ever feel like you’re pretending to know more than you do?

Recently, we’ve noticed an interesting term bandied about in networking circles. It’s called imposter syndrome. We don’t like to miss anything, so we decided to do a little research.

Here’s what we learned.

Impostor syndrome is “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications.” (Yes, Imposter Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It. Abigail Adams, Time Magazine, June 20, 2018).

While it smacks of insecurity, it’s not very unusual. According to Melody Wilder In her Fast Company article “The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Beat Them”, “70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career.”

If these figures are accurate, 7 out of 10 people feel they put on a good show. They’ve internalized the negative connotation that the word imposter implies – fraud, charlatan, cheat. Actually, Fake It Til You Make It sounds a whole lot better. So does Act As If. But they’re all the same — Act Confident Til You Really Know What You’re Doing — Pretend and Hope No One Notices.

The idea that 7 out of every 10 people you know believe they’ve achieved success or recognition due to luck is hard to fathom. Especially if you fall into the 7. Maybe we need to rethink how we’re thinking.

The fact is that insecurity comes quite naturally to many of us when faced with something unfamiliar — particularly if you’re a perfectionist or micromanager.

Any time you learn something new, there’s a learning curve. The more you learn, the more you understand, the more your confidence grows.

One day you realize you know this topic pretty damn well. You may not fashion yourself an expert or a specialist, but you know you can deliver a product you’re proud of.  Imposter no more!

If you’re starting a business or beginning a new career, you will face hurdles. Odds are, you’ll also need to stretch and learn on the fly.

Technology changes at a maddening pace. You can’t be expected to be on top of everything in your field. But you can learn. You can attend seminars and workshops or take classes. You can network with people in your industry who may specialize in areas you don’t or who’ve found a smarter way to handle a problem. And you can ask for advice. Or help. Yes, it’s what smart people do!

For example, a web developer might belong to a developer’s forum where members share common problems, discuss solutions and evaluate themes, upgrades and plugins. A newcomer to the group might feel intimidated by members who’ve been around for a while. This can lead to the they-know-more, they’re-experts – I’m not mindset. Their advice to you? Do your best and learn as much as you can. In the meantime, act as if you know what you’re doing. It’s probably what they did starting out.

How to beat the imposter blues.

If you’re not 100% comfortable with your knowledge on a particular topic or issue, you may find yourself faking it till you are. Or you may BELIEVE you are faking it while actually knowing a lot more than you give yourself credit for (never end a sentence with preposition…apologies to my English professors).

See if this make you feel any better:

  • No one starts out as an expert. It’s something you achieve with study, effort and time.
  • Just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn’t make it so. Don’t let a label make you feel insecure.
  • Everything we learn is new. That’s what learning is all about. Becoming knowledgeable on a topic — whether your goal is to be an expert or simply good, really good — takes work.
  • Unless you feel you know something inside and out, you may still doubt your expertise.
    Perfectionists often feel like imposters. This comes from never being satisfied. But you can learn how to lighten up.

Maybe it’s time to work on your self-confidence and stop worrying about what you don’t know. Glass half full time.

Jeff Atwood, who blogs at codinghorror.com, “If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.”

I like Atwood’s attitude. It’s humble and honest and celebrates all there is left to learn rather than getting stuck on what you don’t know.

On that note, I think this is a good place to stop.

For some excellent tips on dealing with imposter syndrome, read Abigail Adams’ Time Magazine article, ”Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It.”

Feel free to share any comments if imposter syndrome is something you’ve dealt with. We might use it for a follow-up post on getting ahead.

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