It’s hard to exist as a woman in tech without hearing about impostor syndrome — a lot. As if we’re not all up against enough external obstacles when it comes to succeeding in the workplace, the second we start to do well at work, impostor syndrome sits inside our own minds telling us we don’t deserve our success.
That’s not to claim impostor syndrome as a purely feminist issue. I’ve met plenty of men who suffer the same fears as me when it comes to “being found out”. In fact, on my first date with my husband we bonded over a shared disbelief that we were doing well in our careers. As I sat across from this clearly very talented man and listened to him talk about how he attributed his career entirely to luck, I felt understood.
Since then, I’ve heard similar worries from some very unexpected people in my life, mostly from those I’ve admired and seen as career heroes. It blows my mind every time — why do we all waste our energy on something this silly?
I used to be completely riddled with impostor syndrome, to the extent that it started to get in the way of my happiness. So I’m trying my best to work out ways to manage it — and as a former philosophy student, that means getting analytical.
Introducing “Concert Impostor Syndrome”
Let me paint a picture: you’re at a concert. You count yourself as a fan of the band, so you pick up some great tickets near the front. On the night, you’re really excited as you enter the venue. You sit politely through the support act, feeling happy and comfortable.
The band starts with a few of their most popular songs — you sing along loudly, gesticulating wildly at your friends. Then the band launches into a couple of tracks from one of their early albums. You’ve heard these songs before, and you like them, but you don’t know all the words. Everyone around you, though, knows every word and is singing and gesticulating just as energetically as you were to the hits. The longer this goes on, the less comfortable you feel. You start to notice the “World Tour 2005” t-shirts around you, and you feel like a fraud. Those other people are the real fans, you’re just here for the hits. You feel smaller and smaller every time you don’t know the words to a song, and by the end of the concert your bubble has well and truly burst. Next time you vow to swot up on the words before the concert to be a better fan.
So, hands up — I’ve been a victim of concert impostor syndrome at every concert I’ve ever been to. It’s the most reliable way I’ve ever found to feel like I’m not good enough, and about to be found out as a fraud.
So I broke it down. How could I avoid concert impostor syndrome in the future?
1: I could learn every word to every song that every band I might ever want to see has ever recorded. (Perfection)
In other words, I would not be able to go to any more concerts until I was completely perfect. Becoming word perfect would have to be entirely under my own steam — I would have to devote hours to learning words every week, and regularly test myself to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Even then, I’d be in trouble if they played any covers.
I’ve got to be honest here — that doesn’t sound like a fun way to appreciate music. I’m pretty sure I would lose all interest in going to concerts if I were to go down this route.
2: I could stop going to concerts. (Avoidance)
I don’t like feeling like a fake fan when I go to concerts, so maybe I should stop going altogether?
This isn’t an option for me — I love music. I love live music, and I don’t want to stop going to see concerts just because I might feel uncomfortable part of the time.
3: I could feel the impostor syndrome, but go to concerts anyway. (Acceptance)
I could accept the status quo when it comes to concerts. I’d continue to go and see bands I liked, and I’d always leave the concert feeling a little bit satisfied, but a little bit inadequate.
This is where I’ve been for years — and to be fair, I’ve been to a lot of concerts! It clearly hasn’t got in my way too much, but it’s still not a nice place to be.
4: I could enjoy myself, embrace the experience and learn. (Enjoyment)
What if I turned my whole concert-going experience on its head? I could go to the concert and throw myself into the experience wholeheartedly.
I could sing along to the songs I know and spend the rest of the time living in the moment and learning more about the band. I could appreciate the fact that I’m lucky enough to see a band whose fans are so devoted that they know every word to every song. That I’m in a unique position to discover new music by hearing it played live by a famous band. That I’m out with some of the most knowledgeable people in the world about this band’s back catalogue — and with my friends. Life’s pretty good.
Ok, analogy over. Thanks for sticking with me.
Concerts are all very well, but how do I apply this new-found coping technique to everyday life?
Going through this exercise made me realise two things about my impostor syndrome:
- When I feel like an impostor, it means I care about doing well at something.
- When I feel like an impostor, it means I respect and admire the accomplishments of the people around me.
If I didn’t care about the bands I saw in concert, or about my job, why would I care so much about my performance?
If I didn’t think my fellow fans, or my colleagues were “better than me”, why would I worry so much about being found out?
It looks to me like my impostor syndrome comes from a really good place!
When I realised this, it all started to make sense: The many conversations with talented people who didn’t believe in themselves. The fact that impostor syndrome hit the hardest when I really cared about something.
What if impostor syndrome wasn’t actually my biggest weakness, but an indicator of my strength?
Since that moment, I’ve tried to approach my impostor syndrome a little differently. When I feel it start to bite, I know this means I’m passionate about something, and that I’m surrounded by the right people to help me improve — so I dive in head first. And do you know what? It’s changed my life, and helped me achieve goals I never thought I would even try to tackle.
When you can embrace your impostor syndrome you can start to view it as an indicator of your passion, and your high regard for those around you. This small change in attitude is hugely empowering. If you are feeling like an impostor, you’re probably in the best possible position to learn and grow — all you need to do is embrace the experience, and not let your own self-doubt get in the way.