I’m an impostor – and that’s OK

Impostor syndrome. It’s when, as a professional, you feel like you’re totally unqualified for the work you do and you’re terrified that people are going to find out.

Trapeze artist flying through the airAccording to Wikipedia, researchers tell us that “two out of five successful people [are affected by impostor syndrome] and…70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.”

Wanna know a secret, based on what I’ve observed during my career? If 30 percent say they never feel like impostors, I can promise you that most of them are lying.

Practically all of us feel like impostors sometimes, and there’s a good reason: we don’t know what we’re doing. Especially those of us in positions of leadership. We’ve never done this before, probably nobody else has either, and we’re winging it.

Pretty much everybody around us is winging it too. Leadership is hard — and so is most professional work. There’s no step-by-step guide for most of the things we do.

Sure, I feel like an impostor sometimes. And I’m totally at peace with that, for two reasons:

First, the day I figure everything out and there’s nothing left to learn, is the day my career will wither and die. I’m glad there are always new things to learn: it keeps me humble and it stimulates my mind.

Second, I trust myself. I’ve put a lot of effort into being an ethical manager with a strong moral compass, and I’ve kept up with the best practices in my profession. So I know I’ll be OK when I face a situation where I don’t know what to do. I might not get it perfectly right, but my instincts will show me a way to surmount the challenge — with my conscience clear and my integrity intact.

Oh, and one more reason: I know I’m far from alone.

How about you? Are you affected by impostor syndrome? Is your experience the same as mine, or different? How have you handled it?

10 thoughts on “I’m an impostor – and that’s OK

  1. Anindita Basu

    I’ve felt like an imposter all my life (professional AND personal) and hadn’t realised, till now, that it’s actually a documented syndrome 😀
    How I handle it? I just ask myself if I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror if things were to go wrong.

  2. freelancer66r

    I’ve certainly been feeling that recently, as I try to break into being a technical writer, as well as looking to start another job as such.

    After a five month search for anything at this point, I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m NOT qualified for anything and that I”m an impostor in the things I do and should know.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      While I don’t know you, and therefore I can’t venture an opinion about your qualifications, please don’t let your confidence be shaken by your job search. Job searches can be harrowing for even the most qualified professionals.

      You might try gaining some experience in a volunteer context, for example developing a procedures manual for a nonprofit. Most such organizations would be grateful for the help, you’d gain experience, and you’d get better insight into whether this is the career for you. Best of luck!

      1. freelancer66r

        Thanks Larry! I’m actually doing a non-paid internship doing tech documentation for company now, with the hopes that it would help in the search.

        I know my frustration stems from both my current job and the fact that I can’t seem to find another (especially when I’ve branched out from just technical writing to other things). It feels like the more I search, the less response I receive. Worse is that last year, it only took 3 weeks for me to find work, twice, but it’s been six months.

        Could also be where I’m living now, which also adds to the stress sadly.

  3. dfarbey

    Hi Larry,

    I can certainly identify with your impostor-syndrome feelings, I have felt them myself many times. I try to tackle my impostor-like feelings by trying to learn more stuff. This works for some things but not for others: for topics where I have absolutely no background it’s difficult to know where to start. But I try. And like you, I have no plans to stop anytime soon.

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