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Imposter Syndrome & Who Needs to Fix it

Recently a friend of mine sent me this video of Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, giving a commencement speech at Smith College. She talks about imposter syndrome, (which, circa Wikipedia, is “a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds”), and how she’s done telling people how to overcome it because it’s the systems and culture around us that has created this syndrome. That men coined this term much like they coined the term “bike face.” I learned from her that back when bicycles became easier to ride, women were using them to gain independence and travel to their feminist circles, and so of course men coined this term to describe the unattractive flush in our cheeks and tenseness of our jaws that are caused by riding bicycles, in order to keep us down.

She opines that it’s our job not to fix ourselves, to do things like working on our perfectionism and standing in power poses, but to change the system itself so that workplaces are no longer environments that breed imposter syndrome.

Reshma Saujani is much smarter than me, and I have a lot of respect for her absolutely factual-based opinion. But I do feel some things when I sit down to think about this perspective. I’m not entirely sure of the origins of the “condition” being named and publicized, but I feel like it’s a little different than the bike face. There’s the obviously misogynist messaging that inundate us every day – just think about all the terms that men (and other women) have invented to criticize women about. Cankles. Turkey waddle. Crow’s feet. F.U.P.A.

But I personally believe that imposter syndrome is a helpful term that helps women put a name to some of the ickiest things we feel, thus creating a shorthand for talking about it, thus helping us heal from it. I totally agree that imposter syndrome is not our fault, that it’s a result of the history our gender’s oppression. But my opinion differs on whose job it is to fix it. Of course I would like to see a society that raises girls to not be afraid to stand in their power, to make mistakes without fear of the harsh judgement we endure and the pressure to be a credit to our gender. And I think we all need to play our part in fixing the systems and changing the toxic workplaces that cause the syndrome in the first place.

But, I mean, that’s kind of a tall order, and not a very useful one for women solopreneurs who ARE their companies. When there’s only one of you in a company, in order to change the workplace culture, in order to have businesses that bring us joy, we’re going to have to do the work on ourselves. Right? And when you’re trying to build a business now, we can’t exactly wait for the tides of change in society as a whole, can we?

So, despite all the respect in the world that I hold for Ms. Saujani, and what a genius she is and what she’s trying to say, in the next couple weeks I’m going to talk more about imposter syndrome – both symptoms that you’re suffering from it and a few ways to overcome it when you’re in the thick of it. Stay tuned!