Thursday, October 1, 2009

GHC09: Imposter panel

This is one of the sessions I most looked forward to ever since I looked through the program lineup. I learned about the imposter syndrome a few years ago and I know I suffer from it. The panel consists of 4 high level, successful women with very impressive accomplishments, and they actually suffer from it too? This is too good to miss!

First, a short definition: the imposter syndrome is a common yet typically unacknowledged condition where those experiencing it have difficulties believing in and internalizing their own accomplishments. Each panelist went though many situations where they felt like a total imposter and were afraid any moment people will find out the truth and know what a fake they are. Situations from getting "only" 90% percentile in a test, to feeling inadequate because they don't spend 24/7 in the lab; from being rejected for jobs (of course they wouldn't give that to ME!) to getting awards (they must have made a mistake!)

The panelists offered many suggestions on how to cope with this syndrome:
  • Ignore that nagging voice that says you're not good enough, and just push through
  • Psych yourself up - act confident, and you will be confident
  • Look for support from friends and family
  • Realize that people who seem to be very confident or arrogant aren't always smarter!
  • Seek mentors, colleagues, and managers who give positive feedback but also are critical sometimes
  • Force yourself to take on some uncomfortable things that you know are good for you, it will get easier
  • Mentor others to help them get over their imposter syndrome, it will help both them and you
  • Grow old enough not to care :)
One very interesting question that came up was whether there is any positive in having this issue - you tend to push yourself to succeed and still maintain the humility. The panelists all agreed while that is a possible outcome, there are other, better ways to achieve it without so much pain. Also, sometimes people over-compensate both by working too hard and ignoring other commitments, and by putting up a front to cover how insecure they feel inside and end up appearing arrogant.

Realistically, I don't know if I can ever completely shake off the feeling of inadequacy myself. But hearing those stories will definitely give me pause next time I beat myself up for not achieving perfection. :)

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