Imposter Syndrome

Elisa Heikura

February 23, 2020

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You're more competent than you sometimes feel

I have no clue what I'm doing. Who am I to write this article? There's a thousand more competent, more suitable, more educated, more researched, more experienced than I am. What if I make a mistake? What if they find out that I have no right to claim to be an expert?

These are some of the thoughts (along with excitement, enthusiasm, joy, pride, vigor and empowerment) that run through my head when I got the chance to write to you about Imposter Syndrome.

And I don't have to know you to guess that you have had those thoughts yourself before taking on a next big project, a job offer, a promotion. Before attending a job interview, making a career change, saying yes to an invitation to be a guest speaker, writer or to otherwise contribute.

Before those important new challenges, we're faced with an unbearable feeling of insecurity and inner phoniness. At least 70 % of us are. And that feeling is Imposter Syndrome.

What is the Imposter Syndrome anyway?

Imposter Syndrome is a Syndrome found in 1978, when two psychologists and researchers, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, interviewed 150 highly successful women. Despite the vast amount of data and proof of their competence, capability and success, they felt inexplicable feelings of phoniness.

They had difficulty internalizing their competence and success. Instead, they felt like they were not competent, like they didn't deserve their own success and they were eager to give away the credit of their hard work to timing, connections, error or pure luck. Clance and Imes called this the Imposter Syndrome.

Since the 1970s the topic has been researched more thoroughly. Results show that it is not just women who suffer from Imposter Syndrome and you don't have to be immensely successful to experience it. In fact, about 70 % of all people have imposter feelings to some extent in their lifetime.

Women in tech belong to the risk group

Women in technology are prone to experience Imposter syndrome. Research shows that people working in a creative field, or in fields that change rapidly, are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome than others. The tech industry is both. The technical solutions are often new and groundbreaking, and working with technology requires creativity and innovation. At the same time the field is ever-changing, more and more rapidly so, and there's no way to know and be ready for everything.

Women are still - unfortunately - a minority group in tech. Carving your own path in this male-dominated field can cause feelings of externality and incompetence, which boost imposter feelings. In addition, women are often brought up to be humble, not to take risks, not to make a big deal of themselves and to play nice. When work life requires anything but that, the inner conflict feed our feelings of not being enough, not belonging, not being able to make it.

So what can one do?

Imposter Syndrome is not an actual syndrome, but a feeling. It's not the truth and it has no roots in reality. Most people around you are feeling the exact same thing. You're not alone. Even if you feel like a fraud, it doesn't mean you are one. You're not broken.

I recommend writing an exhaustive list of all the things you have ever accomplished, without downplaying it with "yes, buts." This list of the schools you attended, final scores and theses, job offers and career choices, promotions, well done projects, praise, positive feedback, nominations, wins and strengths is your proof against the imposter feelings.

It is time to give up the unbearable, unrealistic and harmful view of incompetence you have been carrying around with you. Whether you think you need to be perfect at every aspect of your life, look like a natural genius, have all the knowledge in the world or be able to handle everything alone, these expectations are making you miserable.

What if you actually were perfectly competent, even if you occasionally made a mistake, even if you had to practice, stumble, Google, ask for help and sometimes admit that you don't know everything?

You know what? You are.

And if you don't believe me, read The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Dr. Valerie Young and she'll tell you the same.

Elisa Heikura believes everybody has a right to feel confident in every communication situation. She wants to equip all technical experts with proper communication, interaction and emotional skills and tools to match the rising expectations and requirements. Elisa lives in Finland and has worked for 7 years with different kinds of technical experts in different tasks. She combines theory, concrete tools and stories to enhance how we communicate with one another. And is so emphatic that she consoles even chatbots.

Twitter: @elisaliisa
LinkedIn: Elisa Heikura

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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