There has been much talk about the woes of imposter syndrome¹. It is something I have seen and felt myself as a social entrepreneur (hustling to save the world isn’t easy). It’s something that the majority of us feel at some point during our professional and personal lives but the question is for how long and how deeply?
Exploring the reason why imposter syndrome is an inferiority complex that so many of us battle with within ourselves is a curious one. Why does it seem that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we achieve, we lean more towards feeling like an authentic fraud? Are we born to be self-deprecating or are we brought up to always doubt our talents, strengths, and accomplishments because that’s the ‘humble’ thing to do? These questions are interesting, especially for social impact educators trying to build up and arm changemakers against their ‘own worst enemies’ on the social innovation battlefield (themselves).
The answer is perhaps the way we are socialised to idolise perfection as the media portrays celebrities or as social media portrays our digital selves. We are sold the idealistic illusion of overachievement and effortless success that becomes very damaging for our psyche when we set ourselves up for failure in this way. But the media and mainstream marketing are merely part and parcel of largely constructed hierarchies that make us feel unworthy and fraudulent. It’s not all that surprising that imposter syndrome is reportedly felt more amongst women, who have to battle against daily misogyny and male privilege – but this surely spills over into other identity groups.
Whether you belong to an ethnic minority that has had to struggle against white privilege… whether you have a disability that has constantly lost you the chance to prove yourself… or whether as a male you have felt the need to overcompensate as the ‘alpha male’ because of what ‘masculinity’ expects of you – oppressive stereotypes can leave us all questioning ourselves without even realising why. It comes down to the fact that we are all vulnerable victims, yet, at the same time accountable agents of the invisible, imbalanced systems of power that make us feel inadequate when holding a magnifying glass over how we think other people perceive us or how we project ourselves onto other people. Imposter syndrome is symptomatic of this and we need to be mindful of how we oppress ourselves and others into thinking that nothing will ever be good enough.
But perhaps we wouldn’t constantly feel like the one who doesn’t belong or has to conform if we had a more diverse spread of role models epitomising success and herein lies the call-to-action for social impact educators and innovators. Diversity, equity, and inclusion has never been more key to unlocking human potential. As social entrepreneurship takes deeper roots in the global ecosystem, it is vital that values such as equal representation and participation are baked into our organisational structures from the beginning to breed self-worth and ownership. The imposter syndrome is a mindset that wastes time, energy, talent, and wellbeing. Imagine what it would look like if people weren’t scared to ask seemingly stupid questions or share unconventional ideas. This is what social innovation is all about and as educators it is important that we actively promote this and reflect this.
And finally, for any innovators feeling more like imposters deep down, remember that you deserve to be here because you are here. Maybe you deserve much more so shoot for the stars. Maybe you deserve a little less so use your platform to help others onto the stage. Either way, don’t waste valuable brain power on constantly doubting yourself. Take pride in your abilities but never stop learning. It’s time to make insecurity and inequality things of the past.
¹ “[Imposter syndrome] The fear of being “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think you are”- (Definition ‘stolen’ from Forbes article written by Margie Warrell)