When I was moving through the ranks of business, when I was employed in that realm, no matter how many promotions I got, I felt I would never be good enough, that there was always someone better. Same with writing. I always feel like what I write is crap, and there will be someone waiting in the sidelines to write a scathing critique, and consider someone else superior. It's inescapable for me.
So, having read this article, I am finally validated in my feeling like this. I've never heard it talked about before, and now I have a starting point for researching this phenomenon of Impostor Syndrome and how it has affected my life.
Two US sociologists, Jessica Collett and Jade Avelis, wanted to know why so many female academics opt for "downshifting": setting out towards a high-status tenured post, then switching to something less ambitious. Contrary to received wisdom, their survey of 460 doctoral students revealed that it wasn't to do with wanting a "family-friendly" lifestyle. Instead, impostorism was to blame. They also uncovered a nasty irony. It's long been known that impostorism afflicts more women than men – one of many reasons that institutions match younger women academics with high-ranking female mentors. But some survey responses suggested those mentors might make things worse, because students felt like impostors compared with them. "One said she suspected her mentor was secretly Superwoman," Science Careers magazine reported. "How could she ever live up to that example?"
This is only one of impostorism's frustrating ironies. Another is that true frauds and idiots rarely seem to experience it. ("The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt," said Bertrand Russell.) Arguably the worst one, though, is that getting better at your job won't fix it. Achieve promotions, or win accolades, and you'll just have more cause to feel like a fake. Enhance your knowledge, and as you expand the perimeter of what you know, you'll be exposed to more and more of what you don't. Impostorism, as Pacific Standard magazine put it recently, "is, for many people, a natural symptom of gaining expertise". Move up the ranks and if your field's even vaguely meritocratic, you'll encounter more talented people to compare yourself negatively against. It never stops. "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh-oh, they're going to find [me] out now,'" as some low-profile underachiever named Maya Angelou once said.
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