Impostor Syndrome

From Code Black, episode “Buen Arbol”:

Dr. Savetti: “Wish they made a pill for what I got…everyday I wait for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me this doctor thing was a mistake.  I’m actually a mechanic in the Jersey.”

Patient: “It’s called impostor syndrome.  It’s the feeling you’re about to be found out as a fraud.  Everybody has it.  We’re all faking it.”

When I heard this quote, I almost fell out of my chair because recently I have been talking to pretty much everyone I know about impostor syndrome.

My therapist first introduced me to the concept about a year ago. I often talk about how I feel completely inadequate in all walks of life (see this post for more about that), but I particularly feel this way at work. My boss in wonderful and is often compliments me on my work, but nevertheless, just like Dr. Savetti I keep waiting for someone to walk in say “whoops, this is a mistake, you are not supposed to be here.”

I should clarify that it is not like I sit there and pretend to know things that I do not. I am very open with my boss and my coworkers about any lack of experience and when it is my first time doing something. However, I still feel most days like an impostor. Even though people tell me that I am doing a good job considering my experience level, I still worry that in the fact of their mind they are thinking “what the hell is this girl doing here?”

I do agree with the patient that to some extent everyone is faking it. A lot of people I know have told me that they have felt like they are about to be “found out” or that they don’t really belong.  I think this is particularly true of women in traditionally male dominated fields. To a certain extent, that fear can be motivational. I think a lot of people are continuously motivated to push themselves because they want to feel like they are contributing and that they belong.

However, at some point it crosses a line where it no longer becomes motivational, and instead becomes pathological. I know for me, sometimes the anxiety is so great that, rather than being motivational, it just paralyzes me and makes me really depressed. What Dr. Savetti is talking about, where every single day you feel like you are going to be “found out”, is crossing that line. It’s one thing to question your performance here and there, but to feel every single day like you are inadequate, well, I can say from experience that it is a horrible feeling.

I think for me though, this impostor feeling goes beyond a single experience (i.e. work). When I think about it, I think the problem is that I feel like an impostor at LIFE overall.  It’s not just that I feel inadequate as an employee, but I feel inadequate as a person in general.  So, that makes it a lot harder to reassure myself that I am doing a good job.  I mean, if I think I suck as a person, then how is it possible that I am a good employee?

I recognize that the above is distorted, and goes all the way down to faulty core beliefs. I am working at it, but in the meantime, I guess it just makes sense to keep plugging along and doing opposite action.  Hopefully in time some of this impostor feeling will go away.

So overall, Dr. Savetti, I feel you.  As to the patient, while we all are faking it to some extent, I do believe that there is a spectrum, and it is possible to get to a point where this feeling gets better (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

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4 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome

  1. I will definitely have to listen to that! At first, hearing that made me kind of depressed. I mean if even someone that accomplished suffers from this, how will it ever go away? But at the same time, knowing that is also a very good counter when I get all caught up in my head trying to challenge that thought. I guess it points me in the direction of radical acceptance :-).

    • I definitely don’t have the perfect answer, but I do try to keep practicing “fake it till you make it” and also examine the evidence. I don’t have any evidence that I am inadequate, so I remind myself of that. I hope that helps!

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