Revisiting Imposter Phenomenon (#89)

We aren't imposters. Feeling like an imposter is an experience we suffer due to the environment and culture we operate in and not a flaw of self. We are enough.

A single peacock feather, against a grey and blurry background.
Imposter Phenomenon, JLP

Fifty some odd posts ago we explored the upside of imposter syndrome, acknowledging that we could use it as a springboard to be inquisitive and for motivation. Maybe so, yet with this view we box ourselves in, focusing inwardly when the true cause of imposterhood lies without. So we now modify our view...

A syndrome, a medical term that labels the pathology of a disease, implies that the cause lies with the individual, a condition of the self. Instead, we replace syndrome with phenomenon, which better describes a situation one experiences. For that is what imposter phenomenon is, an experience we suffer due to the environment and culture we operate in.

"It’s about feeling like we don’t belong IN SPITE of the proof that we do. IN SPITE of the proof of our success." -Tanya Geisler

To address feeling like an imposter, guidance from HR professionals, career coaches, and corporate leaders have urged us to solve our individual crisis of conscious, suggesting that we are standing in our own way of success and fulfillment. What this advice fails to acknowledge is the system of inequality that is the catalyst for the phenomenon. It leaves in place the conditions that transform common uncertainty into a full blown, fatalistic, individual flaw. Advice that focuses on the individual ignores the cultural conditions that do not fully support us, preferring to condition us rather than improve the conditions in which we work.

It is an environmental problem when we cannot identify with a role model, have our contributions go unacknowledged, where every training program for women include modules on overcoming imposter syndrome, and we lack a sense of belonging and cannot be our true self at work. It is a cultural problem when confidence is considered synonymous with competence, and punishes those that don't display confidence in the acceptable way. It is certainly not an individual problem when an organization expects overwork and celebrates the hero culture. Each of these are symptoms of marginalization, discrimination, and abuses of power — and all contribute negatively to the imposter phenomenon.

"The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals but to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model." -Ruchika Tulshyan & Jodi-Ann Burey

We are not imposters, we are enough.

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Yes, I saw the Article in the New Yorker on the Imposter Syndrome — Tanya Geisler
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The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.