Why You Are Not An Imposter

This week’s How to Own the Room podcast is a special on Imposter Syndrome. This is kind of counter-intuitive for me as I am strongly opposed to the use of “imposter syndrome” as a term. But I get asked about it so often — and in the context of Owning the Room — that I felt like I wanted to collect together a series of archive interviews that demonstrate what we are talking about when we talk about imposter syndrome. I was also inspired by this piece by Leslie Jamison in the New Yorker (which I was interviewed for): Why Everyone Feels Like They’re Faking It: The Dubious Rise of Imposter Syndrome. Here she traces the origins of the expression (to a tiny study of a group of students), she revisits the originators of the study and she examines her own instincts and feelings around the term. She comes to the conclusion that it’s a phenomenon that describes discomfort, awkwardness, insecurity and self-consciousness. These are all real things. But they are not a syndrome. They are the human condition. 

The interesting part for me is this: I think somehow it has become unfeminine, boastful or unsisterly to admit that you *don’t* have imposter syndrome, that you’re mostly coping OK, that you are a pretty confident person a lot of the time and/or that you actually enjoying public speaking, leading, giving an opinion or displaying your expertise. You can see the danger here. It’s OK to admit to feelings of inadequacy from time to time — and it’s healthy to admit when we are anxious, lacking, struggling, suffering. But it’s also important to show that we experience the opposite too: competence, enjoyment, fun, excellence. People frequently ask me to talk about “women and imposter syndrome.” I have to push really hard to be allowed to talk about “women and excellence in public speaking.” Isn’t that…. strange? 

Helping me tackle these very real things in this week’s podcast: Mary Beard on “men’s speech” and the policing of female silence, Kit de Waal on not being afraid to admit it to yourself when you know what you’re talking about, Paula Hines on using passion to guide your speech, Katy Brand on “natural confidence” and whether it exists and Gabby Logan on learning how to refuse to absorb criticism. If we lean hard into all these ideas, imposter syndrome — or whatever we mean when we use this expression — just vanishes.

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