Monday, March 3, 2008

Impostor Phenomenon

I've recently discovered an interesting phenomenon that I realized I was suffering from. I didn't know it wasn't "just me." Impostor Phenomenon, or Impostor Syndrome, is not officially a disorder (I do not think I have a physchological disorder by showing these symptoms), but appears to be more of a description of an observed trend. Basically, it means you don't feel like you deserve your successes and fear that others will soon discover you are a fraud. The part that really made me look twice is that it seems to be much more common in women, especially with academic and professional achievements.

Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes wrote an article (read the pdf here) describing their research on the topic. I don't really fit in to the general groups of who suffers from it because my parents never seemed to imply that I couldn't match my siblings intellectually, nor did they act like I could do anything I wanted with ease. This feeling in me definitely manifested itself in college, not within my family. It is true, however, that the more I achieved in school, the more I felt like an "impostor." I usually did fairly well in school, at least good enough for my own satisfaction, but where I go wrong is feeling like all the knowledge I accumulated in my studies disappeared as soon as I finished school. I would often feel that I "took tests well" and "was good at getting homework done" but not that I was increasing my own knowledge (i.e. as described in the article, it was based on a temporary quality - effort - rather than abilities inherent in me). I also think I look up to my colleagues TOO much and view them as way beyond me, intellectually.

On the other hand, the article does make it plain to me that my colleagues ARE smart and DO know that I am qualified because they see the work that I do now and know what I've been able to accomplish in the past. Rather than seeing them as far more intelligent than me, I should view them (and their greater experience) as what I'm working towards.

I hope I don't come across as a mental case! It's not as though I go to work everyday thinking "I'm an idiot and soon they'll discover it." I've just had those moments where I'll think to myself "one of these days they'll discover I'm no good or change their minds about me" or feel that I haven't worked hard enough to deserve the job I have. After seeing that this is such a common affliction - that's it's NOT "just me" - it certainly puts it into perspective for me and helps me realize how silly that type of thinking is for me. We should all be able to be proud of our accomplishments and confident in our work without feeling that we are being arrogant or false.

For more info and links, you can also go to the wikipedia entry on Impostor Syndrome.

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