A Conversation for Ask h2g2

Imposter syndrome

Post 1

winnoch2 - Biding my time..

This may or may not be a familiar term to many learned hootooians. A brief description in my own words; The strong feeling (justified or not) that you have 'lucked out' in your job and you are actually doing a job you are not qualified for intellectually and/or academically and that you are really an imposter pretending to be what you are not and that one day you will be 'found out'.

On wikipedia (sorry nothing in the guide smiley - yikes) it is described thus "Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.[2] While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally."

Aaaanyway smiley - whistle. I have always suffered from this to a lesser or greater extent in all but my most long-worked jobs. But right now it's written in my mind's eye in 40ft high flashing neon lights. They are calling me an 'engineer' now smiley - laugh despite not having any engineering background. But then again I work for a local authority (council) and such organisations are renowned for promoting well beyond competance levels smiley - erm.

Just to be clear; I'm not talking about actual fraud. I haven't lied about or exagerated anything. My employers are 100% cogniscent of who I am and my background. It's just that they tend to need jobs filled and if they like you and think you'll be ok at the job, you get it as long as you go through the correct application processsmiley - erm.

Today I was at a 'workshop' style conference where we all had to input and feedback our personal experiences and opinions on something very 'engineery' that everyone else in the room was fluent in except me. smiley - wahThe conference was for engineery types so to admit I was a beginner or not really involved in this stuff (I'm not really) would be frowned upon somewhat as demand for places at this event was high.

To be fair; I found out that I really do boollsheet exceptionally well and I think I might have got away with it... but that's hardly the point. It's just uncomfortable to always feel dumber than everyone else around you.

Does anyone else have similar stories or opinions on this or imposter syndrome in general, to share with the rest of the class? smiley - bigeyes


Imposter syndrome

Post 2

Rev Nick - dead man walking (mostly)

I can't really say. I did earn the title of Certified Engineering Technician around 1987 or so. And my last 14 or 15 years before my heart failed - I was recognized at international conferences of designers and manufacturers. But then, I did re-engineer some of their work to make military communications and navigation electronics work in "our" circumstances.

So while I do not hold any formal degree as an engineer? I have done much of it.

Sorry if that is no help for your conscience. Many government agencies term people to be technicians and engineers, but I think they are loosely using the Oxford definition of the words.


Imposter syndrome

Post 3

The Left Reverend Doktor Baron Grim

I believe almost everyone, excepting only psychopaths and megalomaniacs, feel this way. I think many people experience this simply by being "adults". I didn't really feel like an adult until well into my 40s.

I think something to consider that helps with this feeling is to recognize that most people also experience it. "Fake it until you make it" is an absolutely good strategy. People are not instantly experts at anything. Everyone learns by doing. And most people are so concerned with their own perceived inadequacies that they don't recognize the similar in others.


There's another phenomenon that's closely related. The Dunning-Kruger effect. People with little experience in a subject feel much more confident in their knowledge of that subject than people with more experience, until they reach actual mastery and can recognize it in themselves. That means that most people with expertise feel inadequate. They know enough to know they don't know everything.



I recently had a huge failure in life that might be related to impostor syndrome (along with depression, anxiety, and obsession; my ever-present companions). After a stressful external situation at work (contract change with cuts in pay and benefits) I decided I needed to work on an alternative. After some thought, I decided rather than study for an entirely new career, I would go back to my original education, photography. I spent the next two years, updating my knowledge and skills (I learned photography in the age of film and chemistry). I also spent a lot of money amassing equipment. At first this seemed like a good plan. I should be able to make a decent living if not an even better one by becoming self employed, an entrepreneur. And as I became more adept, I also became convinced it was pointless. I'd never be able to get enough clients to build my business. I could hardly convince friends to take up my offers of free photography in exchange for their time as models. Photography is one of the worst careers to get into, and I live in an area with little market for freelance photography, suburbia.

Long story short, after a long bout of major depression, I've not entirely given up the idea, but I haven't touched my equipment in over a year. I probably know more about photography than many young people actually working in the field, but I seriously don't think I could earn a living at it. I'm probably at the bottom of the Dunning-Kruger curve and I dreaded impostor syndrome so much I never even tried.


Imposter syndrome

Post 4

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

I'm reading a book called "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World," by David Epstein.

A lot of people nowadays worship expertise, which is assumed to come from the specialized study of something, often to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.

Epstein argues that having a range of interests and knowledge strengthens you. You're able to see links between different areas of knowledge.

He doesn't mention Douglas Adams, but in the biography of Adams, you find that he straddled then worlds of liberal arts and modern science -- something that few of his countrymen were prepared to do, given that students are channeled into either arts or sciences from a fairly early age.

I sometimes feel like an impostor even now, but I usually overcome this feeling by resolving to really listen ton other people. Even a deluded jerk can have something you can learn from (even if it's that you need to run the other way smiley - winkeye). Okay, so you haven't learned something that you're expected to know? Just say that you don't know it yet. As long as you draw breath, there is still a chance. smiley - smiley


Imposter syndrome

Post 5

Rev Nick - dead man walking (mostly)

I just remembered an "imposter" situation, basically much of my working career in the RCAF and as a contractor with them.

I served at 7 locations, (short terms at maybe 15 other places), and within days of beginning at each - I was unquestionably taken as the SME (subject matter expert) on everything. This even carried over to dealings with some of the highest ranking authorities and maybe a half dozen high-end manufacturing companies in 4 countries. And none of my knowledge came from formalized training, just experience and judgement. I would guess that my "judgement" was about 98% correct over that 37 years.

Around my 18th year, at a leaving affair, I was quietly told something. One reason that I got such cooperation from supervisors and associates was a slight fear of me. I was never aggressive, abusive or violent, but most just "felt" some inner rage and danger in me. I was startled to hear this, but I simply accepted it for the rest of the years.


Imposter syndrome

Post 6

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

I think that you are focused and driven, Nick. smiley - smiley Those two terms describe me, too. So welcome to the club! smiley - applause


Imposter syndrome

Post 7

Rev Nick - dead man walking (mostly)

I really don't think "driven" is the word. I was raised with the understanding that you give every undertaking your best effort. No compromise. And if your best doesn't quite meet the mark, then dammit - learn from it and do better.

And always - improvise as needed. You don't have the right tool? Make one. Use what-ever resources you have.


Imposter syndrome

Post 8

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

Compared to people with no drive at all, you and I seem driven. smiley - bigeyes


Imposter syndrome

Post 9

Hoovooloo

This really gets my fscking goat.

"They are calling me an 'engineer' now".

That is their problem, not yours. And unfortunately, it's a very, very common problem. As a chartered chemical engineer, it's one of my particular bugbears. Strap in.

There are certain words you can legitimately use to describe what you do ONLY if you are suitably qualified, experienced and accredited. "Dietician" is one of these protected terms, for example - which is why a LOT of people call themselves "nutritionists". "Nutritionist" is a *meaningless* term used by frauds, whereas "dietician" is a specific protected professional designation.

Other professional designations in the UK include things like "physiotherapist", "dentist", "pharmacist", "solicitor". Present yourself professionally with one of these terms, and you'd better have the degree(s) AND experience and professional accreditation to back them up, or there are strong legal consequences.

In other countries - Germany, for instance - "engineer" is a protected term. Spanner monkeys can call themselves "technicians", or "fitter" or other such things, but "engineer" is reserved for use by people with a degree, sufficient industrial experience and an accreditation from a professional institution.

In the UK, unfortunately, there is no such protection to the term. Any yahoo who can lift a spanner can call themselves an "engineer" without consequence. In fact, in my experience, any yahoo who wouldn't recognise a spanner if you justifiably hit them with it can call themselves an engineer. When I'm introduced to someone with some variation on "this is Geoff, he's an engineer", my first question is always "at which university did you do your degree?". People say "oh, my washing machine has broken, I need to get an engineer to fix it". That would be massively expensive, because you'd be employing someone qualified to DESIGN you a new washing machine. Much better to call a technician who can take the finished design and replace faulty parts - a considerably simpler, although obviously still vital, job.

So, if they're calling you an "engineer", be assured - you're not. But neither are most "engineers". So for you, it's fine - it's their mistake, and if they're paying you engineer rates, so much the better for you. So long as, when you encounter a REAL engineer, you don't pretend to be one of them, there should be no problem at all.

And from personal experience - real engineers get imposter syndrome too.


Imposter syndrome

Post 10

The Left Reverend Doktor Baron Grim

Hmmm...

This seems to be a bit fuzzy in the US. Generally, the simple title "engineer" is not protected without qualifiers. "Professional Engineer", and "Licensed Professional Engineer" are protected. The general usage of "engineer" in the US does suggest someone with education specifically in some field of engineering and isn't typically used for mere technicians. No one in the US would call and "engineer" to fix a household appliance.


Imposter syndrome

Post 11

Orcus

Ha, when I tell people I am a chemist, the most common reply is to ask me what shop I work in.

Er... no... that would be a pharmacist then smiley - winkeye

And yes, I have similar feelings on what Hoo has alluded to. Back in the day, you couldn't call yourself a chemist unless you were CChem (Chartered Chemist) from the Royal Society of Chemistry (in the UK). That's not true any more - and having seen many many useless people graduate with chemistry degrees I now definitely don't like it unless they have professional accreditation/experience or at least a PhD.

For me it needs both a qualification AND time in the lab (or equivalent field-work). Just an undergrad degree and no experience.... wouldn't let you near sodium chloride without supervision... smiley - winkeye


Imposter syndrome

Post 12

Orcus

This syndrome is terribly rife in academia also - heck I've had it in spades at times. Though the longer I survive in academia the less I have it.


Imposter syndrome

Post 13

The Left Reverend Doktor Baron Grim

I just coincidentally noticed this article posted to Reddit.
It's about some studies done by BYU on Impostor Syndrome. It suggests that reaching out to peers outside one's field of expertise (or school major specifically) is better than reaching in to those within one's field (or major).

http://news.byu.edu/intellect/imposter-syndrome-is-more-common-than-you-think-study-finds-best-way-to-cope-with-it


This seems like a very limited study so take it for what it's worth.


Imposter syndrome

Post 14

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

I had an uncle and two great-uncles who were legitimate engineers. They had degrees from good engineering schools, and they worked their entire lives in engineering jobs.

In some countries, if you call yourself a librarian, it means that you have a Master's degree in Library Science.

But it seems pointless and unnecessary to correct members of the public who assume that anyone working in a library must be a professional librarian. So no big deal is made of it. If someone without the degree tries to get a professional librarian's job , though smiley - steam.And some of the big city library systems often seem to hire non-librarians for the top spot. National Library Week sometimes gets spearheaded by a well-known celebrity like Julie Andrews, who is tolerable because she's written and published lots of books. smiley - smiley This we can be okay with.


Imposter syndrome

Post 15

Orcus

Well the government (presumably this applies almost everywhere) - is very good at appointing people with - say - no experience in medicine to be in charge of the NHS in its entire, or no experience in education to be minister for education.... with no experience in honesty, to be PM etc... smiley - winkeye


Imposter syndrome

Post 16

The Left Reverend Doktor Baron Grim

The Trump administration's policy is to appoint impostors to head every cabinet and agency in the nation. You should see the people he's put in charge of things like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy, the National Weather Service, &c.

These people aren't just unqualified, they're antithetical to their positions.


Imposter syndrome

Post 17

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

I think Trump considers it his job to be antithetical. smiley - winkeye


Imposter syndrome

Post 18

Hoovooloo

I doubt he could spell "antithetical" if you put a gun to his head.

Here's a thing: whatever makes you a good [x] doesn't necessarily make you a good manager of a group of [x]s.

In fact, if I say so myself, I'm a bloody good engineer. I have *just* enough self-awareness to know that I'd probably not be anywhere near as good at managing a team of engineers day-to-day. This is not unrelated to the fact that I got into engineering because I relish the black-and-white, right or wrong nature of engineering problems. A set of reactants is interested only in how much energy you are supplying to them - i.e. whether the agitation is sufficient, the heat transfer is effective, and the proportions are correct. They don't give a monkey's how you *feel* about it, whether your wife is leaving you, how fulfilled you feel in your current role, whether you yearn for more training or your motivation has dropped off a cliff because you're only a couple of years from retirement. Shit like that only applies to humans. I didn't get into engineering so I could interact with humans! (This is only partly a joke).

Meanwhile, I'm prepared to admit that there are people who have something I'm told is called "empathy", who are capable of motivating people and keeping a team functioning at top performance. They are suited to management, in other words, and it's a skill you can learn and a talent you can have naturally to a greater or lesser extent.

Problems occur when you promote good technical people to management roles WITHOUT giving them proper management training, or you allow technical roles to be managed by people who have no appreciation of the technical issues and suffer impostor syndrome as a result, and because of that don't trust the information from their subordinates. That way madness lies. Yes, I've been there (as one of the technically-qualified subordinates, not as the ignorant manager).


Imposter syndrome

Post 19

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

Everything you've said in that post sounds reasonable to me, Hoovooloo. smiley - ok One of my engineer great uncles could have said much the same thing. He apparently never aspired to moving up to management, which was due either to a sense of his limitations, or simply not being interested in that sort of thing.... smiley - smiley (or both may have been true. smiley - smiley)


Imposter syndrome

Post 20

Rev Nick - dead man walking (mostly)

From very early, I was extremely highly rated at what I did. Part of that was that experience with many sorts of electronic devices indicated that the "laws of physics" were more of a set of expected guidelines. I saw the improbable to impossible happen many times. As many times as not, I found myself designing circuits to incorporate into industry products to meet our needs. Never thought twice, just did it and it always worked out.

In very little time, I was given some really demanding challenges. Having as few as 1 or as many as 15 working under my direction. Supporting each in their own work related challenges. Never a second thought, you just do what you must do.

It turned out that I was not only innately developed for meeting these things, I was also a pretty good manager of people.


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