The Imposter Phenomenon, as the original researchers called it (the fact it’s mutated to a ‘syndrome’ is part of its questionable evolution and ubiquity), has been coming up in my communities, mostly as a result of the tech economy struggles. The belief that perhaps you weren’t good at your job, it was just the markets going up, or, even more insidious, that you were never good at your job so now that a bull market isn’t masking that fact you’re about to be found out, are two oft-repeated confessions.
Regardless of how it’s being felt, I have my own empathy for people dealing with these internal snickers of doubt. For a long time my version of imposterdom was fueled by “I think I belong in this room but just barely, so I need to hold on tightly and/or constantly prove it, less I get kicked out.” As a result it was more difficult to be pleased by individual or team success, which only served as a reminder that the next race was beginning. And in hindsight, the perilous nature of my own perch probably made it more difficult for me to see conflict as a ‘fight or flight’ challenge, rather than an opportunity to build connection and shared understanding.
What Would 18 Year Old Hunter Think About Where You Are?
Are You So Good That You’re Fooling All These People?
So back to that New Yorker article. First off, the research dates back to two women [Pauline Clance, Suzanne Imes — Oberlin College colleagues] in the 1970s who brought their own personal expereinces together, and then expanded to a broader conversation
The pair spent five years talking to more than a hundred and fifty “successful” women: students and faculty members at several universities; professionals in fields including law, nursing, and social work. Then they recorded their findings in a paper, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” They wrote that women in their sample were particularly prone to “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness,” living in perpetual fear that “some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors.”
Once their study was published in 1978 it set off a rolling thunder-like spread. Particularly charming was this reminder of how things went ‘viral’ before the Internet.
The paper spread like an underground zine. People kept writing to Clance to ask for copies, and she sent out so many that the person working the copy machine in her department asked, “What are you doing with all these?”
Then, nearly 50 years later, two other women coalesced around the idea that Imposter Phemoneom was capitalist gaslighting and a form a priviledge that focused on convincing yourself you belonged to the structure versus interrogating the very real barriers.
In “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome,” published in the Harvard Business Review, in February, 2021, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey argue that the label implies that women are suffering from a crisis of self-confidence and fails to recognize the real obstacles facing professional women, especially women of color — essentially, that it reframes systemic inequality as an individual pathology. As they put it, “Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.”