Is it Impostor syndrome?

The phrase impostor syndrome – have you heard it? For some reason, I am hearing it from too many mouths, in different areas with or without context. The over-usage of it made me wonder whether everyone is using it right or did I not know its correct meaning. It also made me wonder has this word become the equivalent of giving a star or A to kindergarten kids irrespective of their achievements or behaviour. While it’s debatable if kindergarten kids should be rated or not, it’s not debatable for adults. Knowledge, skill, emotional quotient, street smartness everything has to be and will be graded in formal and informal ways.

So impostor syndrome, first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud. This is the textbook definition. Note the word “high achievers” – this is the crux of the syndrome defined by psychologists. The word has been conveniently hijacked and diluted by proponents of positive thinking influencers. I am all in for positive thinking but you need to know what you are afflicted with before you can positively think out of it.

Here are some examples of impostor syndrome or rather not.

A fresher who has no coding experience talks about impostor syndrome. When you are new you don’t know stuff, you are an impostor. You will introduce defects, break systems, and will learn from seniors before becoming an expert who suffers from impostor syndrome.

A person in sales field makes a move into technology and talks about suffering from impostor syndrome. You were good in sales, this is the first time you are making a move to a new field, you feel like an impostor in technology because you are! You don’t know anything about technology when compared to others who worked in it for decades, you are a learner, you are welcome to learn. 

A person enters a field as a fresher. They learnt and grew into leadership position in the field. They have delivered and served large clients. The clients and peers admire them. But every time a challenging project is given they have an odd feeling in their stomach, Do they deserve success? Now you know you are suffering from impostor syndrome.

When you are new in a field or role, have no achievement to show or credible validation for your suitability, calling yourself a fast learner or go-getter is the best way to go. Declaring that you have impostor syndrome means you have decided you have achieved a lot and you are still feeling lost. It removes the humility to learn. Not knowing, learning, failing, feeling embarrassed, getting up and growing is a rite of passage to suffer from impostor syndrome.

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