Last week I was walking through my office on my way back from refilling my tea cup and I had this incredibly surreal feeling that, “Oh my god, this is what I do for my JOB. This is where I work and what I do!” Because most of the time I still feel like I am 20 and I’m in the audience at a poetry reading, waiting for my turn to go up and read a part of a story or a poem or something, and I’m still trying to haphazardly network, or catch a break or work up the nerve.

For a hot second I couldn’t fathom how I got here, to this place, with a real job editing and writing and doing all of the things (some of the few things) I feel good at. Coming up with pithy headlines and catching mistakes in other people’s writing, reworking sentences, and writing my own sales copy about fun projects – that’s what I do and I’m good at it. I don’t think 20 year old me would ever believe this was possible. Twenty year old me didn’t even know a job like this existed, let alone a career. And here I am. Taking full advantage of the free mint tea in the kitchen, enjoying my view of Mt. Rainier from my desk, and going to town with a virtual highlighter.

But then there is the downside. There is the bad part of feeling like I’m still 20, just figuring it out. I second guess myself constantly. I don’t think there is 1 day that goes by that I don’t have some sort of paranoia that my boss will find out the truth: That I’m not actually as good as I say I am. She’ll find out that there are lots of people way better than me at my job, that I’m faking my way through employment. Every day at some point I wonder, “Is today the day I’m going to be fired? Is she going to see something I missed and find out that I’m clearly not cut out for this?”

I know that a large part of that is absolutely ridiculous. I know it on some level, but on another level the worry and fear is way too intense not to take some of it seriously. The thought of, “oh my god, I can’t believe I get to do this,” is so closely tied to, “and if I’m not careful it’s all going to go up in smoke.” I am an impostor in grown up clothes. I wear my entry badge like I’ve worn one forever, but in truth I’ve almost forgotten at home many times. I walk with confidence back and forth from the kitchen, passing the desks of designers, passing the conference rooms full of virtual graphs, a video conference, important people talking sales-numbers, and I act as though I know exactly where I’m going. Except I’m just faking it – the confidence of belonging is just a facade.

Maybe if I’m good enough at faking it no one will notice, and then one day it might be real.

18 thoughts on “Impostor”

  1. Oh man. This is majorly hitting home. I feel like this ALL THE TIME. Particularly with the new job, where I constantly worry that I DON’T actually know what I’m doing, and that gut reaction? Should I trust it, or will it lead me astray?

    I’ve been wearing my black pencil skirt and point-toe pumps a lot recently. Even if I don’t feel confident, at least I can look it.

  2. Fake it ’til you make it! “That I’m not actually as good as I say I am” — scratch that, “I AM this good. I am DAMN good.” If you don’t believe it, no one else will either! (And we all know you are fabulous.)

  3. I feel like this ALL THE DAMN TIME. I’ve tried to tell myself that no one *really* knows that they’re doing and that some are just better at faking it than others. You are fabulous, my friend! Keep up the good work.

  4. Definitely second Lean In on this topic, which I found really helpful; Sandberg is absolutely clear that far more women feel like this than men.

    I feel like this all the time, particularly before big professional milestones e.g. speaking at conferences / annual reviews etc – the best cure I find is to sing (in your head!) either I Have Confidence from the Sound of Music, or I Whistle a Happy Tune from the King and I. Both always cheer me up anyway, and as a result my colleagues think I have nerves of steel. Since I’m the only woman in my 25 person team, I think that’s probably a good thing.

  5. Impostor syndrome is totally real and so so many people feel it. Keep doing good work, be nice to people, and help further your company’s goals whenever possible and know that you are doing it. You got this!

  6. I feel this way all the time too. I get a little panicky every time my boss says he needs to talk to me. This morning he saw me in passing and called me over, and I was sure that was it and I was about to get fired. It turns out that he just needed me to deliver something to a coworker for him.

    Is this just work related for the rest of you, or does it apply to other areas? Sometimes I worry that my friends will realize I’m not as cool as they thought I was and they’ll end the friendship. They are all wonderful and make it clear that they value our friendship too, so I know this worry is irrational. I used to think these kinds of thoughts were a teen thing that I would outgrow, but I’m 27 and married and they haven’t gone away yet, so clearly I was wrong.

    1. Oh my god, I thought I was the ONLY ONE who felt this way. Literally EVERY time I get singled out or pulled aside I feel like I’m going to get into trouble. Every. Single Time. It is terrible and at times all consuming.

  7. I feel better just knowing I’m not alone. I’m starting residency and live in fear that they’ll realize it’s a mistake and I should never have been accepted. Like one day, they’ll say “I’m sorry you’re nice and all but your not as smart/creative/driven as we thought.” Thank you for sharing this, Lauren!

  8. This reminds me about a Ted Talk I recently watched – all about how you really can “fake it until you make it”. Basically, your body language can absolutely have an effect on how others see you, and even how you feel about yourself. It’s definitely worth watching.

    Also – I feel this way all the time. I’m 32, and have the best job I’ve ever had. I am really really good at it. Is it my dream job? No. But I am good at it, and they treat me very well, and I am part of a team, and I know that I am needed and useful. However, when I get singled out for doing a good job, I still get that awww shucks, you really like me feeling. Half of me owns it and knows that I am damn good at what I do – while the other half of me feels like what I do isn’t anything that special and some day soon they’ll figure that out. I’m glad that I’m not alone.

  9. There is a “real” name for this!

    (Is that going to hyperlink? I hope so. If not, sorry.)

    This post got me thinking a bit and then a work friend sent me the Forbes article today, out of the blue, so it was timely.

    I did a very difficult degree in university (engineering physics) and honestly felt like I was faking it the whole time. I still maintain that. I don’t really understand physics, I just understood the math. Then when I got a somewhat related job, with a fairly high level of responsibility for decision making from the start, I felt like I was faking it for the first few years.

    BUT THEN! Something clicked, and I can’t pinpoint when, but all of a sudden the impostor syndrome, at least career-related, disappeared completely and was replaced by confidence. It took a couple years of getting comfortable in that job but it’s completely gone. And I just started a new job a couple weeks ago that is pretty different from my old job, but even though it’s new stuff for me I still don’t have that fear. I handled a lot of really challenging situations in my old job and it gave me the confidence that I can deal with anything.

    I don’t know if it just takes time, or dealing with a few really big challenges, to make it go away. And some people might deal with it forever. But I think my experience is proof that it might be “curable”, at least for some!

  10. I told you that’s how I felt at the last (hard to get my arms around) job, right? It definitely took a lot of faking confidence when I didn’t feel it and reminding myself that actually, I’m only faking confidence NOT competence. I often wonder if this is a normal feeling whenever you start ANY new job.

    IMO, you’re entirely competent. Things that are tough don’t mean you’re not capable at all, just that you have a new hill to conquer. And conquer you will!

  11. I love this post! I feel this constantly at work. It is tough because I work in such a technical field that someone could ask me technical questions and I would flounder and then the “oh no, they’ve found me out” would be REAL. The grain of truth in it all is that I dont’ remember 90% of what I learned in engineering school, so I *am* faking (or wikipedia-ing) it a lot of the time. Most of the time I’m convinced someone is going to find out that I slipped through the cracks at college, that I don’t actually know that much about my degree, and that I have no business being paid to do what I do.

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