February 28, 2018

The impostor syndrome.

My view yesterday as I was sitting in the atrium of the Institutes for Discovery...

IMG_0120

I was just taking a break toward the end of my 5.3-mile walk, but I happened to sit down next to an auditorium where an event was about to begin: "Impostor Syndrome: What it is and How You Can Thrive in Spite of it/How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone 'Thinks' You Are," described here:
Millions of people around the world secretly worry they’re not as smart or talented as other people “think” they are. The so-called Impostor Syndrome impacts both men and women in a variety of disciplines and is especially rampant in academia. Join us for an interactive session with renowned Impostor Syndrome expert, Dr. Valerie Young. You'll discover the sources of impostor feelings and gain practical, immediately usable strategies to help end this unique form of self-doubt.
It was interesting to watch the crowd arrive. Were these all people who secretly worrying they’re not as smart or talented as other people “think” they are?

Not so secret to be lining up looking like you're the people secretly worry they’re not as smart or talented as other people “think” they are.

I secretly worried that these were impostor impostors.

I wonder what the tips were about How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone 'Thinks' You Are. Do you first have to believe that other people think you're smart and capable? Because if you believe it, don't you already feel it?

Now, I'm even more suspicious of these purported impostors. Maybe they think other people think they're smart and capable but other people don't think that at all. That's another way to extract yourself from the impostor syndrome. Maybe you really do suck. Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?

69 comments:

Smilin' Jack said...

Millions of people around the world secretly worry they’re not as smart or talented as other people “think” they are.

The real problem is the millions of people around the world who are too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

rhhardin said...

More common is the person you're dating who feels she's not as smart as people think and you agree.

john said...

I would never attend such an event without first seeing Dr. Young's credentials.

madAsHell said...

Obama and Hillary weren't there.

harrogate said...

Though metaphorical, your last sentence clears a path for the "feet" tag, imho.

traditionalguy said...

Dilbert's dilemma?

We spend a lifetime seeking humans to react to us as our mirrors that reflect how good, how bad and how ugly we really are. First it is what our parents think, then it is what our classmates think, then it is then what our business associates think, and finally it can be what our dog/cat thinks.

A sharp dressed man or woman with a big smile has the advantage.

But God understands us, and He gave us amazing grandchildren to admire us and listen to our stories.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I really hope Althouse is trolling with this one but I have my doubts.

Fernandinande said...

"How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone 'Thinks' You Are."

Beer! And plenty of it.

Peter said...

Do you first have to believe that other people think you're smart and capable?

That's pretty easy if your parents and every teacher you ever had wouldn't stop telling you how special you were.

hombre said...

Don't worry folks. Once your mother is out of the equation it is unlikely that you will be overestimated.

buwaya said...

Is this another female thing?

MadisonMan said...

That building has a very peculiar smell to me. (I know you can't smell it Althouse, but trust me on this).

I avoid it for that reason.

Ann Althouse said...

"How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone 'Thinks' You Are."

Why is "thinks" in quotes? Should "feel" be in quotes?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I solve this problem by putting a lot of time and effort into lowering other people's expectations of me.

A lot.

Michael K said...

Interesting thread at Greg Cochrane's blog about inherited traits.

It's all in the genes.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Somebody had to post this link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVA-Bx4rNc0

reader said...

This describes how I felt through undergraduate and law school. Because of it I only spoke to professors when required. It is amazing that you can get through an entire semester only speaking once or twice, many times not at all.

I don't think I learned the subject matter in school. I learned how to read the professors and give them what they wanted. So it really felt like a con game. In all likelihood, I probably did suck. Happily, I'm old enough now not to give a rat's ass.

This has made me remember one of my favorite courses. A Literature in Society course taught by a TA. It was supposed to have about thirty students, there were only three. I thought for sure it would be cancelled, but no. I swear the TA was stoned every class. He ditched the syllabus. No papers and no tests. Best book club ever.

Sebastian said...

"How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone 'Thinks' You Are."

The real Impostor Syndrome is to claim that you want to feel as bright and capable as everyone thinks you are.

You want to feel brighter and capabler. Because, Dunning-Kruger-like, you know you are.

Henry said...

I prefer to work with imposters.

The opposite is far far far far far far worse.

walter said...

The Discovery Building refers to the facility itself. It houses two research institutes: the private Morgridge Institute for Research and the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, also known as WID. It also houses a public space called the Town Center, managed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which manages and operates the building on behalf of all tenants. The two research institutes share a common goal of supporting forward-thinking experimentation by exploring fundamental questions across many disciplines and inspiring new generations of scientific thinkers.

Opened in 2010, the building has been recognized as best in class in several ways. It garnered LEED gold certification for its successful integration of energy- and water-saving systems and its reliance on smart features to automatically trigger energy- saving practices. R&D Magazine in 2012 named the building “Lab of the Year,” an international award bestowed on only one laboratory each year.

Everything about the building is designed for collaboration, community and interaction. It encourages the people working and visiting here to bump into each other and share ideas.

Henry said...

Why is "thinks" in quotes? Should "feel" be in quotes?

Because how you feel is truth. How you feel other people "think" is falsehood.

Ann Althouse said...

The belief in "the imposter syndrome" is like the self-esteem movement.

If you don't feel you're that good, it's a problem to be solved. But they're assuming that you really are good. A more moderate position would be the other people aren't that good either, so don't worry so much, just earnestly apply yourself to the job and do your best.

But it's also possible that you're feeling bad because you're not well suited to that job. Maybe you should listen to your feelings of unease and wonder where you would feel like the person you were meant to be.

I think it's a bit like the "Cat Person" problem in sex. The answer isn't to get yourself to feel that you really do belong here, but to get better aligned with your real feelings and to know when and how to extract yourself from places that are not good for your well-being.

If you're sticking out a job because of necessity, because you need the money, and you can't figure out where else to go, then you really are an impostor, and the most genuine thing you can be is recognizing that you don't really belong here.

Belonging is not necessarily the greatest thing, and sometimes there's dignity in just seeing yourself as an outsider and honoring that.

walter said...

I wonder if the Discovery Building has imposter/impostor syndrome.

DKWalser said...

And here I was thinking I was the ONLY person who felt that way! My 2nd grade teacher took a distinct disliking to me. She sat me in the back of the class, away from the other kids next to her desk, wouldn't let me go out to recess, and marked me as a slow learner. In each of the the following grades, that label stuck -- I was put in the slow reading and slow math groups -- even though my standardized test scores showed I was already reading above high school level (in the 3rd grade)and was performing above grade level in math. Of course, I didn't know what my standardized tests showed, all I knew is that I was put with all the other not-so-smart kids and assumed I was one too.

That changed somewhat in the 5th grade. Mr. Wade, my teacher, saw my standardized test scores and asked the principal why I wasn't part of the school's gifted program The principal pointed to the evaluations of my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade teachers who all said I was a slow learner. At Mr. Wade's insistence, I was sent to the special ed room to take an IQ test. Based on that test, I was sent to a psychologist at Cal State (Berkeley) for another IQ test. (Not knowing why I was being tested, I thought, "Great! I'm not just dumb, I'm crazy, too.") This test was administered orally.

At the end of the exam, the doctor asked me a final question. A question I couldn't answer at the time. He said, "You're a very smart young man, but I don't know how smart you are. The reason I don't is because with each line of questions, as they got progressively tougher, there came a point where you simply refused to answer. Yet, I could see in you eyes that you knew -- or thought that you knew -- the answer. Why wouldn't you keep answering my questions?" I didn't have the perspective to answer his question then, but I believe the answer is that I'd spent 3 years sitting in the slow group and didn't feel comfortable answering questions my peers could not. That's why I did better on standardized tests than I did in class. I didn't try to show up my classmates. On standardized tests, no one saw the scores (or so I thought).

Anyway, the result of the battery of IQ tests was that my tested IQ was well above any other in the school and I was allowed entry into the gifted program. But, there is part of me that thinks I really belong with the slow group. Maybe I just test well.

buwaya said...

My skill set is finding people who are bright and capable, and giving them the hard things to figure out. To each of the best (or the best I can get), the problem to which he is best suited. I exist to keep them from fighting each other, and sometimes to nag.
I am a lazy man.

Henry said...

Winston Churchill:

Cultured people are merely the glittering scum which floats upon the deep river of production

Hell. Read them all.

walter said...

DK,
Did the teachers labeling you slow have access to the scores?

Ann Althouse said...

Interesting story, DKWalser. So how did life turn out after that?

Yancey Ward said...

Every year I resolve to be more confident in myself and my abilities, but I quickly give up because I know I can never pull it off.

Nonapod said...

I guess I have whatever that is. I know I'm nowhere near as smart as some people seem to think I am. I'm wrong about loads of things and I'm constantly surprised at how much I don't know, and I've known people who are lightyears ahead of me in their intellectual capacities. Despite that I've been unironically called a "genius" to may face (which is weird).

Yancey Ward said...

You won't see Hillary there because she agrees with Streisand.

buwaya said...

I am well suited to my position, and I try to make sure everyone else is well suited to theirs. It helps a lot that the real contest here is against nature (technology), and not some battle of perceptions among people. The problems are solved, or they aren't, the systems hum along, or they fail. These things have no opinion of you.

It is "clean", as it should be.

That is a terrible thing I think, to make a living in a profession where it all depends on some persons or groups opinion. Academics, in the US flavor especially, seems like a very filthy line of work. Everything is subjective. Its no wonder there is so much anxiety and so many symptoms of distress.

Henry said...

Althouse said ... If you don't feel you're that good, it's a problem to be solved.

That's a great insight. People don't get fixed, least of all oneself. The effort to fix people often leads to genuinely appalling behavior. People are not fixed until they're dead.

jwl said...

Perhaps people, especially academics, have good reason to be suffering from impostor syndrome.
-----------

Science is facing a "reproducibility crisis" where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments, research suggests.

This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39054778

DKWalser said...

Walter -- Yes, they did. The tests were administered every other year 2nd grade,4th grade, etc., and the results were available a few weeks after the tests were taken. I'm assuming the teachers just didn't bother looking at them. They were in the middle of the school year and, by that time, thought they knew their kids pretty well.

What saved me was this was Mr. Wade's first year teaching and he read each of our files before the year started. He couldn't reconcile my label of 'slow learner' with the test scores he saw. The other teachers relied on what they'd heard from the teacher that had had me the year before. I doubt they ever read the file.

Yancey Ward said...

Buwaya is onto what I think the problem likely is- you are dealing with people for whom there are no objective standards of judgment. If you work in a field where the solutions you come up with either work or they don't, you aren't likely to feel you are fooling yourself and others in either direction.

buwaya said...

Most jobs are not inherently rewarding, or rather not inherently interesting.
Most personal chores aren't inherently interesting either.
But they have to be done anyway.

Lots of highly skilled jobs are like that, there is fun in learning them, and often enough they are terribly complex, so there is a lot to learn. But after several years it becomes about as fun as cleaning a bathroom. Another day, another dollar takes over.

Its easy enough to recommend a break, but again, the job has to be done, it is a duty, and an income needs to be earned, with some security attached because vulnerable people depend on you.

And that pretty much sums up human life since around the discovery of agriculture.

Henry said...

@DKWalser -- I had somewhat of the opposite school track. Early on I was placed in advanced math, but I was inveterately lazy and never really excelled in any other subject except art. I preferred to spend my time doing my own artistic, literary, game-playing, and programming projects instead of focusing on school work. When our school system launched a gifted and talented program, my younger brother was entered and I was not.

My mother went to an evening presentation put on by the charismatic teacher who was evangelizing the program. He emphasized that many gifted and talented students couldn't be discovered by normal testing and grades because such students didn't always fit into a standard academic program. Gifted and talented students might even perform poorly on purpose so as not to stand out too much. It was important to bolster the self-esteem of the gifted and talented so they not hide their gifts. My mother related that she turned to the woman next to her in the auditorium. "My son doesn't have any problems with trying to fit in. Does yours?"

I always laugh when I think of this story. Not even my Mom!

But the fact is, I didn't want to be gifted and talented. I wanted to do my own stuff.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

https://xkcd.com/1954/

Just asking said...

Incompetent people Dunning-Kruger their way through, thinking they're awesome. Intelligent people know their knowledge/skills aren't perfect but don't realize that they're still better than average. That makes them feel like a fraud even though others view them as smarter or more skilled.

DKWalser said...

Interesting story, DKWalser. So how did life turn out after that?

I've had a great life! I did well in college and grad school. (Never really had to learn how to study until grad school. That was a shock to the system.) I've had some great clients and been able to work on some very interesting and complicated matters. My record in battles with IRS on behalf my clients is almost unblemished.

But, every once in awhile, I have this nagging doubt that I'm just faking it. Maybe, this time, everyone else is right and I'm the one who's wrong. After all, wasn't I the guy who was part of the slow-learner group? So, I occasionally have doubts -- which prompt me to double check my work and have a very few times prevented my making a mistake.

stonethrower said...

Really nice photo. Perhaps your best.

Howard said...

Well, yeah. Because it's true. In a society that rewards competence, to get ahead, especially as a young person, you have to exude confidence. Then, when given a task above your head, you have to hustle to get it done. It's a form of the heavenly virtue humility, the opposite of the apex deadly sin pride.

That's the theory part associated with Smiling Jack's common sense fundamental of human psychology: The real problem is the millions of people around the world who are too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

...and these people gravitate to and thrive in bureaucracies.

Howard said...

DKWalser: But, every once in awhile, I have this nagging doubt that I'm just faking it. Maybe, this time, everyone else is right and I'm the one who's wrong. After all, wasn't I the guy who was part of the slow-learner group? So, I occasionally have doubts -- which prompt me to double check my work and have a very few times prevented my making a mistake.

This approach is the basis of what I call the "Moron Theory of Life". IMO, we are at the primitive stage of human development. We have the capacity to create God in our image, but we lack the evolutionary capability to act like our theoretical ideal. I believe this is the unter/uber mensch situation and even the smartest among us are untermensch. In my experience in STEM professions, this is vital because of all the measurements and calculations with unit conversions, etc whenever you get a result that seems too good to be true, your first instinct should be "I fucked something up" rather that "I discovered the Flux Capacitor"

As Clint once said, "a man's gotta know his limitations"

tcrosse said...

Then, when given a task above your head, you have to hustle to get it done.

Your reward is that you get to do it again, and again, and again.

traditionalguy said...

I love DKWalser's experience. It sounds familiar. If the family's pecking order is strongly enforced, and the first born is deemed an exceptional child, then the rest of the children have to watch out not to show him up. Whenthe oldest makes all A's, then you must make 3 A's and 2B's. This system often hits the youngest child the hardest, and makes them rebel and try out for black sheepness. But when the family is not watching, then the younger child's talents on loan from God can all come out...just never tell the family about it. They need you in the role they assigned to you.

Michael K said...

The reason I don't is because with each line of questions, as they got progressively tougher, there came a point where you simply refused to answer.

Very interesting comment. When I was working in the VA psych hospital in 1962. There was a guy in the locked ward who was considered dangerous but had had an excellent academic record before becoming psychotic. They did some psychological testing on him and the result was a suspicion that he was not psychotic at all but concealing something.

It was pretty eerie.

Howard said...

Blogger tcrosse said.... Your reward is that you get to do it again, and again, and again.

Thanks! After 10,000-hours of again and again, you become "world-class" according to Gladwells axiom.

Ann Althouse said...

“Really nice photo. Perhaps your best.”

Thanks.

It’s unnerving and vertiginous as framed. I was mainly just texting Meade to say where I was, but I deliberately made it feel alienating... because I’m an outsider.

Big Mike said...

@DKWaiser, I knew a kid who was labeled a slow learner and trouble-maker by an incompetent first grade teacher in a school run by an even more incompetent principal. He went on to get a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Henry said...

Big Mike said... I knew a kid who was labeled a slow learner and trouble-maker by an incompetent first grade teacher in a school run by an even more incompetent principal. He went on to get a Ph.D. in mathematics.

My youngest son was sent repeatedly to the principle's office by his first grade teacher. It was because he kept asking questions and derailing her lessons. We call it his year of crime.

tim in vermont said...

I’m wrong about loads of things and I'm constantly surprised at how much I don't know,

It’s the people who think that they are never wrong, and don’t worry about what they don’t know that are the problem.

tcrosse said...

Luckily, I retired before they got wise to me.

Henry said...

Tim in Vermont said...
It’s the people who think that they are never wrong, and don’t worry about what they don’t know that are the problem.

I agree. As I said upstream, I prefer the people with imposter syndrome. They're more honest and work harder to stay on top of their field.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Birkel said...

50% of people are below average.
50% of people are above average.

Ask people if they are above average and well more than 50% say "yes".

Dave said...

When I was a kid I thought I was really smart. Now I know I am one of the stupidest people alive.

D 2 said...

The limitations line of Eastwood upthread is in the right vein, I think. Or seeing your "intelligence/wisdom" as a "the journey not the destination" thing.

You can be smart about something one minute and completely not-smart about something else - or even something very similar - the next. There is a time-oriented and context-specific aspect that makes us all possible geniuses and possible idiots in action. Sure, maybe some people are at the end of the parabola, and far more likely to be apt in picking up concepts, skills, understanding, decision-making ability etc than those who may be found on the other far end, but I consider most monkeys can be seen as 2 to 4 parts brilliant/inspired, 2 to 4 parts idiots/foolish and the remainder parts (4-6 more?) to be fate/external cicumstances. Thats before we get to a moral compass or a social personality type or emotional spectrum and what-have-you other aspects of character.

The over credientialed might worry that their uni paper signals might not shine as bright as they hope. The honest man and woman eventually doesnt care - they recognize that the village doesnt really judge them on their would be mental acumen - a highly subjective and time sensitive trait - but instead they might be "judged" on whether they work hard and honestly, in carrying out what is asked of them

wildswan said...

I just want to stick up for the aunts who supposedly are blindly affirming nephews and nieces and leading said nieces and nephews to think they are great when they are so-so. I have wonderful nieces and nephews but I've noticed my approval means nothing to them. They just shrug it aside: "oh, you think that because you love us." I think love gives a kind of insight, at least sometimes, so you look past the phone glued to the hand, the watching of cat videos, the ripped T-shirts, the wearing of pajamas in public places, the sports crazes, the huddled masses yearning to wear headphones to the dinner table, the childish political talk, the pizza diet - and you actually see the person. So they aren't imposters fooling me; I think I'm the imposter, if anyone, fooling them that I don't see those ... limitations, let's say, ... which they have. But I'm not really an imposter either; I just see more than their worst side at its worst moment.

Big Mike said...

Now I know I am one of the stupidest people alive.

Only if you vote Democrat. Actually, if your kids are in the 10 to 15 age range then you barely have enough IQ points to remember to breath now and then. But by the time your youngest is 22 or so, you'll be a genius again.

Think said...

My story is somewhat similar to DKWalser. I was the youngest in my grade because my mom wanted to get me out of the house earlier and the birthday cutoff was later in the year back then. I think the combination of my younger age and my mom's hands-off approach to encouraging me to do homework made me appear dumber than I was. I was put in the special reading and math classes up through 5th grade, and was a C and D student all the way through my Junior year of highschool. I thought was really stupid in many respects, simply based on my grades. I thought there were two types of people in the world, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and people like me. But my senior year, I realized that all you had to do to get A's was do the homework. I was a straight A student after that realization. I went on to be number 3 in my very large law school class. I think that was the first time I realized that I wasn't that stupid, and that lawyers, doctors, and scientists were regular people (and what they said should be viewed skeptically and not taken as correct simply based on their degree).

Unknown said...

I would say the opposite is a more common problem: the world not recognizing your talent, getting passed over for promotion. And I don't mean this ironically, as in people who think they deserve a promotion but don't. The problem is that a) it is hard to recognize talent and b) there are only so many spots at the top, so you may not get one even if you deserve it.

DKWalser said...

Ask people if they are above average and well more than 50% say "yes".

The statistics are skewed by a number of factors. First, assume that a true average IQ is 100. Most of those with IQ's significantly below the 100 -- say much below 85 -- are kept out of the general population. That's not true for those with IQ's well above 100. So, the IQ of someone you're likely to randomly encounter is apt to be above 100. There are simply more people on the plus side of the distribution curve.

Second, we tend to self-segregate. Most of my neighbors are college educated. (Most are old enough that getting into and graduating from college required a little more intellectual HP than it does today.) Most of the people I work with are college educated. Most of the people I know socially are also college educated. I think this is true for many, if not most, those who have attended college. As a consequence, more than 50% of the people I run into are apt to correctly believe they have an above average IQ.

sinz52 said...

I have found,
and studies have confirmed,

that highly competent people tend to be their own worst critics. They constantly worry that they're just not doing well enough and they're constantly looking for ways to improve.

On the other hand, incompetent people constantly overestimate their abilities. They may gripe constantly about how near-impossible the job is--but they never consider the possibility that someone else might be able to find the job easier or more doable.

Rockport Conservative said...

My granddaughter is a medical student. Her school has the white coat ceremony after the first quarter. The speaker at the event explained to all the parents and loved ones in the audience that all but a very few of the overachievers, high scoring med students confess that in their hearts they know they are not as good as everyone thinks they are, that they are fearful of being found out, and thus try even harder to achieve.

She also said they are as smart as we think they are or they would not be here.

I know in our granddaughters case she went to USC (the California one) on a scholarship and is also on a scholarship at medical school. High honors indeed, and she still has her doubts. On occasion though, I wish she were a little more doubtful about the liberalism she has picked up in her schooling.

Lyle Smith said...

Looks like the building is getting acupuncture.

Birkel said...

DKWalser:
Those are fair points. Call the average 105 or 110 in your daily encounters. Half are below that average.

And so it goes.

tim in vermont said...

On the other hand, incompetent people constantly overestimate their abilities.

Yeah, we see that even among our beloved trolls.

ALP said...

The "not good enough" thoughts in my head are important. It pushes me to improve, do better, always try harder. Once I am satisfied - I stop improving.

So what's the problem? Sounds like competitive people in competitive environments with competitive thinking.