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Imposter Syndrome

I am a fraud. I am an imposter.
Surprisingly, this is also how a good chunk of people, especially those in the technology industry, feel every day. They don’t feel worthy of the praise they get, or they feel embarrassed about their position. They worry that, at any time, someone is going to come out of the woodwork and expose them for the charlatans that they are. They feel that they don’t have the qualifications for the job they have.
Do you experience this? Do you feel that all your peers are smarter than you? Do you feel that you don’t belong, or feel unworthy in your position? You are not alone.
I am no different. A lot of the time I feel like a total fake. This phenomenon is called The Imposter Syndrome. It’s more common than you think. Studies suggest that almost 70% of people experience it in some form (especially when starting in a new position).
What causes this self-doubt?
Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing imposter syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds, and that they do not deserve all they have achieved. Often they incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or interpret success as a result of having deceived others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.
First, let me tell you that I don’t think Imposter Syndrome is a mental disorder. You should not let it escalate into anxiety, stress, or depression. I think a lot of it is down to perspective (as I’ll explain later), but more subtly, I think the reason people suffer from Imposter Syndrome is because they already know a lot: The more you know, the more you realize you don't know.
The More You Know The More You Realize You Don't Know!
Below is a simple representation of your skills in a discipline. In the center are your core skills; things you can do in your sleep or with unconscious competence. The further you move from the center the more you are taxed. The dotted circle shows your confidence limit; things inside this you can do without issue or learning new skills. Things inside your confidence zone you feel comfortable doing. Outside of this, things start to get fuzzy as you are on the edge of your current skill level. This is where you need to look things up, and research things. This is where you learn new things.
You learn new things when you step out of your confidence zone.
As you learn new things, you realize there is even more to know. When you first learn a new proficiency you suddenly discover there are twice as many follow-on concepts and possibilities that open up from knowing this new skill. You can see that, as your knowledge area expands, the circumference about what you don’t know increases. The more you learn, the more there is to learn.

Meeting other people

You then meet another person in the office. They have a different set of skills; there is some overlap, but your mind does not focus on this! All you seem to be able to see is gapping black hole of things that they know that you don’t know. You become fixated on the things you don’t know.
What makes things worse is that the majority of things you don’t know are inside their confidence zone; things you have no clue how to do, they can do with ease. You feel small.

More People

This issue compounds as you interface with more people, all of who have different sets of skills. Some overlapping, some fully contained, and some mutually exclusive.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Console yourself that to suffer from Imposter Syndrome you need to have intelligence and knowledge. The opposite of Imposter Syndrome is the Dunning-Kruger effect which manifests itself as a cognitive bias in which people with low ability in a task massively over estimate their ability. Essentially low ability people do not posses the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.
Fools are blind to their own foolishness.
One of the more famous examples of this was, in 1995, a bank robber robbed two banks in Pittsburgh, in broad daylight, with no mask. He was stunned when police quickly identified and arrested him. “But I wore the juice!”, he protested.
McArthur Wheeler, the thief, thought that if he rubbed lemon juice on his skin it would render him invisible to video tape and cameras because, after all, lemon juice is used to make invisible ink!

How to deal with things?

So, how do you avoid Imposter Syndrome? To be honest I don’t think you can. You just need to be aware that it is there, and that the majority of people experience it. Get solace from camaraderie.
Here are a few ideas for coping skills:

Management is even harder

One of my biggest challenges when I was a manager was delegation. I was reluctant to give a task to someone else to complete if I did not know how to do it myself. This was not a good use of resources, and I should have learned earlier to leverage the skill diversity. It would have been much more efficient for me to delegate the task to someone else already competent with the skill, and managing at a high level, than teaching myself the skill first so that I could micro manage if needed.


Pre-empting any mail about the subject, yes I'm aware there are two alternate spellings, and I could have used IMPOSTOR instead of IMPOSTER (and almost did!)