Feeling Like a Fake? Welcome to the Imposter Club (Population: Millions)


Imposter syndrome is a funny phenomenon that happens to ALL. One day you wake up feeling inadequate.

You feel like an incompetent person despite multiple successes and experiences.

One fun fact about this is that it affects 70% of the human population. That is about millions of us reporting that we have felt the symptoms at least once in our lifetime.

I feel it too and I find the emotion to be ludicrous, given my background and experience.

Whenever I feel this way, I remind myself of what Neil Gaiman used to say. Yes. Neil Gaiman. He’s the successful author of The Sandman, Good Omens, Stardust, Anansi Boys, American Gods, Coraline…should I go on?

In short, he’s great and famous.

He said:

“Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

*(I remember being amused and flattered that he knew who I was, not because he’d read anything by me, but because the Google algorithm of the time had me down as Neil #1. If you just typed Neil, it would take you to neilgaiman.com. Many people, including me, felt that if there was a Neil #1, it was most definitely him.)

Reading this helps a lot. Thank you, Neil.

So, the next time you feel like an imposter, remember Neil Armstrong gazing at a room full of accomplished individuals and questioning his place.

Fast forward to 2018, I read an article from Allure regarding Imposter Syndrome. The person being interviewed was none other than the legendary mother of all great TV series, Shonda Rhimes. Unlike Neil Gaiman, she doesn’t believe in Imposter Syndrome.

She said:

“No, and here’s why. It always breaks my heart when I’m around my friend, who says, “Oh, I feel imposter syndrome.” I feel like it’s one of those excuses that we give ourselves to not belong in a room. Do you know what I mean? You always belong in a room. The very act of being in the room means you belong in that room. And anybody telling you don’t belong in the room, they should get out.

Shonda Rhimes’ perspective on imposter syndrome offers a powerful alternative narrative.

Perhaps instead of focusing on feeling like an imposter, we can acknowledge the challenges and uncertainties inherent in any new endeavour.

And perhaps, by acknowledging it as a common human quirk and embracing the advice of Neil Gaiman and Shonda Rhimes, we can turn self-doubt into a catalyst for growth.


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