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On Imposter Syndrome

By Jamie Rodney

I hate writing this column, sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, Populus is a great organisation, and you should take any opportunity to get involved with it with both hands. And in the particular case of this column, I think it adds a really important voice to a couple of vital conversations around St Andrews.

And that, right there, is my problem with writing it. Every time I finish and submit an article, I have to stop and wonder “am I really qualified to be writing this? Should people really be taking relationship advice from me?” While i’m certainly not the train wreck I used to be, I would never describe myself as a people person, and definitely not an expert on relationships. Surely, a column like this needs someone who can make friends effortlessly, light up a room with their charm to write it. No, scratch that, someone who’s actually studied relationships, who actually know’s what they’re talking about. Not an ignorant, unqualified hack relying on his ability to string a sentence together prettily in order to sell (probably wrong-headed) opinions to people who, most likely, know a lot more than me on the subject he’s trying to talk about.

The only way I can deal with this feeling that i’m totally out of my depth and everyone is just moments from finding out about it is the fact i’m completely used to it- I feel it every time I attempt to do something and that I think plenty of people around me do as well. What I didn’t know until a couple of days ago however, was that there’s an actual, medically recognised explanation for all this. Impostor Syndrome is defined as an “inability on the part of individuals to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”... Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

I find this concept fascinating, because it links in with one of my favourite topics- self-sabotage. I had a friend once who worked herself to the bone trying to get a position on a society committee, excelled at it, and then resigned after a couple of weeks because she didn’t think she could do it. The guy who ended up replacing her wasn’t half as good. Impostor syndrome also works more indirectly- last academic year I got a committee position of my own , and, despite doing what I think was a decent job, managed to talk myself into thinking I was a weak link. Bizzarely, I tried to compensate for all of that by applying for another, more senior committee position that I was manifestly unqualified for, and ended up with no position at all. And, of course, all that is small fry compared to however many people who, by underestimating their own self worth, push others away or end up in toxic relationships.

So, how do we deal with this? As previously stated (in great detail), I’m not an expert in these things. But I think the answer lies in trying to look beyond yourself. Let me explain with relation to my own experience (yes, i’m aware of the ironic contradiction between those two statements, but stay with me.)

Take this column. My predecessor in writing it, David Mackenzie, produced consistently good content. I don’t him very well, but I doubt he’s any more of a specialist at analysing relationships than I am. (As far as I know anyway. Apologies if there’s psychology doctorate I don’t know about, David). The point i’m trying to make is that if you have a job- or a committee position, or a relationship (although this last one is more complex), then you probably have the skills to make it work. And if you’re self-aware enough to question your own abilities, that probably means you’re taking it sufficiently seriously, too. But, even more importantly than that, think of the people you’re working alongside, who you think are scrutinising you, judging you. They’re probably not as infallible as you imagine them to be when you compare yourself to them. In fact, they’re probably so hung up on their own perceived inadequacies that they don’t have time to notice yours.

Now, obviously, sometimes there are situations when your best isn’t good enough, but there’s no reason to self-sabotage, to tear yourself down when there’s no good reason for it.

And if you’re given an opportunity, try and make the most of it. It might just go well. Because despite everything, I love writing this column sometimes.

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