The internet and social media are great at filtering. And not as you might expect filtering other people, but I’m referring to filtering yourself. A persons’ internet presence is not an objective transect of their lives, but a very carefully curated and select transect with it’s own bias. There is plenty of stuff that happens in my life that, despite posting ~100 tweets a week, never ever gets a mention. For example, I bet you didn’t know that my cat recently started sleeping on the sofa cushions.
But more seriously, this means that the version of me the internet sees rarely has problems like ‘imposter syndrome’. Mostly, this is because it makes for very boring content and despite what you may think, I actually try to make what I share interesting. Of course, what I think is interesting often varies from popular opinion – you philistines. But it’s also because I’d be posting so often that you’d all be sick of hearing me ramble about it.
Everyone gets imposter syndrome.
A point so serious it got its own paragraph, to highlight how much you need to pay attention to it. This one isn’t as important so it has to share a paragraph with a another sentence.
Imposter syndrome is that feeling that you are doing something that you are entirely unqualified or untrained for, and any second everyone around you is going to realise and rat you out. Personally, I suffer from this a lot with blog writing – I am constantly amazed that literally anyone reads the nonsense I write. I am paranoid that one day everyone will realise I’m badly dyslexic, failed my English GCSE, and can’t write for toffee – normally about 13:02 every Wednesday.
I am also a Biochemist working in a Physics department designing optical sensors. Every time I do anything, I just assume that I am one misused terminology away from my boss standing up, pointing and saying “Wait a second, you don’t know all of Maxwell’s equations off by heart. You’re a big phoney!”. I’ve been here 6 years and so far I’ve got away with the con, but that doesn’t assuage the fear that at any second I will be discovered.
The trick to this amazing 6 year run of no-one calling me out is simply because everyone reading this and those at work, are far too busy with their own imposter con.
People know more than you. Compared to what they know, you know very little. This is broadly true of everyone because everyone has a different platter of knowledge. If we all knew the same amount about the same things, then society would stagnate as we all sat around agreeing with each other about the identical series of facts we know.
So when I say they know more than you, what I mean is that they know more about the things they know about than you know about those things. Simple.
While you are busy anxiously waiting to be called out on your lack of knowledge of their things, they are equally bricking it in the fear that you’ll realise they don’t know all the things that you know.
But that is only part of it, of course – feeling like an imposter also comes from a fear that you are way out of your depth for whatever job you are doing, irrespective of those around you. This is a little simpler to counter as the answer is simple – well done you’re on the right track.
A good way to never have imposter syndrome is never trying anything new or anything the might involve learning something. Having that sense of not actually being qualified for the thing you are doing is a sign that you’re actually doing something that is probably a) hard and b) new. Living in a totally unchallenged existence sounds nice and if it was up to my kids then they’d never have to try anything new ever again if they got the chance (especially anything that follows the phrase “I made dinner with…”).
Impostor syndrome is a side effect of actually trying. Feeling a bit lost and out of your depth is natural, the whole point of experience is that it’s something you earn by doing things you are not yet experienced in. And while you’re learning, it’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed and out-of-place, especially in a world full of internet people telling you how amazing everything is all the time.
I am very very certain that writing all this won’t reduce the amount that anyone feels like an imposter. It’s a very natural feeling that I personally find helps me stay grounded and always trying to do a bit better. But what I do hope is that a few of you feel a little less silly when you do have these feelings, and take a deep breath and get back on with what ever profession or hobby you are doing – and keep going.