I remember when I first was invited to sit at the “Vice President” table in Wycliffe USA. The invitation came first as one to be in the position as the “interim” VP. That meant that the front and back doors were left wide open for my coming and going while a “real” VP could be found. When I was asked to be that “real” VP a number of months later, I about choked on my soup.
I’m grateful for a conversation I had around that time with a colleague in a similar role in SIL International and a similar love for the television series WEST WING. Carol had recently seen an interview or read an article about the “real” White House staff and the common cycles they go through when they start working in that place of power and influence — a cycle that includes a season of feeling like an imposter who will eventually be found out and removed.
At the time I was feeling exactly that — thinking that it was a fun ride, but would only last as long as it took for someone to realize that I wasn’t in the right seat on the bus. Maybe not even on the right bus.
Because I was not in that role for a very long time before being asked to scoot my chair up to the Executive Team table, I barely got comfortable before starting the cycle all over again.
I’ve been in this current role for more than four years. There are certainly things about it that are more comfortable than they were in the beginning — I’ve grown in my understanding of systems, I have clarity around expectations, and I’m more equipped today than I was before. I’ve added skills and experience.
So, when I logged onto iGoogle at lunch time today and saw a link to a new article on Her.meneutics (n.) the Christianity Today blog for women titled “Women with the Self-Doubt Syndrome” — I clicked through to the article. Quickly. Lynn Cohick’s sub-headline took my breath away. “Some high-achieving women have the ‘impostor syndrome’ — the ingrained sense that they don’t belong at the table of influence.”
I’m resisting the urge to self-diagnose — fully recognizing that I generally crash after any significant event where I take leadership. I am most likely to crash if I perceive that event to be generally successful. The crash is often perpetuated by the appropriate constructive criticism that follows and includes self-chastizement for not having thicker skin but is also perpetuated by affirmation. All of that recognized, I still must admit that I may be a junior member of this club.
Even in saying that I am compelled to tell you that I’m not a high-achieving woman so I can’t really have this syndrome.
I found a website where Valerie Young offers a workshop to help women with the Imposter Syndrome overcome this malady — a workshop titled How to Feel As Bright and Capable As Everyone Seems to Think You Are (a title which, I must admit, is rather off-putting to me — I really don’t think that the chief end of woman is to feel good about herself). I mention it because the site includes the Imposter Syndrome Quiz and indicates that I can share this quiz as long as I give attribution to Valerie Young. This quiz is a series of eight YES/NO questions. See how you do:
- Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
- Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?
- Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal” or the fact that people just “like” you?
- Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared or not doing things perfectly?
- Do you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your “ineptness?”
- When you do succeed, do you think, “Phew, I fooled ’em this time but I may not be so lucky next time.”
- Do you believe that other people (students, colleagues, competitors) are smarter and more capable than you are?
- Do you live in fear of being found out, discovered, unmasked?
So, what do you think about this idea that high achieving women are more likely to be plagued by self-doubt than self-pride? I’m pretty sure that any time we define ourselves according to a plumb line other than the one given to use by our creator, we are wrong. Still, what do we have to learn from all this?
For those of you who worry about such things: I’m fine. This is not the quiet cry for help preceeding a melt down. This is me thinking aloud and seeking your thoughts. I’m not seeking your thoughts about me, by the way. I’m wondering how you engage with this idea personally. What does this “imposter syndrom” look like from your chair?