Reflection of the dayUncategorized

Let’s talk about IMPOSTOR SYNDROME!

And to do so, I would like to draw a parallel with the DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT, which for me goes so well with the impostor syndrome, and yet is rarely mentioned in these terms.

Impostor Syndrome

The term “impostor syndrome” has existed in psychology since 1978 and describes the state of certain people to reject the merit due to them — they attribute it to luck, other people or external factors, other than their own competence, their own talent, their own skills. It’s the opposite of the narcissism. Its source is a lack of self-esteem and/or lack of self-confidence.

Statistics indicate that 60 to 70% of people, at one time or another in their life or career, would doubt the legitimacy of their success. They feel that they are fooling others, that their work does not deserve the attention nor the rewards it receives. For them, someone will end up unmasking them and putting them in their place.

For others, the impostor syndrome can become invasive and even disabling. Doubts, toxic shame, guilt — or, even more paradoxically, fear of success — that they are unable to live up to their full potential.

Some will use the “overdoing” as a defense strategy: investing a lot of energy in perfecting their work, over-preparing themselves, studying endlessly, sometimes to the point of being unable to complete anything (since they believe that what they do is never enough)… The other strategy is “underdoing”, preparing for failure, sometimes even as far as doing self-sabotage: “I’ll never be up to the task, so what’s the point of even starting it?”

In both cases, these strategies keep the person in their syndrome.

Neil Gaiman about Impostor Syndrome

To illustrate, Neil Gamain (author of “Neverwhere”, “American Gods”, “Coraline”, “The Graveyard book” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, to name a few), has already written these lines:


« Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for. »


Dunning-Kruger Effect

The results of a series of psychological experiments were published at the end of 1999; it seems to me that this principle is less well-known than the previous one.

It is a cognitive bias in which those least qualified for a given task, overestimate their competence to accomplish that task. They remain unable to recognize their incompetence, nor to recognize the competence of those who has it. It has been shown that when these persons receive training to significantly improve their competence, they are then able to recognize and accept their initial incompetence.

(It should be noted that the studies have a strong cultural bias, since they were conducted on Westerners).

Are examples needed here? Haven’t we all witnessed someone at the cash register, insulting the cashier for not knowing how to do her job? (Even if most managers of these businesses, themselves, don’t dare touch the cash register, because it’s not as simple as it seems). The examples are numerous and very varied; I will refrain from giving more, since it is easy to fall into mockery…

The principal of the Dunning-Kruger effect comes with the idea that the more a person studies a subject of incompetence, the more they sink into doubt and the realization that they know nothing about it in the end… before going back up the slope; that in-depth knowledge brings back the person’s confidence in their ability to exercise this competence.

This graph illustrates this well:

And the link between the two is…?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is generally referred to as (to use Darwin’s expression): “Ignorance more frequently engenders self-confidence than knowledge”.

But for my part (being always in the Impostor Syndrome no matter what I do), it is the HOLLOW PART OF THE CURVE in the Dunning-Kruger effect, that struck me first.

I believe that people with Impostor Syndrome are just competent and knowledgeable enough to realize that there is still so much to learn. They recognize themselves as apprentices, they still put their mentors on a pedestal and they still feel so small in front of them.

In conclusion

So, for all the people affected by the Impostor Syndrome (and I know MANY!), let me reassure you:

1) Even Neil Gaimen and Neil Armstrong have been part of this club, despite their great accomplishments;

2) This means that after a dark period at the bottom of the pit, if you persist in learning, to receive education from caring mentors, and are diligent in developing your skills, the slope will eventually go up again;

3) And if you notice, even at the expert level, you never go back to the level of confidence at the point of absolute ignorance. Basically, you are 100% confident only when you have no idea what’s ahead of you. Having a little doubt is, in my opinion, also beneficial: it allows us to question ourselves and to continue to progress!

What about you? Do you (or did you ever) suffer from Impostor Syndrome? What do you think about this?

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