Impostor Syndrome

Man in the Iron Mask
“L’Homme au Masque de Fer” By Anonymous; cropped by Beyond My Ken, 30 April 2010 (UTC) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.07185.

In the 1970s, clinical psychologists Drs. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term “impostor syndrome” to describe high-achieving individuals (mainly women) who don’t internalize their accomplishments and thus fear being exposed as a “fraud.”

In the library Twitterverse, I saw plenty of unbelievably accomplished librarians complain of impostor syndrome.  While I don’t doubt their statements – I fully believe these colleagues when they speak of their emotions – I couldn’t relate.  For the most part, I have been comfortable in my positions; nothing ever seemed out of scope.

Then, I landed my first professional gig.

While I don’t match impostor syndrome perfectly, I can now fully relate to my peer’s uncertainties.  My new gig is not entry level and it carries with it a lot of responsibility – to the library, to the university, to the profession, to academia.  (Thank you, tenure-track job.)  If I think too long on it, I get dry-mouthed and somewhat breathless.  Yes, I can do all of that stuff; I’m fully capable.  But it’s so much responsibility.  And it’s amazing to me that my new employer has that much confidence in me – and that I had the amount of confidence that it took to apply, interview, and accept that position.

So, to my peers facing impostor syndrome: I can now relate.  But let’s agree to be amazed at what we can accomplish and have accomplished.  That feels a bit better than thinking we’re frauds (which we are very much not).


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