“Imposter Syndrome” is Definitely Misnamed, Might Be a Condition of Privilege, & Has a Fascinating History

Things I learned from a New York article and how I overcame my own insecurities

Good writers are not only skilled in their prose, but have a nose for interesting subjects. “Why Everyone Feels Like They’re Faking It,” an article about impostor syndrome in a recent issue of the New Yorker, is an example of a great topic. The kind of read where you pause between sections to chew on what you just finished.

The impostor phenomenon, as the original researchers called it (mutating into a “syndrome” is part of its questionable evolution and ubiquity), has been emerging in my communities, primarily as a result of the struggles of the technological economy. The belief that maybe you weren’t good at your job, it was just the markets that went up, or, even more insidious, that you were never good at your job, so now that a bull market doesn’t mask that fact, you are about to find out, they are two confessions that are repeated a lot.

a person, standing on top of the flagpole, high up in the sky, digital art [DALL-E]

Regardless of how you feel, I have my own empathy for people who are dealing with these inner doubts. For a long time, the impostor version of me was fueled by “I think I belong in this room, but just barely, so I have to hold on tight and/or constantly prove it, unless I expelled”. As a result, it was harder to be satisfied with individual or team success, which only served as a reminder that the next race was beginning. And in retrospect, the dangerous nature of my own perch probably made it harder for me to see conflict as a “fight or flight” challenge, rather than an opportunity to build connection and shared understanding.

Fortunately, in addition to aging, I created hacks to retrain my defaults. They’re more detailed in this previous blog post (“How I Calmed My Impostor Syndrome With These Two Tricks”), but in summary:

What would an 18 year old hunter think about where you are?

Are you so good that you are fooling all these people?

So back to the New York article. First, the research goes back to two women [Pauline Clance, Suzanne Imes — Oberlin College colleagues] in the 1970s that they brought together their own personal experiences and then expanded into a larger conversation

The couple spent five years talking to more than one hundred and fifty “successful” women: students and professors from various universities; professionals in fields such as law, nursing and social work. They then recorded their findings in a paper, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High-Performing Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” They wrote that the women in their sample were particularly prone to “an internal experience of intellectual falsehood,” living in perpetual fear that “some significant other will find out that they really are intellectual imposters.”

Once his study was published in 1978, it caused a thunder-like spread. This reminder of how things went “viral” before the Internet was especially lovely.

The paper spread like an underground zine. People kept writing to Clance for copies, and she sent so many that the person working the photocopier in her department asked, “What are you doing with all this?”

Then, almost 50 years later, two more women coalesced around the idea that the impostor Phemoneom was a capitalist gaslighter and a privilege focused on convincing you that you belonged in the structure instead of ‘interrogate the real barriers.

In “Stop Telling Women You Have Impostor Syndrome,” published in the Harvard Business Review, February 2021 Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey argue that the label implies that women are suffering from a crisis of self-confidence and fails to recognize the real obstacles that professional women, especially women of color, face, essentially, that rethinks the systemic system. inequality as an individual pathology. As they say, “imposter syndrome directs our vision toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.”

The article is a must read, especially as it weaves together the lived experiences of these four women.

And remember how I mentioned at the beginning that a good writer chooses good topics? Well, this author, Leslie Jamison, also did one of my favorite New York articles of 2022 about the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. Leslie has a nose for basketballs!


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Ikaroa is proud to discuss “Imposter Syndrome,” an issue we know affects many of us: the feeling of not belonging in your working space because you’re not “qualified” enough, or aren’t “smart” enough. But “imposter syndrome,” while named as such, is more than just a mental health issue — it’s a cultural and even economic consideration that has fascinating implications and historical precedence.

The term “imposter syndrome” was first coined in the 1970s by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It gained traction with the release of their 1985 book, The Imposter Phenomenon, which discussed the effects of imposterism, or self-stigma, on successful individuals. The syndrome, as defined by them, involves a fear of being exposed as a “fraud” or an “amateur.”

Though the “imposter” part of the term is apt, the “syndrome” part isn’t. After all, “imposter syndrome” isn’t a medical term, and the feeling of being an “imposter” can be caused by a number of things — not just feelings of self-doubt in traditionally male-centric or white-dominated spaces. This feeling can come from a lack of connection to authority, systemic disadvantages and many more factors.

It’s also important to note that “imposter syndrome” can sometimes be seen as a privilege in itself. In certain corporate and educational spaces, certain individuals are afforded certain benefits because of their backgrounds; making it easier for them to get things done with fewer roadblocks in the way. In these cases, those with the “imposter syndrome” may be more privileged than they give themselves credit for.

Furthermore, it appears that few have looked into the implications of “imposter syndrome” from a historical standpoint. Those who experience imposterism can trace their feelings back to the very beginnings of modern education — when educational structures began to become stratified, with certain institutions and schools granted access to privilege and upward mobility for select groups.

Ikaroa believes that it’s important to discuss “imposter syndrome” in a way that allows us to understand it more deeply — the feeling of not belonging, the history of privilege in education, and the true complexity of psychological self-doubt. Those suffering from this feeling deserve to have their voices heard, and to know they are not alone in this experience.


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