Plenty of people are troubled by impostor syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s that feeling a lot of people get where they think that their success and skills and abilities are all in some part false, over-hyped, or built on a house of cards – while of course everyone else is a solid professional who really, actually know what they’re doing. You’re just one slip-up from everyone learning what a fraud you are, says this anxiety.
Hey, just in case you needed to hear it today – it’s not true!
It’s actually pretty difficult to fake competency for any length of time, so if you’ve “had everybody fooled” for anything more than a few days, you probably actually do know what you’re talking about, and you’ll be fine.
In fact, that’s what I’m thinking about today. A sort of impostor-syndrome-by-proxy, or a “second order impostor syndrome” that I notice seems to affect people.
Here’s how it works: You know your stuff with regards to some particular subject matter. You’re actually quite the expert. And you don’t doubt yourself! You feel very confident in your knowledge. Where the doubt kicks in is when you think about anyone else feeling that way.
So it’s sort of like the reverse of impostor syndrome in a way, too. Unlike impostor syndrome, where everyone else probably thinks you’re fine and YOU think you’re a fraud, in this version you actually have full confidence in yourself and you think everyone ELSE will think you’re a fraud.
Opposite but related! You see, if you think that everyone else will think that you’re a fraud, you’re just as unlikely to put yourself out there as if you think you’re a fraud.
You think to yourself, “I know I can do this,” or “I know I’m right about this,” or something, but then say, “but I’m just XYZ, so they won’t listen.” (Substitute anything you like for “XYZ” – you think you’re too young, or you don’t have some credential, or you haven’t been in the industry long enough, or whatever.)
You doubt your ability to make yourself seen and heard in your area of expertise.
Second-order Impostor Syndrome. You don’t think you’re a fraud, but you’re convinced everyone else will think so.
Often this comes with a fear of rejection, or even a fear of insulting someone by even offering your knowledge. “Who am I to tell this big shot how they could improve their website?” or “Who am I to suggest that some CEO might be leaving money on the table in their manufacturing?”
I’ll tell you who you are: someone who knows something they don’t.
No matter how successful someone is, they’re not omniscient. All it takes to learn something from someone is for them to know something you don’t. And even really successful people have blind spots – in fact, the larger your realm of responsibilities, the more likely it is that there are places you can’t see directly.
Combine that with the fact that if someone really is such a big shot that you feel a wide gap between you and them – what have you got to lose by offering up your insights?
People think of taking risks like jumping across a wide chasm, where the two possible outcomes are making it to the other side or plummeting to your death, and thus often decide it’s better not to jump at all. But that’s the wrong analogy. It’s much more like trying to jump to reach a high shelf from where you’re standing – the two outcomes are that you make it or you don’t, but if you don’t you’re just back where you started, no worse off. In that case – why not jump?