Imposter Syndrome is described as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement”. While these people “are highly motivated to achieve”, they also live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds. (Clance and Imes, 1978)
Recently, I had this wonderful opportunity to participate in the Mozilla All Hands, 2017. There was an ‘Imposter Syndrome‘ workshop for Outreachy participants and here are the session highlights. The workshop was led by Lizz Noonan from the Diversity and Inclusion team, and we learned techniques to identify and overcome the Imposter Syndrome.
We were aproximately 12 participants and Lizz started the session with an introduction to the Imposter Syndrome. We were then asked to introduce ourselves and also to state ‘one thing you didn’t know looking at me‘! In my case, “I turned 30” 😉
Imposter Syndrome is the belief or the feeling that you are a fraud! It often starts with ‘I can’t do this‘ or ‘Can I do this‘?! Lizz cited examples from noted women – Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, Cherry Murray, former Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, stating how they too have been bitten by this bug.
Imposter Syndrome disproportionally affects women, so it is something of which we should be especially aware. This wasn’t the first time that I was hearing about Imposter Syndrome; I have heard and read articles about this in the past. What I didn’t realise until this workshop is that I too have been silently affected by this bug.
After a brief explanation about this syndrome, we were asked to share our experiences. When it was my turn to share my Imposter Syndrome experience, I realised why I have always (and still I am) been reluctant to asking questions in public?! There have been numerous times when I have had framed a question in mind, and then wondered to myself that this could be the most stupid question to be asked, felt shy to pop it out of my head, and then hear someone else ask the exact (or similar) question and get applauded for asking the best question. Sigh! This still hasn’t boosted confidence in me to ask a question the next time. At a technical workshop, slack discussion, PR comments, I feel too naive to ask any question.
This workshop made me realise that this behaviour of mine is because of the fear in me of being exposed as a ‘fraud‘.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
- You get the feeling of an impostor when your competence is questioned all the time – “Did you get into this program because you are a woman?“
- Often, you feel like an imposter because people treat you like one.
- People act surprised when you are good.
- There is this ‘prove -it-again‘ bias.
- And ‘lower your ambitions‘ thing.
What is the result from the above?
- We waste time over-preparing
- In my case, instead of asking a question, I go and dig every possible source to help me find the answer myself.
- We settle for less money (salary).
How do we prevent this?
- Share your failures
- Doc doc doc (doc = document, you don’t need to see a doctor :))
- Tell your story (This is my story)
After sharing our experiences, our next exercise was to ‘Take a Compliment” and say “Thank You” for the compliment. We were divided into groups to exchange compliments and thank you notes. We often receive compliments but the imposter in us stops us from saying a thank you.
Lizz shared her own experience of making a log of all the thank you notes she receives and how it helps her when she is low.
Thank you Lizz for this great workshop! I have spoken to my Outreachy mentor Stephanie Ouillon about my reluctancy in asking questions and she has come up with a nice way to help me be confident in asking questions. So the plan is whenever I am not sure to ask a question during our weekly team meetings, I first shoot the question to her and get the boost to ask it to the whole team. We have our weekly meetings every Tuesday, today is Sunday, let’s hope for the best 😉