top of page
  • Writer's pictureSam

Re-think Impostor Syndrome as a Tool for Success

On the Origins of Impostor Syndrome and the Motivational Power of Being Told No

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio


Oh my God, there it is. Impostor Syndrome! Honestly, not something I ever thought I’d had to worry about what with my devilishly charming self-confidence. But, this past weekend, when I was finally ready to submit a manuscript of my picture book to a literary agent, there it was… The room grew larger and darker, the only light focused entirely on my laptop, the table it was resting on suddenly having grown 5 meters out of my reach. My pajamas, now oversized, as I shrank into the corner; a tiny child looking up in naive shyness as the laptop metaphorically told me that I was not yet good enough to publish a book.


If the hundreds, if not thousands, of articles published on Impostor syndrome are anything to go by, chances are you have also felt this similar dread. Rather than go into the details about how you need to love yourself and accept who you are (although important things, there are many other articles that tackle this topic), I thought that instead, we could have a look at where I believe impostor syndrome to originate in our society.

Classism

That’s it, it’s classism.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is all to do with discrimination based on what “class” you were born into and are still a member of, or rather, how much money/prospects you’re predicted to have based on your pedigree. Working class, middle class etc.

Although the classic Upper-class, Middle-class, Working-class structure is considered a bit outdated now, (See here for an actual paper on the topic, and here for a more reader-friendly version based on British society), we're going to stick with that because that's what we're familiar with.


 

The simplicity of the Upper, Middle and Working class structure was kept in order because it was in the best interests of the upper echelons of society to keep things the way they were. Working-class people needed to stay that way. The upper classes needed people to be working class so that it kept them on top, if all the people in working-class society “bettered themselves”, who would work in the factories that they owned to produce the goods and keep them in good standing?

This was the simplicity of the system for many years. And one good way to keep people from “moving out of their station in life” was to encourage everyone to believe that certain activities were only allowed for certain people.

Hello, Impostor syndrome.

Digging down into the feeling of impostor syndrome, I have come away believing that it is actually a very divisive tool to “keep me in my place”. Whether this is intentional or not I’m not going to discuss here, but it is there nonetheless.

When you feel like you shouldn’t be doing something because you are not good enough, or not rich enough, or not well dressed enough*, that’s because somewhere the idea has gotten into your mind that only a certain type of person does that thing, and that is not you. You either never will, or need to do a lot more work to be considered worthy of doing/being that thing.

(*When I submitted my book to some agents, it was the fact that I envisioned someone submitting a book proposal to be a suit-wearing person with a briefcase looking very professional going into an office to have a discussion with an equally professional-looking, suit-wearing individual. Not someone sat in their Lion King pyjamas, at their kitchen table that also doubles as a writing desk, surrounded by a clutter of art supplies, packs of biscuits, opened letters, and copious cups of drinks that had been poured at various stages throughout the week and needed throwing out).

The Motivation of Being Told No

There is a lot to be said for people being behind you every step of the way, and believing in your ability to succeed.


But, being told “no, you can’t do that,” I find can be equally motivating, and sometimes more so.


When I thought about impostor syndrome as a tool to “keep me in my place” I immediately snapped out of it.

There’s something about equating impostor syndrome with the phrase “stay in your lane, know your place,” that gave me all the motivation I needed to throw it in the trash where it belongs!

The people who read this blog are not likely to be in favour of classism, and therefore I invite you all to think of impostor syndrome in the above ways to put impostor syndrome in its place: the shameful parts of our society's history.

Is it still like this though?

Before I call this post to a close, I would like to pose the question of whether society is still like this.

Do we still have a system that encourages impostor syndrome in order to keep us in our place?

In some cases yes, there are many in the elite classes of society that still want us "common rabble" to know our place.

But, their opinions about the way we live our lives are becoming less relevant, especially as we become more educated.

Generally speaking, the response to people trying out things outside of what's expected of them is met with support, suggesting that a lot of impostor syndrome is all in our heads.

There is however still a large fear of failure in our society, and this is somewhere that impostor syndrome has found a not-so-nice new home. Like a parasite, Impostor Syndrome is finding ways to hang on.

Impostor Syndromes New Home: Fear of Failure

We’ve often sadly experienced well-meaning friends and family members caution us against big leaps outside of our comfort zone. This is less about having people “know their place” and more about the well-meaning person scared to see the attempter fail and be upset.

A much more well-intentioned place for Impostor syndrome to live, but still damaging nonetheless. And that is a topic for another post…

7 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page