Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Self Loathing in Las Vegas

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.


Orlandel Creations said...

My parents think I know everything about everything. Their favorite phrase is "Let's ask Cathy; she'll know." What this means is that I have to answer a bazillion questions and have to look up most of the answers (which shows I know where to find the answers, not the answers themselves). Looking back I should have played dumb, then I wouldn't have to answer so many questions.

Becca said...

I'm sorry, but I didn't realize human nature was a classified syndrome.

I was reading yesterday that Internet Addiction might get added to the DSM, which is causing controversy since so-called Internet addiction may be an escape from other behavioral disorders. It also establishes the top of the slippery slope that would potentially allow people to avoid personal accountability for bad choices.

Fine-grained categorization doesn't work effectively on people--it's just too much.

Mrs. Allroro said...

I always thought that was called an inferiority complex. The first time I actually heard that term was from you! You taught me something. :-) I'm not ready to learn something new yet. It's only been 15 years or so ;-)

Jessi said...

Mom - You do know everything and you better not let me find out otherwise! :)

Becca - I agree. I think we analyze too much sometimes. Sometimes we're just making excuses for allowing bad behavior to continue. On the other hand, I think seeing the larger trends (ie that this is happening to so many people) helps us to see what needs correction on a larger level.

Mrs. A - I'm terrified that I have provided so much of your psychological education, seeing as how I'm sort of a perpetual psych 101 student. (See what I did there. Hee.)

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

See my comment on my blog regarding your comment on my blog, re: blame-shifting, which pertains almost directly to what you and Becca just said above. (Did that even make sense?) Rather than a whole bunch of people admitting to the extreme time-suckage that is the internet, they'd rather say it must be an addiction keeping them from staying on task...

Anonymous said...

Hrm. Oddly enough, I see answers like that toward "What color is the sky?" as a sign of intelligence. Or smart-assery. Ya know, depending upon the tone.

Very, "I don't know until I check/current knowledge says"... so smart. :)

Sage said...

I'm a doof, that was me...

Jessi said...

Don't worry about it. If I were to leave Blogger, it would be because of the comment form, which I hate.