Impostor Syndrome- What is it Really?

The term Impostor Syndrome gets tossed around a lot these days.  I thought I’d share with you the origins of this concept, what it really means and how to gauge if you exhibit any Impostor Syndrome characteristics.

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The Origins of IP

IP (Impostor Phenomenon) was coined by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph. D in the late 70’s after she strangely experienced feeling like a fraud amongst her peer group in grad school, but couldn’t explain why.  She thought that she would fail exams even though she was well prepared, she felt other students around her were smarter than her and that she was passing her classes based on luck and was really just a “fraud” in school.

Later in life when she was teaching at a University, she realized that a lot of her female students had similar thoughts and feelings that she had when she was in grad school. Here she began her research on this topic and the originals of Impostor Phenomenon began.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.[2]

Psychologists hypothesis that Impostor Syndrome is most common among high achieving women.  Interestingly, many women experience it for the first time while in graduate school.  (A very intense and high stress experience.)

It’s not surprising that we see Impostor Syndrome among women at coding bootcamps since bootcamps are (in many ways) similar to graduate school.

  • The expectations are higher
  • The lessons move very quickly
  • There is a lot of work outside the classroom
  • You need deep focus & discipline to succeed
  • You get very little sleep
  • It’s a highly competitive environment.

Further research also shows that IP can be even more pervasive among women of color from marginalized populations. The research regarding Impostor Syndrome has traditionally highlighted groups who are “excelling in areas that were not always readily accessible to them”.[2]

This would certainly be applicable to women in tech.  (A culture dominated my males where female credibility can be tested on a constant basis.)  We hear stories of female software engines being the only female on their team, sometimes second guessed by their bosses, and even asked if a project was in fact “their own work”.   This is a high stakes environment where women are not always expected to necessarily succeed. Knowing more about IP and how it works can be helpful in understanding your own thoughts and views regarding your own success.

Here are a few sample questions from Dr. Clance’s  Impostor Phenomenon scale. 

  1. I have often succeeded on a test or task even though I was afraid that I would not do well before I undertook the task.

(not at all true)    (rarely)    (sometimes)   (often)   (very true)

  1. I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.

(not at all true)    (rarely)    (sometimes)   (often)   (very true)

  1. I avoid evaluations if possible and have a dread of others evaluating me.

(not at all true)    (rarely)    (sometimes)   (often)   (very true)

*Sample questions may not be representative of the entire 20-item scale. To access FULL scale permission, please contact Dr. Clance (drpaulinerose@comcast.net).  

 

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