What do you call a fake noodle?  An Impasta!

This week, actress Viola Davis said she feels like she has imposter syndrome. 

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 “fraud”. – Wikipedia

I think everyone feels that way at some point in their lives.  We aren’t born experts at everything, and we make mistakes because we contain Homo sapiens genes.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein
“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
Rita Mae Brown
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dalí
When I was young, I disliked making mistakes.  I was a perfectionist A+ blood type to the extreme.  My brother, five years my senior, always got good grades, and I was self-motivated to beat him.  My parents patted me on the back for 11 years of straight A report cards and nothing more.  They weren’t overbearing and they weren’t over-celebratory either.  Looking back, it was actually a pretty awesome way to parent.
In my junior year of high school I applied to a school focusing on advanced math and science.  I was selected as an alternate, but eventually I got the phone call that I was accepted.  I went to being the best student in a class of 400 to probably middle of the pack of 70.  It was disheartening, and I wanted to quit several times.  The work was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, and it was the first time I was exposed to the imposter phenomenon.
I always considered myself one of the smart kids.  It was what defined me as a young adult.  At my new school, I quickly realized I wasn’t so smart after all.  After a few months, I even packed up all of my belongings in my small truck, drove home, and told my parents that I quit.
They drove me back.  (I think they were really enjoying their empty nest.)
I endured with mediocre grades and finally graduated.  I decided to study engineering at a state school.  Something interesting happened during my first college class.  I became the “smart” kid again getting all A’s.  All of my perseverance in high school was finally paying off when it mattered.  I endured two years of pain, and it wholly prepared me for what was to come.
I only heard about imposter syndrome or phenomenon a few years ago during a Society of Women Engineers’ event.  It made complete sense.  More and more women are seeking out STEM fields like engineering as a career, but it is still a male-dominated field.  There is something about a women’s culture that makes her submissive or feel incompetent when things get tough.  It completely explains the imposter syndrome.
We second guess ourselves when faced with adversity.  “Maybe I’m not really that smart/talented/focused/athletic.”  Here’s the thing, we need to stop teaching our young girls that they are natural at something.  It becomes part of their identity, so when something goes wrong, they will wonder what is wrong with them.
Anything worth having is worth doing, right?  Innstead, teach our youth about what it means to face and overcome a challenge.  Praise them for taking up the task even though they may fail.  Cheer them on when failure after failure turns into success.  Celebrate their victories.
Then we will turn into a society of imposters to a culture of success.

10 thoughts on “Imposters

  1. Instead of praising our girls for their “smarts” or even their beauty – we need to praise their perseverance…

    I started in the IT field as it budded, and often was the only “chick” in a exclusively male-dominated field. I, literally, had punchdown panels in the Men’s Locker Room because no one ever imagined that a female would need in there! 🙂

    1. Wow, that is crazy! Goes to show how forwarding thinking people were. I think the last statistic I saw was that 19% of engineering students are female. It’s better than it was, but still not where it should be.

  2. This is soooo true! I think about this often as I am preparing to become the parent of a girl. It’s true for all children that it’s better to praise them for working hard than for “being smart.” Because smart isn’t something you just “are” it is something you learn, and must work toward. Girls really do get the worst of this though, and we need to be aware of how this affects their self image and their motivation.

  3. Yes, why do girls have such poor self image? I wish there were better role models for young girls than what we see in movies and on TV. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Can I just say, how helpful this was to me? I was thinking of quitting university, because it’s too hard and I am not one of the ‘smart kids’ anymore… But like you said, maybe I just need to face the challenge and just do it? Anyway, it got me thinking, that maybe I could do this. Thank you for that!

    1. Tina, your comment touched me. You do have the ability to face the challenge and put in the hard work it takes. You can do it, but you have to seek out help with study groups and talking to your teacher and aides. I have faith in you!

  5. Never heard of this before… but it does make a whole lot of sense. Wow… now, I can relate to my friend’s behaviour.. he had been acting very weirdly.. he would say something good about himself and then instantly switch to saying that he is not capable of anything… I thought that his ego goes up and then he becomes modest or aware of his ego going up.. but it ends going much below to a point where he doesn’t even have the slightest self-esteem…. Thanks for the article!


    1. Thanks for stopping by, L.R. Maybe it’s time to have a serious heart-to-heart with your friend. It could be a sign of depression with self-loathing.

  6. My favorite line of this post->> “[T]each our youth about what it means to face and overcome a challenge. Praise them for taking up the task even though they may fail. Cheer them on when failure after failure turns into success. Celebrate their victories. Then we will turn into a society of imposters to a culture of success.” I too have struggled with perfectionism. If I would have grew up knowing that failure is a normal part of everyone’s lives, it would have made my transition into adulthood so much easier to stomach.

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