I have FOMO – Fear of missing out – the phenomenon Impostor Syndrome has crept into my world with articles, meetup groups, social media activity, people talking about it and left me wondering what I am missing out on?

Growing up on the adage of “Fake It ’til you Make It”, I assumed Impostor Syndrome was the new more clinical term for that, turns out I am wrong. The term “Impostor Syndrome” was reportedly coined in 1978 and it’s not about faking it, it’s about an inability to recognise your own achievements (go wikipedia) with a primary demographic of high-achieving women, so now I really want to know what I am missing out on. Definition first:

Impostor syndrome (also spelled imposter syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

If you prefer to digest content audibly here is a Tedx talk for you, Journalist Kirsty Walker explains what Impostor Syndrome “feels” like and overviews how a range of very successful women all suffer from a lack of self confidence and the conditions that lead to why – body image a dominant one in her assessment. Interestingly enough since researching this blog post I have spoken to many men who feel they suffer from Impostor Syndrome as well.

Has our use of “Impostor Syndrome” changed?

grad-school-impostorA quick google and you will also find a raft of articles, with a growing number appearing in 2015/2016 on the subject, artists, gamers, 70% of millennials suffer from it apparently, it’s become a frequent staple for journalists and bloggers alike topic wise. Older articles talk about women more specifically, correlations with Tall Poppy syndrome and the conditioning that leads to our lack of confidence.

My conclusion is the meaning hasn’t changed, the term is being used differently, bringing in the perspective of companies – as represented in the book “The Impostor Syndrome: Becoming an Authentic Leader” you can read an extract here. Or being written about specifically for specialist roles e.g.: Artists, where a subjective interpretation of work is required to determine value and success, or a whole generation in Millennials where they are conditioned to be instantly successful yet few experience this, and those who do struggle to justify their success – from what I read vs my own observations.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Wading through the “content lake” (lets see if that phrase catches on) on Impostor Syndrome this one article resonated with me, and included a link to a self assessment tool. Taking the test further confirmed I don’t have Impostor Syndrome by their definition either with a score of 42 (vs a score of over 80) so next step was to understand why? If 70% of the population do have this condition, why am I missing out?

Don’t get me wrong I have felt out of my depth and like I am underprepared, I guess that means I have felt like a fraud before, not enough to put a label on it as seems to be the trend. The BBC scared me with this notion:

That’s another reason why it can be hard to accept that the impostor phenomenon is universal: we desperately want to believe that there are grown-ups in control – especially in fields such as government, medicine or law.

Could it be I suffer instead from the Dunning-Kruger Effect instead? Queue Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is.

From the range of reading out there it would seem some of the findings of the study “Unskilled and Unaware of it” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning include a hypothesis that the unskilled can only move past their lack of skill when they recognize their own lack of skill, and those suffering from the effect also can’t recognise skill in others.

To be honest I am in awe of everyone around me all the time, people do and achieve amazing things, have critical thoughts, insightful perspectives and can tackle challenges far more sophisticated than I would be capable of. Our company culture of continuous innovation and improving – looking for the sacred cows and ways to achieve the same in less time or effort means I also work within a team who leave me in awe. All of this leaving me thinking I don’t suffer from Dunning-Kruger either.

Experience will overcome Impostor Syndrome

Truth is, natural skill aside, until any of us have experience in what they are doing there will be times when we all feel like a fraud. Like the adage that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, it takes experience to elevate confidence. After years living this entrepreneurial life I only just feel like I am hitting my strides (more cliches sorry) yet know I still have so very much to learn.

One thing is for sure I no longer have FOMO with regards to Impostor Syndrome. You don’t need to feel that way either, take the time, do the reading, get a mentor and support network, like training for a marathon if you put in the work you grow and confidence takes hold. Happy sharing, Vic.


These images are from the article “21 ways to overcome Impostor Syndrome”