Imposter Syndrome: Living Like a Goldfish in a Blender


Imposter Syndrome: Living Like a Goldfish in a Blender

We all need to better understand people to be successful. But understanding others requires a different set of skills to understanding yourself. Get this back to front and you’d be surprised how deep that rabbit hole will become.

The English author Bertrand Russell gave voice to what we’ve all suspected is true when he said;

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

The low point of the high achiever

One of the baffling traits of highly successful people (especially women) is that many are simply unable to believe that they’re the ones actually responsible for their own success. These same high achievers routinely attribute their success to simple good luck and belittle the consequences of their own time, insights and skills.

When asked to explain their rationale, many trivialise the impact of their actions saying “it would be obvious to everyone anyway”. Curiously, regardless of industry or expertise, these types of individuals all report living with a lurking sense of unease and often paralysing fear, that at any moment they’ll be found out and declared a fraud.

Welcome to the bizarre world of imposter syndrome first named by researchers Kruger and Dunning in 1990. Not a mental illness. Not a medical condition; but a feeling described as ‘living like a goldfish in a blender’.

“The overestimation by people with low skills about their actual ability arises from their not knowing themselves; whereas underestimation by competent and highly skilled people arises from their not understanding others.” – Kruger & Dunning 1999

Common symptoms include

These high achievers all share strikingly common symptoms;

  1. Their expertise enables them to make quick and accurate decisions based upon what they describe as ‘gut instinct’.
  2. They routinely overlook their hard work and minimise the evidence of their success by pointing to external reasons like good timing, good luck or good marketing.
  3. They often shun awards and wince at public recognition.
  4. They would rather burst into flames than admit to being high-achieving individuals.

Now if you’ve just thought to yourself, “this doesn’t relate to me because I’m not a high achiever” go back and re-read the list again and smile.

The damage starts with you

Regularly minimising one’s achievement down to luck rather than personal mastery spawns a deep irrational fear that others will eventually unmask them and call them an imposter.

This syndrome triggers writer’s block and can destructively silence otherwise capable and insightful individuals. This faulty mindset, if left unchallenged, robs the world of good ideas, good insights and creative breakthroughs in industry, art, medicine and culture.

For those people who insist that their work is only ever average and their insights are already unremarkable, the good news is that the impostor syndrome is really a state of mind that actually has no connection with your achievements.  To put it another way, ‘It’s you, it’s not your work.’

The solution is dilution

Rather than try and eradicate this mental weed, choke it out by growing these 5 stronger mindsets:

  1. Be more honest with yourself: You have a part to play in your success as does everyone else in theirs.
  2. Embrace the fear of being wrong: It’s not the fear of being right, but the fear of being wrong that’s scuttled many a success.
  3. Pursue mastery over perfection: The journey towards the horizon of mastery is not a one-day sprint to the front of a short line.  Mastery is an attitude of continually perfecting your craft, and like the horizon, is a direction not a destination.
  4. Share it by habit: Seed your thoughts and creativity into the world because it’s what you do and who you are – not because you’ve mastered the process. Make it a habit to produce, to publish, to share and to lead, simply because it’s what you do.
  5. Accept that every coin has a flip side: Accept that each of your decisions has a flip-side and every choice you make, prevents you from making the alternative choice. If you turn left at an intersection, you have to give up the chance to turn right.

Every strength you develop will always identify a new weakness and every problem you solve usually uncovers yet another way to do something better. So accept that.

Perhaps Imposter Syndrome – is just the weakness of greatness.

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  • Cate

    Excellent insights Drew…very helpful

    • Drew

      Thanks Cate 🙂

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