Impostor Syndrome, Timing, and Courage

I’m 26. A baby. Worse than a baby, an “adult”.

Every day I find out there are books I haven’t read, people I know nothing about, and like a lot of important stuff that I probably should know that I don’t. In other words, I feel as if I know nothing at all and am inadequate to do pretty much anything.

This sort of feeling is broadly known as impostor syndrome, a term coined in 1978 to describe high-achieving women who still believed they were over-valued by others. The last couple of years have seen dozens if not hundreds of articles written on impostor syndrome from pretty much every major publication. The front page of Google alone shows articles from Forbes, NYT, sciencemag, Slate, CalTech, and the APA.

My question is; is the proliferation of resources describing this phenomenon simply blogs being blogs, discussing everything under the sun, or has there been a marked increase that can be attributed to something else?

Google Trends provides some fascinating insight.

I began by looking at “impostor syndrome” which proved substantially more popular than “impostor phenomenon”. “Impostor syndrome” had its heyday between August of ’13 and January of ’15, with substantially more searches during that period than any time since ’04, and has recently seen an upswing nearing its old popularity.

But far more interesting, and much more revealing, is that since February of ’15 “imposter syndrome” has become not only the prevailing spelling of the term but, as I suspected, March of ’17 has been the highest ranking month for this search by nearly double the search volume per day.

I can’t say what specifically has caused this upswing but what I do know is that myself and others of my generation are feeling pretty damn fake.

Millionaires and billionaires, artists, entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, coders, developers, bloggers, journalists, and youtubers are piling on the content, the glitz, the images of success. And a generation of young adults is trying to find their place in that maelstrom, but they are finding increasingly that it really, really looks like they don’t belong.

But what the hell are we supposed to do with that information? Is it even true? Or are we merely suffering from something diagnosable, something that can be treated with…I dunno, mindfulness exercises? Anti-anxiety medication?

I believe the reality is both more hopeful and probably more difficult than I or my peers would like.

We need mentorship. We need listening skills. We need to get over our fear and our pride.

What I know for sure is that I could not have done what I’m doing today five years ago. I wasn’t ready for college. I wasn’t ready to start my own business. I wasn’t ready for the news that failure is good and should happen often.

I wasn’t ready to be mentored by books. To really let things sink in, to actually try and apply them to my life or to my endeavors. Just today I took a functional lesson from The Education of Millionaires and used it to modify my pitch for a new product I’m developing.

Could I have done any of that at 21? Doubtful. But today is today, and I’m going to use it as best I can.