Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. (source)
Well, this is something that plenty of us feel from time to time (while only a handful will admit to having them). And these are the moments when we get a bit introverted, and maybe the moments that we make more mistakes than usual. The moments when we second-guess ourselves. I know I’ve felt it some times in the past, and I realized that I should just write about it, share the feeling and hopefully, get something out of this process, that will help me deal with this situation in the future.
I am no expert on this, but I do feel that there are professional coincidencies or paths, that lead to the cultivation of the impostor syndrome. Myself, I have been working since 2003–2004, during the last couple of years before I got my BSc. Back then, I just took any job I could find. Literaly any job. You see, I was supported by my parents, but their support could only get me through my first degree, so if I wanted more, I had to work for it… This is when I slowly started becoming a master of all traits. And I think that this is the first step towards acquiring your own impostor syndrome.
During these first few years, I have worked as a software tester, as a lecturer in private schools, as a computer technician, an event manager, and the list goes on. Needless to say that back then I did not have any sort of a development path in mind. I just grabbed the low-hanging fruit and went on with it, trying to climb to the higher branches… And that’s also a choice that will surely lead you to think less of yourself at some point in time.
Fast forward to 2008 when I already had my MSc and I was finishing my obligatory service in the Greek army, when I realized that I needed to do something more structured and well-founded with my professional life. I needed to think of a career path, start walking on it, and God’s will, stay on it for some time. Needless to say that I failed…
Starting to work in a small group, part of a larger company, I found myself doing all sorts of things, from financial reporting, to project management, to technical reports and so on and so forth. This was when I realized that this was my work-reality, and I could either quit and look for something else, or I could continue like that. I went for the second choice. So, working like this for 3–4 years, and being quite flexible in nature, I managed to cultivate a behaviour of a swiss army knife. Like the ones that hold from a screwdriver to a toothbrush. I acted as a project manager, an event manager, a metadata consultant, and so on and so forth. And I think that this was the first time that I realized that this was the type of work I wanted to do.
I wanted to be creative, tackle challenging, unknown problems, learn new things all the time, and get exposed doing it. And of course, being like that, I was useful most of the time. Whenever anyone asked about who’s going to do this new, “exotic”, unknown, uncharted task, my name came naturally as an answer. Living in this rollercoaster, I have to admit that I really felt alive, as there was no chance that I would get bored from my work routine (there was no routine at all to be exact).
Even while I was finishing my PhD around 2013, I kept working on multiple tasks, despite the fact that scientifically I was focusing on a really narrow field of research through my thesis. And of course, for all this time, having completed 10 years in my line of work, I had all these impostor-syndrome attacks. All these little voices in my head, reminding me that I am quite skilled in lots of things but an expert in nothing.
Talking with colleagues and friends about that, I found out that this is more than common among people that are in similar fields of work. They too have to switch beyond tasks that are not necessarily within their job description, and they too undertake tasks that would normally require another department in the company, one that does not exist at the moment, like HR, or Marketing, etc.
Come to think of it, my mind was like the movie Inside Out. I was constantly switching from one character to another. In times, I was Anger, cause I saw people that were more focused on a specific area, which allowed them to get a better pay and a clear carreer path. At times, I transformed into Sadness, contemplating that I would never amount to anything as an expert. And then again I became Fear, filled with doubt on my future as a professional. Fortunately, most of the time, and still, I am acting as Joy, still moving forward, being extremely happy about my work.
Being able to “touch” so many different things while staying within the boundaries of a specific field, is a gift. It allows you to see the bigger picture in ways that other people, more focused on one or two things, cannot. Not to mention the fact that this change in roles and tasks, if you’re up to it, can really boost your creativity. I cannot imagine a better day in the office than the one that starts with a problem that I have not tackled before, and that I need to research and learn about. Imagine if most of your days at work could be like that! 😉
It’s now been almost 15 years since my professional life began, and there are still times when I am in doubt. These self-loathing moments that I feel like even the simplest task is well beyond my skills. And I am well-aware of the fact that these moments may not stop even in another fifteen years from now. To be honest, I really think that this is a good thing in the end. I sense that this is one of the ingredients of being open, of learning and being able to develop yourself continuously.
Therefore, I prefer the occasional visit of the impostor syndrome, as a driver of self-development, allowing me to re-evaluate my position professionally. These moments, if you learn how to manage them, can be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to focus your energy to tasks that matter and move forward. What I am trying to say here, is that you should love your impostor syndrome, embrace it and try to make the best of it!
Consider, that on the other extreme end of the same spectrum, you find people that have a misplaced sense of expertise and an overinflated ego about themselves. I guess that this is something that will not do any good for them. So, in case you are also the proud owner of your own impostor syndrome, consider yourself lucky to have one and start using it to your advantage.