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How often do you suffer from impostor syndrome?

Today is February 26 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you suffer from impostor syndrome?” Christopher Reeve once wrote “We can either watch life from the sidelines, or actively participate. Either we let self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy prevent us from realizing our potential or embrace the fact that when we turn our attention away from ourselves, our potential is limitless.”

Navigating the chaos will often involve becoming acclimated to an elevated professional status. The college football player who gets drafted into the National Football League, the college dean who is chosen to serve as a campus president, or the part-time actor who lands a leading role. Invariably some form of impostor syndrome may find its way into your head.

The imposter syndrome is a harsh self-assessment, mindset, and little voice inside of you that says “the others at my level have succeeded because of their talents and dedication whereas my achievement is based on luck and the extra effort that was needed to compensate for my lack of true giftedness. In other words, I am not worthy.” This state of professional fear involves a constant worry that you be exposed as a fraud.

The imposter phenomenon was first described in the 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes after they noticed a large proportion of the women undergraduates they were working with felt nervous of their academic success and were worried of having their true capabilities exposed. Since then, it’s become apparent that men and women in all walks of life experience imposter feelings: in fact, one estimate suggests that around 70 percent of us will go through a period of these self-doubts at least once in our lives.

Tina Fey made a poignant observation on it: “Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So, you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”

American publisher Katharine Meyer Graham learned to identify and overcome the impostor syndrome. She led her family's newspaper, The Washington Post, from 1963 to 1991. She was the first twentieth century female publisher of a major American newspaper. Graham's memoir, Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. After her husband’s suicide Katherine came to realize she loved the job of running the newspaper. She had intended to pass the paper to her children, but discovered she loved the job. Initially, the going was rocky. "I seemed to be carrying inadequacy as baggage, I felt I was always taking an exam and would fail if I missed a single question. The problem was, I was learning from the top. The best way is to work your way up, assuming more responsibility, but I never had that chance. My insecurity added to the problem - and I was right to be insecure. I didn't know anything."

As Rupert Cornwell wrote “Graham knew enough to appoint Ben Bradlee as editor in 1965, to form the partnership that transformed the Post from an unremarkable local paper into the equal of the New York Times. Graham admitted to a sense of achievement, but little more as she touted the real credit belonged to Bradlee and others. ‘I was lucky enough to stay with it, to keep going, and the thing worked. If I have one quality it's doggedness, just hanging in there.’” Like Graham, professional football player Jon Dorenbos used grit to work through his impostor syndrome.

In his book Life is Magic: My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery Dorenbos wrote “it was hard to convince myself I belonged in an NFL locker room in the beginning. But if you say that to yourself – what the hell am I doing here? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The quickest way to torpedo your confidence is to wonder if it is justified. It did not take me long to identify insecurity that is the one thing most present in an NFL locker room. A lot of high school and college players, as well as coaches, are scared shitless that they do not measure up. I saw it for 15 years. Some of the most insecure people I have ever met are superstars.”

In her expansive February 6, 2023 New Yorker article "Why Everyone Feels Like They're Faking It," Leslie Jamison noted “as a concept, impostor phenomenon effectively functions as an emotional filing cabinet organizing a variety of fraught feelings that we can experience as we try to reconcile three aspects of our personhood: how we experience ourselves, how we present ourselves to the world, and how the world reflects that self-back to us. The phenomenon names an unspoken, ongoing crisis arising from the gaps between these various versions of the self and designates not a syndrome but an inescapable part of being alive.”

  • How often do you suffer from the impostor syndrome?

  • Have you encountered someone who suffered from impostor syndrome?

  • Does it surprise you to learn that so many professional football players suffer from impostor syndrome?

  • What do you think about when you hear that even the best at their game can suffer from impostor syndrome?

  • Do you think impostor syndrome is holding you back?

  • How often do you realize the ‘inescapable part of being alive?’


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