34 Comments

On Introversion and the Imposter Syndrome

This blog post is my attempt at articulating a few vague ideas that have been floating around my mind in recent months, so apologies in advance if it’s a bit vague.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me and has ever had to counsel me through a crisis of confidence, that I am not exactly made of self-esteem. This does, however, apparently come as a surprise to people who only know me through social media and my professional activities. I’ve had people tell me that they see me as confident and articulate, and have been surprised to hear, for example, how nervous I get about public speaking. That’s amazingly lovely to hear, but slightly baffling – out of all the words I would choose to describe myself, “confident” and “articulate” are not among them!

Thing is, while I’ve got over most of my “I’m just a fake, anyone could do this better than me, I’ve just been lucky” type hang-ups, I still have lingering doubts about my abilities. I still find myself thinking that I really have just been lucky: sure, I’m good at my job, but there’s probably plenty of people out there who could do it better. And yes, I did very well in my Masters – but everyone knows that LIS Masters degrees don’t have very high academic standards. And yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to win a few awards and bursaries – but hardly anyone applies for those anyway, so they don’t really mean anything.

Does any of the above sound familiar? I suspect that it does, for a lot of people. I’ve recently started noticing more and more people talking about this, confirming that I am a very long way from being the only person in the world who has these kinds of thoughts. I suspect that most of the successful people in the world secretly feel like they’re just winging it, and eventually someone is going to find out.

I’ve heard this mindset described as “Imposter Syndrome“, and I think it’s an inevitable consequence of the well-intentioned advice to “fake it ’til you make it“. While this is generally good advice – if you’re not confident, just pretend you are and people will react to you as if you are, thus making you more confident – it doesn’t address the situation you’re left in once you’ve successfully convinced everyone that you’re the model of confidence and poise. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I’ve been put in a situation where I have to “fake it” – like a speaking engagement, or a networking event where I don’t know anyone – I can manage it quite well, but I’m still shocked that people don’t see through me. Perhaps this is an indication that I may have mastered the “fake it” side, but haven’t quite got to “make it” yet.

I wonder how much of this goes hand-in-hand with my introvert nature. Being an introvert, I tend to over-think and analyse things, particularly myself. I can really identify with SimonXIX’s recent post about self-awareness (read it if you haven’t already – it’s an absolute masterpiece of overthinking. I mean that in the nicest possible way). Are introverts more likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome? I don’t know, but I suspect there’s a link. Introverts tend to be highly, perhaps overly, analytical and self-aware. It could be that the root of Imposter Syndrome is really just self-absorption: spending too much time worrying about yourself and how other see you.

I suppose what I am really trying to say in this post is: don’t worry. I do think that librarianship tends to attract more than its fair share of introverts – so I suspect also has more than its fair share of Imposter Syndrome too. With that in mind, I’m willing to bet these ideas will strike a chord with a pretty big chunk of people reading this (I assume that most of the people who read my blog are information professionals – I doubt there’s much here that would be of interest outside of our field!). So, if any of the above sounds familiar, remember: it’s not just you.

At least, I hope not. Because otherwise, it is just me, and this was an embarrassing waste of a blog post…

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34 comments on “On Introversion and the Imposter Syndrome

  1. YES! I feel exactly the same. To the point where I feel like a total fraudster, and feel constantly guilty for how much I get paid.

    Oh…also, I’m not an information professional, and your blog interests me very much!

  2. Completely normal. We all feel it. And I write as an extrovert! :)

  3. It’s not just you! I’ve won bursaries to go to abroad for conferences, sat on a professional group Committee for years, have been convenor for years, have arranged training events, write a blog and newsletter articles regularly, have been working as a library professional for 11 years…and I’m still waiting for someone to turn around and say “Ha, Gotcha! You’re really not very good at any of this, are you? You don’t actually know what you’re doing, it’s embarrassing watching you”.

    And confidence? Pah! There is nothing I dread more in the world than public speaking, which makes my groups AGM my personal nightmare, as I have to stand up and address them in a formal manner, yeek! I can just about cope when I make it informal…but then in a recent course I ran, one person gave feedback that I was too informal when presenting the speaker. Although I ignored it at the time, and it’s become a joke, it’s comments like that that set me right back down to wanting to turn into a mouse when asked to stand up and be responsible and speak to a group!

    I have to say, from interacting with you online, and meeting in person, if you’re faking the confident and articulate part, you’ve got it down to a indetectible level of excellent fakery: you are indeed both confident and articulate, with a nice level of approachability. Your faking is splendid indeed!

    • See, I would say exactly the same about you. I guess we’re both just experts at fakery! Or maybe… *whispers* you’re actually pretty good at all this and, just possibly, so am I? ;)

  4. I think you’d be surprised to find that imposter syndrome is also commonplace in other professions outside librarianship, and so your post would probably strike a chord with anyone reading it!
    I think that a large majority of people have two or three different ‘personas’ that they don for different occasions – at home by themselves, with family, with friends, at work, etc. Most people’s ‘professional face’ is more confident-seeming, more articulate, more outgoing, etc. Maybe this is something that comes more easily to extrovert people, or they learn it at an earlier age so it seems like they’ve ‘always been confident’. I know I was painfully shy as a teenager and only seemed to get the hang of social graces once I started working!
    Of course, when you’re looking for a new job, having a polished ‘game face’ takes on a new importance – it’s great to come across as confident and professional at interview but you don’t want to overdo it and land yourself a job that, actually, you may not be ready for.
    Nicola

    • Yes, the “personas” thing makes sense. I take your point about getting your interview persona right as well – good to act confident, but not if it pushes you as far as pretending to be someone you’re not!

  5. Great post – and I suffer from imposter syndrome too and I’m not an introvert.

    There are a couple of things that I *believe* are ‘at work’ with me.

    With the best will in the world and knowing that I have tons of incredibly professional, innovative and fantastic librarian colleagues I still sometimes see my profession through the eyes of the public or other professionals who I feel (rightly or wrongly) look down on what we do. Don’t get me wrong I would argue with them that they were wrong until I was blue in the face, if questioned about it but still… it’s there lurking at the back of my brain.

    Also and I’ve read a little about this and apologies to men who feel the imposter thing too but I feel that societal pressures/mores and the history of the way women have been treated in the work place can add to this too.

    I hate the idea that perhaps the way society treats women has induced me to think that I’m an imposter but I do wonder how many men feel this way. After all, I’m a strong and intelligent woman and I am a capable and professional librarian. I also know that just because society thinks something about a gender that it’s not necessarily correct. After all I am not bad at maths. ;) But I definitely suffer from that ‘oh god what if they find me out’ thing. It is getting better and I would say this has come with practice and experience but it’s only now after being in the profession for 12 years that when I have the imposter thoughts that I can banish them with a ‘no, you are good at what you do’.

    But the thought was still there in the first place. I’m not sure I have a point now. But I understand and it will get better!

    • I wonder if it’s more common in women too – although from what I’ve read, although Imposter Syndrome used to be assumed to be more common in women, there isn’t really much evidence to support that. I think most women probably have the added burden of having been socialised not to celebrate our achievements. This is a vast generalisation I know, but typically when groups of men get together they brag to each other – women are more likely to put themselves down, and brush off compliments as “oh, it’s nothing”!

      • I think men definitely have it too, so I don’t want to deny their experiences, but I think that this socialisation aspect is definitely at play in a lot of women’s experiences.

        It is generalisation, but it can be helpful as a means of reframing your own feelings a bit (if that’s even a thing!). So, for instance, one of the ways I squash my own tendency towards these imposter-feelings is to think:

        If I were a man with a sales job (or similar), would I be saying, ‘oh, it was nothing, really’, or would I be telling people ‘yes, it was really hard work, but I did x and y and so Z happened and it was ace’?

        It would be the latter; perhaps, whatever the root of it is, that might help sometimes?

  6. Thanks for this post. I quite often compare myself to people who I consider successful and while this can make me strive for more it can also lead to a fair bit of self-doubt. It’s good to know they can often feel the same. Sometimes you have to stop navel-gazing and just get on with it!

    • Ha, yes exactly! Re comparing yourself to other people – I do this too, and that’s why I find it so reassuring to realise that most of the people I look up to have the same self-doubts that I do.

  7. Imposter syndrome seems to be coming up a lot this year – I wonder if you’ve read Athene Donald’s post (and the comments beneath it) http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2012/01/29/what-am-i-doing-here/. If not I really recommend it – I personally found it massively reassuring that senior people in all sorts of professions suffer from this (men as well as women), and that it is entirely possible to succeed in spite of it! I also particularly agree with Lisa’s point about reminding yourself that you are genuinely good at certain things – ok, other people might be good at them too, but that doesn’t negate your own skills and achievements.

  8. Very interesting blog post. I think everyone must feel like this sometimes. I definitely identify with some of the things you write about, although I think most of the time I’m quite confident in my own abilities (sometimes probably overly confident) there are times when I really do doubt myself. I think remembering that those you look up to and aspire to be like also experience similar thoughts and feelings is incredibly useful.

  9. I had a massive freak out about not being good enough this weekend! I mean, what if I’ve done the MSc & then let everyone down?!!!
    It’s a relief to hear that other people feel the same way. My boyfriend said that maybe it’s good that I worry about not being good enough because it means that I actually care about what I do-it made sense in a way. :D

    • I think your boyfriend has hit the nail on the head. It’s good in some ways to worry about what you do being up to scratch because it shows that it’s important to you. You just have to make sure the worries don’t take over!

  10. One of the most useful pieces of advice I ever received regarding insecurity was from an older, wiser colleague. I was biting my nails down to the quick and when she asked me what was up, I told her how I was feeling very insecure in my (new) role and had recently messed something up and consequently felt like a huge idiot. She took one look at me and asked “if someone else had messed up, would you be this angry and upset with them? Or would you be helping them to fix it? Would you be agonising about someone else’s ability to do their job if they had done what you’ve done? If not, you should cut yourself a break and remember you’re human and we all mess up sometimes”. Whenever I feel like this, I think about that and try and measure my insecurity objectively in the third person, almost as if I was doing an appraisal. It really does help a lot, although it doesn’t always work, judging from the state of my nails!

    • That’s an excellent idea – I was given similar advice by a counsellor once. I think we all probably hold ourselves to higher standards than we hold others, so it’s useful to try to take a step back and look at things objectively.

  11. I struggle with this immensely so, and I’m very slowly trying to haul those bricks down one by one to move past the notion that it is impossible for these things to happen to be anything other than my being in the right place at the right time, nothing more. The means for me to respond to praise, awards, and accomplishment is often confusion, guilt, and doubt — just as flattery by others is met by my own, body-visceral self-flagellation (usually a burning sensation in my gut when I hear kind words spoken of me followed by feeling like utter shit).

    It took a very respected, approachable, and prolific professor in my grad programme to bluntly say that I experienced impostor syndrome. I was sceptical. He laid it out in probably three sentences, and my jaw sort of hung open. I still don’t know what to make of it or how he determined this.

    It is possible to have a bit more of a extrovert/introvert balance and still struggle with impostor syndrome. I’ve learnt ways to be “on” and to pretend (see? impostor!) that I’m comfortable, in my element, and good at being socially ebullient. I also find it very exhausting, because I doubt that anyone buys it. It’s why I far prefer one-on-one (or two-on-one) social gatherings than large groups: I can balance both.

    I am bookmarking this. I will come back to re-read it when I’m feeling it again. I am glad you wrote it.

    • Thank you for the comment Patience, I’m glad you found the post useful. I can totally identify with your response to praise – my gut reaction when someone pays me a compliment is to assume they’re making fun of me! I think that’s a leftover from my teenage years really, and it’s something I’m making some steps towards training myself out of.

  12. Gosh, golly… and there is me using all of those adjectives to describe you too WoodsieGirl! Words such as articulate, confident, skilled, supportive, creative …. I bet if you ask any number of your friends and colleagues to find 5 words to describe you they will be words that you dismiss and filter into your ‘imposter folder’!

    @kathyennis and I were in Manchester too last week talking to the lovely students at MMU, and we got them to do a very similar exercise – our focus being that often we need to live something to become it. If you put on a confident look then why should anyone doubt it? They won’t – or if they do it is probably a reflection of their own insecurities.

    Maybe you can start to believe that you are indeed articulate, confident etc etc, because otherwise what are you saying about the people who are describing you? That they are idiots? That they don’t really know you? That they only see a small portion of who you are? Mmmmm, I suspect that everyone who has connected with what you wrote about imposter syndrome also feel the same way…. BUT… and it is a big BUT…. I think it is true of pretty much everyone else too – except maybe the narcissistic egotists! We have so many personas that we step in and out of throughout our life and each day – whether being employee, or friend, colleague, boss, expert etc – that who knows which is the ‘real’ us anyway.

    OK – hands up, because I’ve been there too! Plus I’ve worn the tee-shirt and had it enlarged as I’ve moved through life! But truly I am now comfortable in my own skin and with who I am, so if I can do it then there is indeed hope that you will get there much much earlier and without so much angst!

    • Thanks Lyndsay, that means a lot. I think I am getting better at internalising my own accomplishments and accepting compliments given to me by other people, but it has taken some work to get to this point!

  13. Great post. I first heard about the idea of imposter syndrome a couple of years ago. It seems to me that more women than men suffer from it.

    Of course I’m still waiting for everyone to figure out I have no idea what I’m doing!

  14. I agree with every single word in this post! I am a librarian in FE and a life long introvert. Although I know work hard and can usually pull something decent out of the bag, I have kittens about whether I’m actually ‘good enough’. My bf finds it amazing that I can be so shy and have zero self-confidence, yet be able to talk to crowds and command a classroom. I tell him I feel like an actor; when I’m behind the issue counter or teaching a class, it’s as though I’m wearing a character, rather than doing it as little old me. One of the IT Techies at work described me in passing as a high flyer recently (!!!!!), it was a good reminder than people view me differently to how I view myself, but I almost burst out laughing! If only he knew I was just acting…

    • I know exactly what you mean. I once got some feedback from a job interview that the interviewers were impressed by my “evident drive and ambition” – I nearly laughed out loud! I also feel like I’m just being an actor sometimes – it’s like I have a public face that I put on when I need to seem confident, knowledgable, etc. The more you do that though, the less yu have to act – it does become more natural over time.

  15. Well, I don’t have this problem because (a), no one could accuse me of being, or even seeming successful and/or a leader in any way, shape or form and (b) I can’t fake it – hence (a).

    I think most high-achieving people with any kind of self-awareness probably feel like they’re ‘faking it’ at some point, but then one could argue that ‘faking it’ is actually ‘doing it’. If you’re able to ‘fake it’ you’re able to do it, if that makes sense. If you’re standing up talking eloquently to a room full of people you’re standing up talking eloquently to a room full of people, whether you feel like you’re faking it or not.
    Conversely, e.g. I can’t fake leadership because I can’t lead, and vice versa.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense!

    • I get what you mean, but I’m not sure I totally agree. I think faking it is the way you learn to do things like leadership. To say “I can’t fake it because I can’t do it” is probably missing the point somewhat. I promise you, all successful people started off by faking it (unless they’re sociopaths!).

      • Maybe I have misunderstood what you mean by ‘faking it’, then. I agree that people may *feel* that they’re faking it, but this is not the same as actually faking it. Successful people are not pretending to be successful – they are successful. Perhaps I’m getting confused between faking and pretence. Also, maybe I’m just supremely insecure and lacking in confidence!

  16. Really interesting piece…

    I recently attended ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, and heard Susan Cain talk on the subject of introversion. She gave a TED Talk on the same subject last month, which may be of interest to you…
    http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

  17. Apologies for coming to this late, but I can completely identify with imposter syndrome as I have experienced it all my life. I battle with self-esteem issues every day and I put on what I call a “pretence” to speak up in team meetings let alone the teaching I do. I totally have Miranda in my head now :-)

    My introversion is part genetic and part learned thanks to my school days. It can be a constant battle, but thanks to a boss who supports me and gives me new challenges and responsibilities, I have carried on regardless. I like to say that nothing will ever stop me from doing something, especially fear. Fear is simply anticipation, the event is never as bad as you expect.

    No matter what you do, how successful you become and where you end up, there will always be a little voice which says, “someone else could’ve done it better”. Now I have Carly Simon in my head, which is infinitely preferable to my own doubting self-analytical voice. You either have to ignore it, distract yourself from it (my preferred option) or use it. Other than that, use the people around you to make you realise that you are better than you think you are, your boss, colleagues, friends and family. Reassure yourself than you wouldn’t have been given that task if your boss didn’t think you could do it. That’s what I tell myself anyway…

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