On a recent day ablaze with the brilliant foliage of a Shenandoah autumn, I found myself in Granny's Restaurant, a honky tonk bar in Winchester, Virginia. The country music legend Patsy Cline, who grew up in the small city nicknamed the Apple Capital of the World, loved the place for its fried chicken--and for good reason. While I tore through my own helping of chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw, Liz Ruffner, a Patsy Cline tribute singer, mesmerized every one of us in that down home joint. She was not an impersonator. She did not attempt a Patsy hairstyle or squeeze into a Patsy cowgirl outfit, but she captured the best of her: her voice.
Of course, you couldn't convince Ruffner of that.
Even though she sounded like Patsy--beautifully and eerily so--and the crowd whistled and applauded during and after every song, Ruffner kept putting herself down. It didn't feel like a Woody Allen shtick. It appeared that she genuinely did not recognize her overwhelming talent.
Sadly, so many women do not believe in their own capabilities. We are convinced that at any moment, someone will step up and expose our incompetence. That's the premise behind Imposter Syndrome: that people who are great at what they do, like Ruffner, don't think they deserve their accomplishments, that their accomplishments aren't even really theirs, that they are frauds. Though Ruffner's line of work makes her Imposter Syndrome a tad ironic, it makes it no less disheartening.
I cannot recall a job where I did not suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Even in my kindest and most nurturing workplace, where I regularly was praised and went on to win a national award, I constantly doubted myself. Nearly every morning, I woke up with the fear that I would somehow get caught. But for what?
I have great faith in hiring managers. I'm confident that, more often than not, they hire people who can do the job and do the job well. Perhaps a new employee is not a perfect fit at first, but that person possesses the potential to grow and learn in the position and eventually excel. After all, the hiring manager has reviewed countless resumes, conducted interviews, checked references, and looked at portfolios or administered tests to narrow down the applicant pool to this one person. More than likely, this person is qualified for the job.
Yet whenever I'm hired, like women everywhere, I'm sure that HR has made a mistake. That is no news; the Internet is flooded with articles and think pieces about Imposter Syndrome. But Molly Fischer's piece for New York Magazine's The Cut, "I Hope I Never Get Over My Imposter Syndrome," in which she argues that Imposter Syndrome is a positive thing, stands out because it is so off the mark.
Women and minority men are more likely to feel like frauds in the workplace than white men because society has conditioned us to internalize feelings of inferiority and shame. This is not at all positive.
"Sweet, cruel impostor syndrome," Fischer writes. "It is the flame that burns beneath my ass, the constant low hum of anxiety forcing me to do stuff before anyone notices all the stuff I have not done and feel pretty certain I can't do."
While I agree that it's important to be productive and take pride in one's work, guilt and anxiety should not be what drive you. Hopefully, your job gives you a sense of purpose. One of the many injustices faced by no-wage and minimum-wage workers is that their jobs typically offer little to no fulfillment. Their jobs may help them secure food and shelter, if that, but not much more. It's not just a living wage that should be a basic right; the dignity of work also must be a right. Everyone should be made to feel that their job matters in the world.
Just because Imposter Syndrome pushes us to get the job done doesn't mean we should settle for it. We need to value ourselves and the work that we do, as well as value the work of others. We need to teach little girls and boys to do the same so that when they grow up, women are confident in their professional capabilities and men recognize their talent in a way that fosters a healthy workplace environment.
The mantra "Fake it 'til you make it" isn't a mantra if we don't believe in our potential to ever make it.