Unmasking the imposter within

One day last year I enjoyed a few hours in discussion with some of my counterparts from other universities. That evening in my hotel room I was in a reflective mood. I had spent a great day with people more experienced and knowledgeable than myself, and my feelings about that were not entirely positive.

Fortunately my misgivings didn’t last. After all, I had flown a thousand miles expressly to spend time with people who knew more than I did. This was what I came for, to learn. The comparison of self to others was an involuntary reflex and a distraction.

It felt like a tiny echo from a time years ago when I perceived that things at work were not going well. The challenges seemed larger than my capacity to deal with them. One morning during this period I was trudging to the office when I happened to pass a graffito scrawled on a Canada Post letter box. It said, “You Are Wrong.”

Thanks, I said to myself, that captures my feelings perfectly.

Bit of an odd thing to write on a mailbox, I thought. The next time I passed it, I looked more carefully and found that it didn’t say “You Are Wrong.” It said, “You Are Strong.”

I don’t believe in personal messages from the universe, but if you believe in messages from the universe, I won’t argue. It was what I needed at the time.

The way we see the world is coloured by the story we tell in our head. The story is about our talent or smarts or level of passion, and everything in sight becomes evidence for the prosecution. A question at a meeting is hostile, a colleague’s passing glance is dismissive, everyone else seems better qualified. “Strong” reads as “Wrong.”

A little imposter syndrome is a healthy sign that a smaller version of yourself is about to be eclipsed by a larger version, and is kicking up a fuss about it.

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