to simply recognize that it exists.

… I keep acknowledging the fact that I’m possibly an impostor, and not that I have a psychological issue (well, at least not that one).

Let’s deal with it

At some point in time, though, I realized that it is not a very healthy thought for starting or finishing my day. So here is what I did. You may argue that it’s a bit cynical and I certainly won’t deny it, but well, it helps somehow:

If I am indeed an impostor, and this gets reaffirmed every time I have to deal with a problem that I barely understand or talk with people whose intelligence seems to be considerably out of my league, then I only have 2 choices:

  • Feel bad, worse every time I achieve something. Because I don’t deserve it, or,
  • Try to work hard, harder every time so I eventually feel like I deserve it.

It’s that easy. The idea is not to convince myself that I’m not an impostor (at least not right now). But think of it as some sort of credit: Currently I’m possibly getting a bit more than what I deserve but, at some point in time, I’ll be able to say that I now deserve what I’ve got.

Truth be told, this has helped a little bit. If I get a “kudo”, or a nice email, or a praise in a code review I likely still don’t feel like I deserve it. But the amount of time it takes until I do feel like it’s fair, keeps decreasing. Thus, I think at some point in time one of the following will happen. Either:

a. A time will come when I’ve paid all my “debt”, and rewards are instantly gratifying instead of an after-guilt sensation, or

b. At the very least, I’ll retire or die with the less possible amount of guilt.

But wait, there’s more!

The good thing about this “technique”, “mind hack” or whatever you want to call it, is not only the gradual decrease of guilt. It’s more about the fact of leaving something.

When I try to see myself from the outside, as somebody who buys the lie, the continuous improvement driven by a secret sensation of guilt could be nothing short of admirable. May I say, perhaps even inspiring. That’s an added value that could even overcome the initial guilt itself. A liar that inspires other people to do their best, to keep working hard whenever a challenge arises or even when a compliment or reward is received -disregarding the cynical fact that, in the liar’s own opinion, it may be mere luck.

I’m not saying my influence reach is on that level. And it could happen that it will never be that strong. But, who knows? If I keep working and being sort of confident on my impostor skills, it may even happen. Now, that’s a good reason for being a hard working impostor 🙂 .

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