Impostor syndrome — a story

Just now Zeldman tweeted a question to which I replied. That reminded me of a story I want to share with you. Zeldman asked:

Have you ever felt that you have no talent whatever? How often do you feel that way?

What he describes is classic impostor syndrome. I’ve got it, you’ve got it, just about everybody’s got it. It’s the “just about” that I want to discuss today.

A few months back a conversation with friends turned to the subject of impostor syndrome. They didn’t know the term, but they recognized it and agreed they had it to a larger or smaller degree. Then a friend of mine who’s a doctor told us a story.

She told us that one time the conversation among her and her colleagues also turned to impostor syndrome. One doctor confessed he did not have it. He understood what the others were talking about, but he just didn’t feel that way. He was always sure of himself.

A few months after that conversation this doctor made a very serious medical mistake. Can’t remember if it was fatal or not, but it was major, and had consequences for the patient and the doctor himself.

Once she had told this story, my friends and I concluded that impostor syndrome actually serves an important function. It forces you to check and re-check your work, making sure you haven’t made any mistakes, consider different approaches, and generally be critical of yourself in a positive sense.

So cherish your impostor syndrome. Don’t trust people who don’t have it.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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