Impostor Syndrome And Individual Competence

When you attend a very large event such as EMF Camp, there is so much going on that it is impossible to catch everything. It’s easy to come away feeling that you’ve missed all the good stuff, somehow you wasted your time, everyone else had complete focus and got so much more out of the event.

In an odd twist, one of the EMF 2016 talks people have been raving about is very relevant to that fear of inability to take in a festival programme. [Jessica Rose] gave a talk about imposter syndrome. A feeling of inadequacy compared to your peers and a constant anxiety at being exposed as a fraud that will probably be very familiar to many readers. As she points out, it’s a particularly cruel affliction in that it affects those people who do have all the skills while the real impostors share an inflated competence in their abilities.

This has significant relevance to many in our community and for a single presentation to get so many people talking about it at an event like EMF Camp means it definitely hit the mark. The full video is embedded below the break. At about half an hour long it’s well worth a look.

We haven’t specifically discussed Imposter Syndrome here on Hackaday before. But a closely related topic is social anxiety which sometimes prevents us from getting out of the basement of solitude to meet other excellent hackers. It’s good to remember that nobody bursts onto the scene as an elite guru and catching up with other people is a great way to pollinate ideas and learn new things.

If you would like to see more of this speaker, there is another YouTube video of a talk she gave at DevTalks Bucharest 2016, Automating Access to Development.

24 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome And Individual Competence

  1. Now if I say this is a great article you’ll think I’m insincere, and if I say it’s a terrible article, it will reinforce feelings of being actually not any good.

    So I will just observe that an article has been achieved :-p

    But yah, no laughing matter really, you work on something, you show it, it blows people’s minds, then you’re shrinking at praise, saying “no no no all I did was essentially plug this and that together”

    1. Yes! This!

      I built a 3D printer, and every time I mention that the response is “Whoa! You built it yourself?

      It’s hard to get across how much easier it feels from the inside.

  2. “”A feeling of inadequacy compared to your peers and a constant anxiety at being exposed as a fraud “”

    Feeling of inadequacy is OK. Pretending you have no inadequacies is weakness.

          1. What wonderful way to address your userbase Brian. At the very least i suppose I should thank you for illustrating that my snide remark was not at all unfounded.

      1. The key idea applies to drug abusers too, you can’t objectively judge the effects of a substance that changes the thing (your brain) that you use to judge the effects of that drug, but people immersed in that subculture will try to tell you otherwise when the fact that they are disabled is obvious to the unaffected, the abuser just cannot see it. A lot of mental illness is like that.

        1. I disagree with your premise; that drug users are inherently drug abusers.

          I was recently diagnosed with adult ADHD (likely from young age, but parents refused to get me treated). Going on the Adderall – amphetamine salts – made me very wary. How does it affect my cognition? Will it slow me down? What do I gain and what do I lose?

          Instead of reading the back of the box or some paper that applies to x% of the population, all that matters is me. How does it affect “Me”? Turns out, I can actually analyse that. I can write down my body feelings. I can record my speed doing routine tasks. I can record speed of reading and comprehension (which is what the drug purports to assist with). With enough personal data, I can start making inferences if it’s helping me or not. Since I also control the dosage, I can modify that as well.

          I’ve done similar with other substances, where due to bad gov’t regulation and banning, have made studies to be illegal (until recently). Yes, I’ve used all sorts of things. Yet at the end of the day, I will overcome any physical dependence I get with sheer will…. But yet, that must be an “abuser”, no ?

      2. Beat me to it. :) D-K on the overconfident incompetent end tends to be much worse. Those people can be deadly dangerous, and even when people are literally dying from their stupidity they are incapable of believing that it’s in any way their fault.

      3. I once emailed David Dunning, and he replied! Geek-moment of my life! Made my mate, an amateur sociologist (and student of same) very jealous. D-K effect seems to explain about 90% of what’s up with the world.

        The Raelians, a very dodgy, transparently fake UFO cult, have an idea where voting should be linked to IQ. Besides being somewhat fascist and dystopian, just because someone’s clever doesn’t mean they’re not evil, or are moral, or have the best ideas for the world.

        But then there’s this latest US Presidential Election, and I found myself wondering if I should give them a call…

    1. Yes, but isn’t doubt the foundation and the essence of wisdom? “Certain wise” is an oxymoron anywhere out of realms of legends and fiction. The world is not problem free, but we can’t push bettering it too far or too fast.

      Besides, determined fools have their place too. They put wisdom to test and open doors for serendipity. Their experience (negative as well as positive) are the source of most wisdom. Short of serious mental illness, or premature death, wisdom will have the final word in each bold fool’s life.

      Hacking consists of both boldness and humility, usually in alternating phases.

    1. Yeah there is a difference between people who genuinely feel this effect, and would not jump on the ‘victim’ bandwagon, and the crowd who immediately shout ‘yes that’s me!’ who are indeed sooner to be affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect than any imposter syndrome.

  3. I don’t have time to watch the video, but sounds like this is all about the “What I think I do” memes.

    What my parents think I do: Picture of a guy taking an old phone apart
    What society thinks I do: Picture of a drone firing a missile at innocent people
    What my boss thinks I do: Picture of a guy with a laptop computer at Starbucks
    What I think I do: Picture of the Matrix as seen by Neo
    What I really do: Picture of the Google home page.

  4. Not to be annoying, but you brain isn’t meat, meat is muscle and fat. And I say that because a percentage of people will be distracted from the message of you say ‘your brain is just meat’ during a talk.

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