Impostor syndrome.

There are a few concepts I really, really wish had never been popularised, and Impostor Syndrome is high on that list.


In the olden days, it used to be possible to not be an expert, or not be enough of an expert. When asked for advice, one used to be able to say “sorry, I don’t know enough about that” or some suchlike thing, and people would go “oh, ok” and ask someone else. Not now. Now, if you try and tell someone that you really don’t think you’re qualified to give an answer, they just tell you that you have “impostor syndrome.” You DO know the thing, you just THINK you don’t know the thing. No amount of evidence you produce can ever convince them otherwise. Your entire life is not enough of a proof for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re friendless, childless, penniless, miserable, injured, ill, or anything else; you’re still obviously qualified to give them advice on social skills, parenting, financial management, life skills, training, and healthcare, because potato.

These days, if you tell someone “no, I don’t know about X, just look at my life ffs”, they will not clear off and ask someone with a clue. Instead, they will spend hours explaining to you how your own assessment of your own situation is incorrect, and then still demand your advice. You’re an authority on X because you’re an authority on X, because they say so; you just fail to realise it.


Now, I understand that Impostor Syndrome is genuinely a thing, and I understand that it disproportionately affects certain demographics. I don’t seek to minimise the struggles of those affected. I merely wish that our collective subconscious had retained the ability to consider other possibilities. That people may actually have a better understanding of their own abilities or lack thereof and a greater awareness of how those are manifested in their everyday existence than some random third party. That it is possible for someone to actually not know shit about a subject. That it is possible for them to know just enough to know that they really don’t know enough. That maybe, just maybe, if someone was really an expert in that subject, that expertise would be manifested in their lives.

This is the point in my rant on the subject where people normally bring up the four stages of competence. I’m not sure why they do, because the model does not support their claims. “Unconscious competence” does not mean that you know so much that you suddenly believe that you know nothing; but hey, it sounds like it might, so let’s stick it into the conversation just in case, right? There’s a graph attached to the model, so it’s officially Science, and we can’t argue with that. Perhaps some folk believe that it’s possible to be so far up the learning pyramid that one falls right off. I don’t know. In all honesty, I don’t care.


I wonder how much of this is a reflection on the fact that actually successful people are kinda intimidating. They’re ‘better’ than us; probably too good to waste their time talking to us. Worse than that, if they do consent to give us advice, they may end up burdening us with pertinent, useful advice. Advice that, if we were to follow it, may solve our problems; that not only puts us at risk of having to deal with change, but could require time and effort on our part. Advice that, if we ignore it or fumblefuck it, would force us to consider whether we’re partly to blame for our situation. Feckless people make much safer gurus, really.


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