Imposter Syndrome Or: Am I doing it right?
by Nick Gubb on 11 September 2023
Welcome to part one of a two-part series on Imposter Syndrome. In the first instalment, Nick Gubb writes about his experiences with Imposter Syndrome, its symptoms and the impact it can have on your career.
This week I dusted off a presentation I put together almost half a dozen years ago. It was enlightening digging out something and seeing how I've changed – evolved even! It got me reminiscing on the trials and tribulations of my career while dealing with frequent bouts of Imposter Syndrome.
For context, unlike many of the fantastic people I've had the chance to work alongside over the last eight or nine years, my IT origin story sprouted from something other than a technical background. I didn't study Computer Science at University. I never had any interest in learning to code. I came from a retail background, so I'm good with a 5-tonne forklift, and I've had the chance to work in teams through diverse roles.
A few months into my accidental foray into IT, my anxiety levels were spiking. I was surrounded by people who had extensive careers in the IT field, came from technical backgrounds, and, worst of all, could make sense of the endless jargon and knew what all the acronyms meant.
I felt like a total fraud. It was only a matter of time before someone was going to point out the emperor's new clothes, and I'd be standing there embarrassed with people pointing and laughing at my technical ineptitude.
Who was I to think I could contribute in any meaningful way? Indeed, the interview panel that brought me on board had made a big mistake, or I'd inadvertently tricked them into believing I'm something I'm not.
Like anyone in the IT field, I started Googling when I didn't understand something. I stumbled across perhaps the greatest bathroom wallpaper pattern ever created (which happens to grace the bathroom walls of a restaurant on the other side of the globe) that somehow managed to encompass all my feelings in one image.
It turned out I wasn't alone, and my feelings of not measuring up to those around me were normal, particularly when I took working in a technical field into account.
You are in the minority of 42% if you haven't felt these things at some point.
There is even a name for it: "Imposter Syndrome" (PDF).
First established as a psychological phenomenon when Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes published their 1978 paper, it boils down to the idea that we credit successes to external factors such as luck or extreme effort while we attribute failures to ourselves.
Interestingly, the initial paper focuses on women and somewhat discounts the impact on men, stating, "we have found that the phenomenon occurs with much less frequency in men and that when it does occur, it is with much less intensity".
Further and more comprehensive studies (beyond the initial sample size of 150) have concluded that "it is also a myth that men do not suffer from impostor syndrome. In fact, research has [now] shown that if surveys are anonymous, there are similar levels of these symptoms between men and women. The difference is that men can find it more difficult to talk about these feelings".
Finding some better words that put my feelings onto a page, it started to look a bit like this:
- Consistent negative self-talk
- Inability to internalise accomplishments
- Obsessing over mistakes and failures
- A sense of never being good enough
- Judging myself by only the highest of standards
- Leads to perfectionism
- Holding onto flaws, mistakes and criticism
- The feeling of being a fraud can manifest in overworking, self-sabotage, holding back and procrastination.
Read Part 2: How to manage your Imposter Syndrome now.
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