Impostor Syndrome

by Bill Brenner on July 18, 2012

A friend of mine, announcing on Twitter that he had landed a new, prestigious position, noted that he was feeling a bit of “Impostor Syndrome,” the fear that someday people will discover you’re really not as smart and talented as they currently think you are. It’s a feeling I’m very familiar with.

I’ve had a lot of good luck in my career. I’ve survived the rough patches, such as when I was floundering as night editor of The Eagle-Tribune. Working nights was taking this morning person and wringing out the editing skills that once seemed easy and instinctive. I moved on to a job writing about cybersecurity and haven’t looked back. I’ve been on the board of directors for a security user group. I’ve been invited to give a lot of presentations. I’ve had a few promotions. People read my security blog and this blog and actually like what I do.

Along the way, I have moments of cold fear when I think about how far I’ve come, and I wonder when people are going to wake up and realize that I’m not even close to being as good as they say I am. True, I have my critics and they’re always happy to take me down a few pegs. I’m grateful for them, because they keep me honest. But those people who think my skills are so sharp that they invite me to speak and write and to share my work on the social networks? Surely they’ll wake up one morning to find that I’m just a fake.

That’s a thought that goes through my head every day.

It’s good, I suppose. If I believed all the good stuff people said about me, I’d become another person — the kind you don’t want to meet. Even with Impostor Syndrome, my ego sometimes gets the better of me.

But I’ve also gotten comfortable with the idea that I wouldn’t have gotten the breaks without some level of ability. I’ve seen people with sparkling resumés get hired to write and edit and arrive on a cloud of praise, only to flounder and choke within a few short weeks. When the skills aren’t really there, you get found out pretty quickly.

Surely, then, if you last a while in a position and people keep honoring you with prestigious titles, there has to be something there, right?

Whatever the case, I choose to enjoy the ride as long as people keep letting me take the wheel.

I’m sure my friend is doing the same.

Girl Behind the Mask

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