On Being a High Achieving Fraud

Recently I had a job interview. It was for a position that I hadn’t considered the first time I saw it, thinking it wasn’t my expertise. Then when one of my mentors specifically suggested I check it out, I applied for it and agreed to interview. 

During the interview, I started to notice that I had a really unfortunate habit.

I do not believe in myself.

It’s a weird thing to realize in the moment. The interviewer would say, “I see you have this experience on your resume, that’s sounds really interesting. We’re looking for someone with your experience in this realm. Tell us about it.”

I’d say, “Well, it wasn’t really anything big, I wasn’t the best at it, I wouldn’t say I’m that good…”

The moment my brain realized what was happening, my body stiffened up. It felt like my body and brain were having a fight. I couldn’t stop myself from putting my own damn self down, what is that?!

The interview, literally despite myself, actually went well somehow. I drove home trying to figure out what exactly happened to my self-confidence and what to do about it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this to myself. Ask anyone who knows me, and you’ll find that I have a terrible habit of not only downplaying my own achievements, but I also love disagree with people who give me compliments. It’s a problem that at once I don’t think I have (I’m very confident about my work!) but I also have in spades (I don’t think I’m capable of anything!). This is sometimes called, “Impostor Syndrome.”

Imposter syndrome is believed to be a thought process that occurs when you get an opportunity you think you don’t deserve, or that your success is a mistake. You get a good job and feel that at any moment, the rug can be pulled out from under you and someone comes in screaming,

Impostor syndrome is maybe not real. I remember reading about it for the first time sophomore year or so, while trying to cope with the outpouring of support that I had received in my effort to go to Brazil. It was one of my many moments of, “People believe in me….. wait, why?

I remember searching online things like, “How to handle support,” or “Suspicious at compliments.” Crazy, I know! But I always put myself down like this. I call it being, “a realist.” To accept and consume every compliment must be bad for you, I rationalize, to take them all with a grain of salt is what a reasonable person should do to stay humble, right? What actually ends up happening is that I start to believe the doubts in my head, and it causes me to actively sabotage myself. When people ask more of me, ask me to actually live up to my potential, I have trouble understanding what potential they speak of, what exactly they’re seeing in me. 

For example, the job posting said, “Looking for someone with experience or proficiency using Spanish,” and I said to myself, “Well that isn’t me.” In my head I thought, they want someone who is fluent, I am not fluent, so I should keep going elsewhere. During the interview, the interviewers noted, “You spent a year in Spain, you teach ESOL, you have academic honors in Spanish and Portuguese…” and even then I thought, “Well I wouldn’t call that proficient….” 

It is said that imposter syndrome is possibly something women have in spades over men. Basically, sexism in our male-dominated society causes women to doubt their own skills because they start to believe the narrative about women being under-qualified. Meanwhile, men are constantly putting themselves in places where they’re not qualified at all. 

It’s also said that imposter syndrome strikes people who are high achieving and super hard on themselves.  That actually sounds more like me. I don’t like failing or being bad at something, so when given opportunities to reach my potential, it is far more likely to cause me to panic and doubt myself than to actually you know, do what I need to do.

Then again, you’re hearing this from me. I’ve survived every challenge I’ve received thus far, so what do I know!


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