I am Not Alone!

I had an “aha” moment when reading a post on AskAManager about “imposter syndrome.”  It also led me to a Huffington Post article on the same topic. Who knew there were others who felt they didn’t really know what they were doing, and it was just a matter of time before they were found out?

This feeling is known as the “impostor syndrome,” and since it was first identified in the late 70s by researchers at the Georgia State University, we’ve learned that more than 70 percent of the population has experienced this feeling at one time or another. (P. R. Clance and S. A. Imes, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 15, no. 3 (1978): 241-47.)

Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turns out it is a normal feeling/reaction, and actually has benefits:  “The impostor syndrome gets us to work harder, to “cover up,” it gets us to avoid taking big risks, it gets us to keep our head down and not be as bold as we might otherwise be. From an evolutionary perspective, this might have made sense at some point. The impostor syndrome can be a great motivating tool, getting us to work harder than anyone else.”

I think it’s like the common advice that some amount of stage fright before speaking or performing in public is actually good—it gets your adrenalin going, keeps your energy up, and makes your performance “real” rather than too “rehearsed.”  But you don’t want to succumb to stage fright, or to imposter syndrome. We need to recognize it, and learn to cope with it.  Take deep breaths.  I find it helps to have little conversations in which I tell myself things like: “You’re prepared.  You know this stuff.  You can do this.”  As usual, Alison Green’s tips are spot-on:

  1. Fake it (till you make it).
  2. Admit when you don’t know something, and ask for input.
  3. Just stop thinking about it. “At some point, you’ll look around and the evidence will have piled up that you are in fact not a fraud, and that’ll make it easier to accept it.”

Library leaders, and librarians in new positions are not immune. Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?  How do you cope?

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