Monday, February 19, 2024

Qualified, Certificated, and Accredited imposters

Feelings of imposterism are commonly associated with feelings and thoughts that “we’re simply not good enough” – and there are lots of ways through which people generally try and manage these.

But most of these advocated approaches tend not to involve people engaging with formal study or learning, in pursuit of ultimately gaining a recognised qualification of some type, with which they might then beat their inner imposter over the head with.


I’ve also noticed that although feelings of imposterism can surface in any of us, in any role, and at any time in our lives, it seems to be more concentrated were people have roles with higher levels of responsibility – yet part of the gaining such roles is, in part, based on evidenced learning on the part of the candidate, in the form of increasingly higher levels of certificates and accreditations (which are supposed to be proof of our abilities to undertake such roles and tasks).

And this is odd because feelings of self-doubt can often be rooted in our feeling we lack sufficient knowledge or experience in a subject field – something which qualifications are surely designed to offer us? So what’s going wrong in our current structured learning pathways not automatically resolving the tension in how we believe in ourselves after being awarded our shiny new certificates?


I wonder if it may be to do with the fact that courses which offer us a route to gaining a recognised qualification aren’t often that connected to how well we feel we can subsequently do our jobs?

The process of accreditation is usually based on a learner being able to evidence that they’ve gained knowledge and been able to apply that knowledge in a given situation. And the criteria by which they are assessed in doing so are linked to overarching national standards.

But having created accredited programmes (and been through a fair few) myself, there’s something that I realise has been missing in all of them: there’s no standards or frameworks about how we as learners are reflecting on, or building, our confidence in the subject matter. There are no prompts for how we emotionally feel about the knowledge and how we might be subsequently using and applying it. And without those tools to help us relate to our learning through our feelings, as well as our intellect, qualifications don’t help us in any meaningful way
in challenging feelings of inner doubt.

And perhaps this is why most of the guidance out there about how we can try to approach managing feelings of self-doubt don’t often seem to promote a person committing to a programme of formal certificated learning as a way to bolster their self-esteem and belief?

So – in summary: just because a person is qualified, doesn’t mean that they’re automatically going to be any more confident in their role; and if you’re supporting someone through a course of learning, try and help them to explicitly consider how their confidence and self-belief in themselves is being bolstered and enhanced through the new knowledge they’re getting. It may help us all to beat those inner imposters collectively better over the head…

Thursday, February 8, 2024

why some people don't want to banish their imposter syndrome

Some people will be aware that I wrote a book about imposter syndrome, which turns out to be a bit like marmite: some love it, whilst others have uninvited me from speaking at events because of it.

The central idea in my book is that, after looking at lots of research papers and studies, and evidences from various places and sources, I don't think imposter syndrome is what most people say and think it is. 

(SPOILER - it's actually part of what it means to be a human being, helps keep us safe, and can act as a superpower in our work and lives).

But something that struck me as I waded through all the published research materials about it was a recurring thought: 'if all the evidence and research keeps showing this thing isn't what people say it is, then why does it seem that so people say they feel they have it, and it's negatively affecting their lives?'

Perhaps part of the answer could be that imposter syndrome is an illusionary truth - something that, because we've heard lots of people talk about it in the same way, we accept as being true without questioning it. Just like the 10,000 hours rule, breakfast being the most important meal of the day, etc. 

But I also wonder if it may also be to do with it being a 'label' which, in being external to a person, makes it easier to validate a lack of motivation or desire to progress on their part? (And so we fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy - best articulated in the armed forces through their adage of 'if a soldier thinks they'll die in battle tomorrow, they'll probably find a way to make it happen'.)

Suffering with 'something' can make it easier to justify not pushing ourselves to grow - but in doing so, we create a fake 'safe space' for ourselves, which only serves to limit our potential, and the lives we might otherwise be living.

As Baz Luhrmann once observed - "a life lived in fear, is a life half lived."