So, have you heard of impostor syndrome? I hadn't either until this week and suddenly it's everywhere. Basically, impostor syndrome is when people believe they are less qualified, talented, educated, experienced than they really are.
News flash: Lots of women suffer from impostor syndrome.
Okay, so I had no idea what this was until this week, but I could have told you within two seconds of reading the definition that most women I know are like this. So, now everyone's talking about it.
Forbes wants you to know that it can hurt your business. Sufferers are less willing to take chances, make qualifying statements when they speak and generally don't portray themselves as "experts" even when they are.
God's Politics Blog wants you to know that it's damaging to the church and to your relationship with God to not live up to your God-given gifts and embrace your talents.
Lots of women bloggers want you to know that it's just another form of societally approved self-loathing.
Everyone seems to be shocked and amazed by this new development. SHOCK! AWE!
But to me, this doesn't change anything. Certain people, especially women, have always been less than willing to toot their own horn. We are, in fact, taught not to. We are trained that it's good to be quietly competent, kind to others and humble. We are taught that it's rude to tell others that you know more than they and that it's cruel to show someone up.
And then, we are taught that the only way to succeed is to "sell" yourself. Our resume writing, our interview suits, our "networking" is all about sales. Selling yourself as the best, bar none.
Is it any wonder, then, that these ideals conflict and cause us to believe that the sale is just pitch and the truth is the humble mumbling that we do after we land the job?
I do this. I'll admit it. My boss does not. And she doesn't really understand it. Sometimes, she'll ask me a question, say "What color is the sky?" I'll respond, "Well, it's my understanding that the sky is blue." Her response is to look at me like my head's on fire and respond, "Well. Do you think you could research it and find out for sure." Now, because I very well know that the sky is blue, I wait for ten minutes and then walk into her office where I will say, "Yep, the sky is, in fact, blue."
Why can't I just say that the sky is blue without adding in the my understanding crap? And then, when it's obvious that my boss-lady thinks that means that I don't know what I'm talking about, can't I just say, "What I mean is that the sky is blue. I know that's true."
Why? Because I don't want to make her uncomfortable. And she is the boss and I shouldn't know more than she does. Never mind that she's asking me because she thinks I might know. Never mind that she wouldn't be shocked and appalled if I knew more than she did. Never mind that it's sometimes my job to know more about certain subjects than she does. I don't want her to feel bad. So, I qualify my statement and claim to know less than I do.
So, what can we learn about this?
I don't really know. I don't think the problem is self-loathing, though. At least not for me. And I would imagine not for everyone or even the majority. I think the problem is the incredible disconnect between the way we are trained to act in society and the way we are expected to behave in the workforce. I think the problem is the way we want to have our cake and eat it too.
We want people to be nice and ruthless. Kind and fearless. Humble and confident. Our failures are usually a case of not being able to play the right part at the right time.