Imposter Syndrome

Looking at my life, I am: an Eagle Scout, a PhD, a published author, and a 2nd kyu aikidoka (who has helped many who have bypassed me in rank, up to nidan). I have completed three “50 Miler” trips in Scouting—two in canoes, one on foot. I have traveled to four countries on three continents. I have presented papers to some praise at more than a few conferences.

Still, I feel like I have no clue what I am doing in teaching, writing, tutoring, and aikido (and life in general). Even when I say, or more commonly write, “I’m damn good at my job”, it feels like bravado in some ways. Secretly hollow. Like someday, someone will figure out I have no idea what I’m doing and all the above accomplishments will be empty.

It is always a strange feeling when someone “likes” something I’ve written. Or cites something I published. Or says I have been a great tutor-instructor-mentor.

I always wonder if they mean it, or if they just don’t know I’m winging it.

I’ve never done well with praise, usually deflecting or minimizing it. I was praised a reasonable amount by family, mentors, and grad school advisors, but not overly so, I think. I don’t think it’s overpraise or under-praise.

So, I’ve wondered off and on for years about Imposter Syndrome and its causes.

My first thought is that it may be an introvert-dominant thing. I say “introvert-dominant” because I don’t think anyone is 100% intro-/extrovert, rather that we’re all a mix of both. Most, if not all, of the imposter syndrome sufferers I know are introvert-dominant. But, that could also be an effect of my population sample (mostly English PhDs/MAs, with a couple in other fields, but all with advanced degrees in arts, humanities, and social sciences).

The degree thing could be an element too, I think. At the Masters level and above, I’ve found people become acutely aware of how little they actually know. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn out there. Yet, in grad school we’re taught (directly & indirectly) to project confidence, particularly those of us who taught or presented at conferences. Maybe knowing that confidence is a facade, an act, contributes to the sense of being an imposter.

The knowledge and learning side, I think, enhance a nagging feeling that we could be doing things better. There’s that constant, conscious or subconscious, knowledge that there is always room for improvement. There’s always more to learn, more to know.

For myself, there is also knowing that even as I exceeded quantitative measures at work (ex. library shelving quantity & accuracy, inventory control objectives, also quantity & accuracy), I have always held back. Even holding back and not being my most efficient and effective, I have always exceeded the expectations and metrics set by supervisors. That may also factor into a bit of my own imposter syndrome.

I’m not sure if any of this helps me deal with the issue myself. But, writing always helps get thoughts out of my head and organized. So, there’s that at least.