If you have impostor syndrome, you are not alone. Men and women alike report feeling like a fraud, and that everyone knows it, at all stages of their careers. Here’s a way to think about impostor syndrome to make it something you handle, rather than something you struggle to eliminate.
Think of impostor syndrome the way Seattle residents think of rain. It rains a lot in Seattle; it’s a frequent, unsurprising part of the weather pattern that sometimes influences plans and choice of clothing.
Impostor syndrome is like this. It’s always either actually present or present in the memory – and that is totally OK. You just have to have a way of dealing with it. Eliminating rain from Seattle weather or impostor syndrome from your brain permanently is not going to happen, but both can be managed.
“There is no bad weather; there is only wrong clothing.” Since it rains so often, plans can’t always be changed for rain: oftentimes you have to do do what you were going to do whether it rains or not. That is what the tag line “there is no bad weather; there is only wrong clothing” should remind you of: if your plans can’t change for a known potential issue, you have to adapt in another way.
Impostor syndrome is also like this. Sometimes you are going to have to apply for the job or go to the interview or present at the conference or lead a meeting even though you feel, at that moment, like the world’s biggest impostor. If your interview or presentation or meeting cannot change, and impostor system is present, you need the right way to deal with it. Your goal should not be “eliminate impostor syndrome”; your goal should be “manage its effects so you can do what you were planning to do anyway.”
Nobody cares if you are wearing rain gear, because everyone does, though everyone’s differs a bit. Seattle is a casual town when it comes to dress, and one reason is its weather. Most people have turned up at work with wet hair and collars or damp feet; most people have arrived at work or a party in fluorescent rain gear or ugly rain boots. Exchanging tips about the best clothing and footwear for rain is acceptable, common party and pre-meeting chatter. (We do tend to think umbrellas are for tourists.)
Your coping strategies for impostor syndrome are like this: everyone has some adaptive strategies to the common presence of impostor syndrome; everyone’s strategies are personal and differ from everyone else’s; none of this is surprising. In fact, exchanging tips on how you are handling it can help you and others.
One more point of similarity: just as no one cares what your rain gear is once you take it off and get down to work or into the party, no one cares about your impostor syndrome if they can’t see it. You of course still manage it, but if you don’t make the people you are with unduly aware of the burden, you’re fine.
Even though we say “there is no bad weather; there is only wrong clothing”, sometimes the weather is in fact too bad for what we own to venture out. Everyone in Seattle has a story about when the weather kept them in: the rare appearance of snow keeps many people out of their cars, through fear of their own driving, or of other drivers inexperienced on snow; truly driving rain, which is relatively rare (mostly it drips or rains gently) often keeps people in. Interestingly, almost everyone also talks about going out after all: “I had to get to the convenience store for ice cream / wine / batteries / chips, so I ended up going out anyway”; “I had to pick up my kid from school.”
I am at the limits of this analogy’s usefulness, so this is the last point: sometimes you will feel your coping strategies for impostor syndrome fail you, and that the occasion feels too big for them. That’s OK — no one will think that as much as you will, and if you do what it is you need to do anyway, chances are you will be fine, and you’ll think about what will work better at the next similar occasion, the way many Seattleites actually come to own a snow shovel for that every-other-year snowfall after they have been here a while.