“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” ̶ Confucius
On occasion a client will tell me that he or she feels like a fraud, an imposter. The individual is concerned that this fear which is often attached to an imposter syndrome will be exposed and discovered. The person will feel anxiety all the time because at any moment there will be a disclosure revealing their true identity. The feelings of self-doubt and/or a lack of self-confidence seems to be internalized just as real capabilities and talents are not personally owned. One does not identify or be aware of their own success and accomplishment but might use words like “faking it” or “winging it.”
A person might constantly make comparisons to others as they weigh their success through self-criticism and self-judgment, fearing an imminent exposure as a failure. Thinking errors and irrational thoughts are often involved because the person cannot own their own success. When negative thoughts are ever present in their mind that are blocking rational facts that support their own ability. The following poem by P. Bodi describes this inner world experience.
Feeling out of place,
Like you don’t belong,
Like others will find out
You’ve been “faking it”
All along, but confidence is not a
Given, it is grown, keep
Building it, step by step,
Until it is your own.
The opposite of an imposter syndrome is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is the false belief that we know more than we do. Typically, real experts under-estimate their level of expertise; while people with low ability over-estimate it. For example, have you ever been overly optimistic when planning your day? Someone might map out every second of their day as they plan to maximize productivity, and then discover that they have overscheduled and can’t accomplish all that they had set out to do. This might be partially due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which one believes that they’re better at certain tasks and can accomplish them faster than is possible.
The following Aesop’s Fable describes this dynamic.
A certain man fell ill, and, being in a very bad way, he made a vow that he would sacrifice a hundred oxen to the gods if they would grant him a return to health. Wishing to see how he would keep his vow, they caused him to recover in a short time. Now, he hadn’t an ox in the world, so he made a hundred little oxen out of tallow and offered them up on an altar, at the same time saying, “Ye gods, I call you to witness that I have discharged my vow.” The gods determined to be even with him, so they sent him a dream, in which he was bidden to go to the sea-shore and fetch a hundred crowns which he was to find there. Hastening in great excitement to the shore, he fell in with a band of robbers, who seized him and carried him off to sell as a slave: and when they sold him a hundred crowns was the sum he fetched.
Do not promise more than you can perform.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” ̶ Shakespeare