Do You Feel Like A Fake?
Photo courtesy of Dennis Wong.

Do You Feel Like A Fake?

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Confidence

If you’ve ever had a crisis of confidence, a fear that one day someone will spot that you’re not “an expert,” then you’ve surely experienced imposter syndrome.

I’ve always loved the advice, however hard it may be to put into practice, that you should never compare your insides with everybody else’s outsides. How we present ourselves to the world, our public persona, is often considerably different to how we feel on the inside.

The outside you can seem confident, assertive, knowledgeable, and capable, while, at the very same time, the inside you feels vulnerable, lacking in confidence, and convinced you’ll be uncovered as a fraudster at any moment.

Until recently, I hadn’t realized this feeling was so widespread, that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, or even that it had a name.

I believe that cumulative knowledge empowers and that the more people that know and understand something, such as multipotentiality for example, the less of a problem something feels. It’s a bit like strength in numbers.

I was inspired by Jo Moore’s recent post about launching a business when you’re not an expert. She describes with insight the feeling that other people may “criticize me behind my back, and wonder who on earth I thought I was.”

Even seemingly successful people feel like this, folk who, to the outside observer, appear confident and fully in control. Interestingly though, it seems those that are successful are the most likely to question their competence, a strange dichotomy as they are often the most able.

Key Reminders To Help You Cope with Imposter Syndrome

1. If you feel like an imposter, you’re probably not!

If you have the self-awareness to be able to spot when there’s more you can learn, you’re more than likely astute enough to understand where the limits of your experience or skills currently lie.

The real imposters don’t recognize that they are way beyond their abilities and are more likely to continue to plow on regardless, getting ever more out of their depth.

2. You don’t need to know everything (it’s just not possible)

There are many different levels between novice and professional, and everyone starts their journey at the beginning. Just because you feel you don’t yet know “everything” about a subject, it doesn’t actually mean you don’t have sufficient knowledge to be competent at what you’re doing.

Even the professionals are still learning most of the time and there’s always something new to explore, whatever the subject.

3) A little uncertainty keeps you sharp

In the same way that the adrenaline rush of stage fright can boost your performance, so a little bit of doubt can help prevent complacency and keep you on your toes.

You’re more likely to regularly review your skills and look at ways to expand and update them if you recognize there is more you could do. Which is great news if you enjoy learning as much as the average multipotentialite!

Back to the question of multipotentiality and imposter syndrome.

We have way more beginnings – whether that means studying a new subject, launching a new business, or starting a new job in a completely different industry – than the average person. Combine that with our pluralist tendency to avoid specializing, and I begin to wonder if we are more prone to suffering from imposter syndrome than the non-multipotentialite? I’d love to hear your take on the matter.

Over to you!

Have you ever felt like an imposter, expecting someone to call you out at any time? How did it make you feel and what did you do to counteract it?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.

20 Comments

  1. Saul says:

    Great post! I think in my case these feelings are closely linked to what I might call “Bubble Syndrome”. Because I live in something of a bubble (West Coast liberals, specifically), I tend to assume that everything that’s on my radar is old news. But then I mention Couchsurfing, or Meetup, or Airbnb to someone who’s never heard of it before and I realize, “Wait a minute, there ARE people who still need to be introduced to these things!” Just because a subject is well-known in my community or on blogs that I follow doesn’t mean that the “mainstream” has heard about it.

    So one way to help out with the Imposter Syndrome is to step away from your typical surroundings and reach out to people from other places and backgrounds. Even if no one in your immediate community can benefit from what you have to offer, there are usually plenty of people out there who can!

  2. Sarah says:

    I moved from a communications role into a role in IT, but within the same company. I had no experience with any of the tools I was going to be working with, and was relying on my ability to learn things very, very quickly. The first several months were rough. The first page of my work notebook was dedicated to SQL syntax and I studied tech lingo, so I could use works like database and schema properly.

    Several years later, I still feel like an impostor. In consulting, your experience precedes you, and I am always nervous to tell someone I’ve only been doing this for part of my 7-year career. I expressed how I would like to be viewed as an expert in my field to one of my coworkers, and he looked at me sympathetically and said, “You know, this job.. you don’t have to be an expert to be successful. You may feel mediocre, but management recognizes that you get the job done and make the customer happy.”

    I’ve been a little happier since that moment. In an indirect way, it encouraged me to embrace the “me” that is a jack of all trades, master of none.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Sarah
      Definitely embrace the pluralist side of your abilities. It sounds like when you changed roles you were able to rapidly adapt and learn a whole new skill set really very quickly – that’s definitely something to be proud of! :)

  3. Bev Webb says:

    Hey Saul!
    Great to hear from you. Yep, I really like the comparison with bubble syndrome – there’s definitely something subjective about how you benchmark your “expertise” or lack of it.

    When we mix all the time with people in the same field or industry as us, it’s easy to forget that not everyone out there (i.e. the general public) has the same level of knowledge. I guess it’s easier to feel like an imposter when surrounded by other folk who are really clued up on a subject. :)

  4. Bianca says:

    Good points, Bev, especially the last one – some of the most useful words I heard when I was younger were: “We all begin from the START square” (badly translated from Italian, I know). They recently published an article on Brainpickings about designing a good life and at a certain point during the interview the two speakers talked about how it’s common for artists and great thinkers to feel as if they were phonies, and how the only ones who didn’t think the same were very old compared to the others. Their point was, it takes time to build knowledge, but we are so used to get everything now that we are afraid of being judged for not being “fast” enough. What’s your opinion:)?

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Bianca
      Yep, totally agree that it’s important to remember that everyone had to start from square one. I like your suggestion that maybe the modern habit of expecting instant gratification, of being able to gain or achieve something straight away, may have a bearing on the situation too. :)

  5. christina says:

    The sad thing is I have been called out in a few of my explorations. The world seems to believe the only way to learn is to get a degree… while I agree they are helpful, I believe there are many alternatives. I mean especially for a multipotentialite. We often are self taught… Unless were rich and have tons of time on our hands we can’t just get a degree in EVERY subject we want to take on lol. But IM 19 and there’s a lot of pressure to choose to not set my expectations high… But I think now is the time to do that, not later. Thank you though because ever since reading these articles I have felt inspired and have begun developing my own renaissance business. :) I do need to learn more, but I definitely feel more confident

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Christina
      There are lots of alternatives to getting a degree. Unfortunately, many people are still so used to equating ability with certification, that they don’t look past the lack of pieces of paper to see someone’s real ability.

      That said, there are plenty of opportunities where it’s skill, talent or ability, rather than a formal education, which are important. Creative and design orientated roles are often offered based on a portfolio of work, not on whether you have a degree.

      Developing your own Renaissance Business could definitely be a great option. It gives you the platform to explore all your interests and have the freedom to experiment. And you can do alongside a degree if that’s what you decide to do. :)

  6. Megan says:

    Button pressed! Trigger hit! Imposter for sure!
    It’s such an interesting phenomena and it comes from comparing ourselves to others. Answer: stop comparing ourselves to others.
    But then I ask myself, doesn’t comparison have some value at all? I’m serious. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this because it’s something I’ve been thinking about…
    Thanks for the great post Bev and for the link to Jo Moore’s article.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Megan
      Great to hear from you – thanks for the feedback. You’re absolutely spot on: we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. It is such a hard habit to break. Just thinking back, as soon as we begin school at around 5 years old we become immersed in a competitive environment of grades, star charts and ability based classes.

      I think there is some value to comparison, but it comes from learning from others, not judging ourselves against them. :)

  7. Brian says:

    Feel like an impostor? Me? To the extreme. For me, it doesn’t just apply to what I know or don’t know, but who I am. Growing up in the Midwest where you work for someone else for as many hours a week as you can until you die (or you are a bum), and independent thinking is something that just isn’t understood, I have felt like an alien posing as a human most my life. Being an expert in something? Impossible! You are just a gear in a machine. My father once told me that, no matter how good you get at something, there is always someone better. After being told that, how could you ever feel good enough?

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Brian
      Many thanks for sharing your story – I’m sure there are plenty of other folk reading this post that can totally identify with the circumstances you describe.

      It can be hard to break the mold when everyone around you seems so content to stick with “the way things have always been done.” Things are changing but it takes time for new ways of thinking to filter through and become established (or acceptable).

      Are you finding outlets for your multipod needs and ways to break the mold for yourself? :)

  8. I think it is widespread everywhere, because we live in a culture where external presentation is seen as so important.

    I like occupying the “non-expert” space. Even after giving a 10-minute rant about some topic that I seem very knowledgeable about, I like to say, “But I’m not an expert, what do you think, how does this land?”.

    One of my superpowers is sounding like I know a lot when I really don’t. It gets me in trouble because people believe me when I’m really just “thinking out loud”. It is really easy for people to believe I am confident in my knowledge just because I sound convincing when I talk. So I am aware of that and try to dispel that effect.

    I don’t like that feeling of being an “imposter”, and I think the way I deal with it is that I’ll just say that I don’t have any expert qualifications in most of the things I talk about. I’m upfront about my lack of “expertise” and that I have only studied things for my own interest, so then I can be free to not worry about having to meet any standard. Then I can just talk about what interests me.

    Plus, I absolutely appreciate people who are specialists and are really awesome at their work. I also appreciate the breadth of experience and openness of thought that I have. I think both are needed for society to work.

    I absolutely know that I’m pretty darn smart. I can understand a lot of things and I’m confident in that. But I also know I haven’t spent 10,000 hours doing any one thing and I probably never will. And that gives me humility when it comes to expertise. I am happy to defer to people who really have put in that time. I don’t need to be something I’m not.

    And, I don’t need to be a super-expert to be useful–as other people have pointed out, I just have to have enough expertise that I’m helpful to the person in front of me, or can do the project I want to do. That’s fine, and it’s fine with me to admit what I know and what I don’t.

    So I think authenticity and appreciation of differences are keys to counteracting this feeling of “imposter”-ness.

    Sometimes when I meet people who are f-ing excellent at what they do I feel a little sad that I don’t have the stamina / interest / orientation to become that kind of expert. But when I think about all the variety of things I’ve explored and am yet to explore, I feel happy and excited to be me.

    As I get older the limit to how long we live becomes a bigger factor in how I see things. We can’t all do it all–some of us will become experts and some of us will have a really broad knowledge and experience base, and a lot of people will be somewhere in between. For me, the important thing has been to figure out what makes me happy and build my life around that. I think the happier I am doing what I do, the less important it becomes that other people validate my choices or worth. When I am unhappy it’s easy to imagine that listening to someone else’s opinion (or “society’s opinion”) might lead me to more happiness. But when I am happy, it’s kind of natural to say, “You know what, I don’t really care what anyone thinks, because I’m actually really frickin’ happy being who and what I am!”.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Emma
      Great comment – thanks for your feedback! I totally agree that you don’t have to be a super-expert to be useful – it’s purely about having a little more knowledge than the person you’re helping.

      You also raise a great point about how happiness and self-confidence can make you feel secure in your abilities, without the need for outside validation.

      I think sometimes it’s because of our very breadth of knowledge that we can add to a feeling of being a fake – as you say, it becomes so easy to sound like an authority on so many different subjects! :)

  9. Frances says:

    I often feel like a fake, especially now that I am trying to start a social movement. Yesterday I came really close to quitting before I had properly got started. I asked myself if it all would be worth it, if i couldn’t just be happy with the specialist life plan and try to be satisfied with it. IT would be so much easier since after all, what do i know about starting a social movement and what do I even really know about what I am sharing, but the idea of being a different kind of expert, is actually helping me with that. All in all , I think imposter syndrome is something we face whenever we are trying to do something awesome. I believe that being a multipod tends to give loudness to that voice that tells us that we are fakes, because it often claims that we haven’t satisfied gatekeepers, or fulfilled some random requirement level of knowledge. But if we listened to that voice and waited until we reached the “required level” of being an expert before we started helping others, we may never get to help others, after all life is short and no one knows where they will be tomorrow.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Frances
      Yep, I think imposter syndrome definitely creeps up on you when you’re trying to do the stuff that matters to you – the awesome stuff! Feeling like you want to quit because of it, is a good indicator that this is something worth pushing on through for.

      So very true too that if we waited until we were ‘experts’ nothing would ever get done! :)

  10. Jen says:

    I think the day that I realized that even my boss has to fake it, I felt such a sigh of relief. Knowing that it is okay to fake it sometimes has made me a million more times comfortable being comfortable with myself. It’s so funny how that works.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Jen
      Oh yes, I think most people “fake it” to a certain degree. It’s about remembering not to compare how you feel on the inside to how everyone else seems to appear on the outside! :)

  11. Caroline says:

    Amazing to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The expectation of everyone always thinking that I have the answer to everything and know everything is just too much sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m an imposter! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Joey says:

    Great post. It’s amazing how alone and isolated certain emotions can make you feel until you find out how common they are among others. Thank you, Bev and all of the commenters here. :)

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