Self Development February 10, 2021

Do you have imposter syndrome, or are you simply an imposter?

Mick @Primer

I'm reading "Empowered" by Product Management legend Marty Cagan. It's a great read. However he touched upon a concept that I found really interesting.

Imposter Syndrome, or are you just an actual imposter?

It resonated with me because I'm not a fan of the term "Imposter Syndrome", or more specifically the way that most people throw it around.

I just think that this is interesting food for thought. Maybe it's just me lol


So the reason I'm not a fan is because - and this is only my opinion - I feel like people are too quick to self declare that they have imposter syndrome and I don't think it's something you can say about yourself; it's something someone else should say about you. Hear me out.

Here's the dictionary definition

the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills

To me this means that you CANNOT self declare imposter syndrome, because by self declaring what you're saying is:

"I don't feel like I have earned what I have, but actually I know I have, hence Imposter Syndrome"

Now this is a moot point because if you know you have imposter syndrome, then by definition you can't have it. Because the person with imposter syndrome doesn't actually believe they deserve what they have.

Maybe not explaining it well, but to me saying you have imposter syndrome is like saying you're really charismatic, or charming. It's not for you to say, it's a characteristic that someone else, like your boss or a colleague needs to identify.

Eg my boss has told me I get bouts of imposter syndrome but inside my head I'm saying to myself... "No, I don't... I just actually need to be better". I don't say to myself "phew! it's just imposter syndrome I've got. Excellent, for a minute there I thought I was rubbish."

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    I appreciate your perspective but I definitely don’t agree with this!

    I’ve experienced feelings of thought paralysis and panic at work worrying that I will get found out for being a fraud or not as good as people think I am. ( the reality is that my performance reviews - both peer and manager feedback are very good).

    I self-identified those feelings as imposter syndrome, took some time to read how to combat it and armed myself with a few tactics to deal with it and I managed to move forwards.

    Without that self-identification I would’ve been trapped and not known where to start looking for help.

    Arguably my experience isn’t textbook imposter syndrome, but using it as a touchstone helped guide me to a solution.

    I think it’s interesting but unnecessary and even unhelpful to polarise the conversation on self-identification of imposter syndrome.

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      Colloquially, I think it's often equivalent to saying "I'm lacking in the confidence that I usually feel when I'm familiar with a problem space, this makes me feel slightly out of place, and I respect the experience you all have".

      Saying "I'm feeling that I have a bit of imposter syndrome" is a tool that we can use to invite people to empathize with our newness to a challenge. And that's useful.

      Regardless of what the actual definition is, I think it's important to keep in mind the real social utility of a piece of language.

      Sometimes, language needs fixing. But our "fixing" can cross a line and become pedantry or gatekeeping, and this seems to be one of those fuzzy, questionably valuable cases. If the terminology helps someone, and if it doesn't hurt anyone else, I say let's embrace it for its value vs its definition.

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        Mick you sound like a man after my own heart 😉

        I completely agree that labels are a double edged sword - useful for articulating our emotions and inner feelings to others but also restrictive and polarising at times.

        Being a lesbian this is something I'm well aware of 🌈

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    2. 1

      I also appreciate your perspective but definitely don’t agree 🙏

  2. 2

    I agree.

    Whenever I hear people say "I have imposter syndrome," it sounds self-conceited and self-absorbed as hell.

    Like who the hell are you to declare that for yourself lol.

  3. 2

    I get your point, and it's a valid pov.

    Personally, I certainly believe I deserve any "successes" I achieve (because I work my ass off). But sadly, very rarely feel that I've achieved what I expect of myself.

    To counteract those feelings somewhat, I do take time to appreciate the blessings in my life, but it's a somewhat vicious cycle that would be nice to break free from.

  4. 2

    Totally agree with you. Sometimes people are just impostors hiding behind the impostor syndrome! But it's very hard to know the truth :)

  5. 1

    Until I have achieved success, I am just an imposter:-)

  6. 1

    I've written an article on my blog on the subject after reading quite some studies about it, and yes you can know if you have the imposter syndrome or not. There are some tests; the Clance IP Scale for example, by Pauline Clance, who's the one who found the problem (she called it"the imposter phenomenon", which is still the name used by most academic studies).

    Your boss or you colleague are not the ones who can tell you if you have the imposter syndrome. They're not in your head. But if you have tendency to put yourself down even if you get some praise, then technically you "have" it.

    The imposter syndrome is not a binary sickness. It's not "you have it" or "you don't". Almost everybody will suffer of it in their life (70% of the population!), but the intensity and the frequency it arises can change drastically between people. This is what you should measure.

  7. 1

    saying you have imposter syndrome is like saying you're really charismatic, or charming. It's not for you to say, it's a characteristic that someone else, like your boss or a colleague needs to identify.

    I wholeheartedly agree, @Mick. I’ll be sure to keep in mind this good teaching.

    Thanks for the good read!

  8. 1

    Hehe, valid point! It's a dodgy thing to declare indeed.

    I work hard and I get results that make me proud. But I also spend a lot of time improving myself, and with it comes the awareness that there's much for me to learn.

  9. 1

    I'm curious, how do you define an imposter? And if I don't get to decide whether or not I'm actually an imposter, rather than just someone with imposter syndrome, then who does?

    1. 2

      I guess it would be your peers, colleagues and managers.

  10. 1

    What don’t you like about the term/the way its used?

    1. 2

      Ah ok, I'll elaborate in the main post.

  11. 1

    Maybe you should expend on it..

    1. 2

      Sorry how do you mean?

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    This comment was deleted 5 days ago.

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