Confessions from an Impostor

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You know what impostor syndrome is, right!? Most all of us have felt that nagging feeling that we're faking it and that we're sure to be found out by all the experts around us at any moment.

But before you go assuming this talk is the same ol' song and dance full of platitudes that encourage you to ignore that syndrome, let me clue you in on a little secret: there's no experts around you. Impostorism is not a syndrome at all, it's a pragmatic mindset and perspective, one we should all embrace and be proud of. In fact, it's vital to us getting our jobs done.

Kyle Simpson
Kyle Simpson
46 min
16 Jun, 2022

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Video Summary and Transcription

The Talk discusses imposter syndrome and reframes it as being a professional imposter. It emphasizes the importance of sharing and starting, embracing imposterism, and building inclusively for the web. The speaker shares personal experiences of being an imposter in various technical disciplines and highlights the significance of accessibility. The Talk concludes with the idea of building a collective RPG game to remove excuses for not making things accessible.

Available in Español

1. Introduction to Imposter Syndrome

Short description:

Let's get started. Thank you for having me. I'm thrilled to be back in front of people after two and a half years of looking at a Zoom camera. Today, I'm going to talk about imposter syndrome and reframe it as a concept of being a professional imposter. Imposter syndrome is a psychological occurrence that presents us with doubts about our skills. It tricks us into believing that everyone else is an expert except for us. I want to clarify that I'm not a doctor or psychologist, and I can't fully understand the lived experience of those who experience imposter syndrome more severely. But I have personally experienced it and believe there is a positive way to embrace the identity of imposterism.

Let's get started. Let's get started. Let's get started. Thank you very much for having me. I am so thrilled to be back here, not the least of which because Amsterdam is definitely the most beautiful city in all of Europe. I've been here many times and it gets more beautiful every time I come. I'm thankful to be back in front of people after two and a half years of looking at a Zoom camera. I don't know if you feel that way, but I'm thrilled to be here. Thank you for coming out.

A quick PSA. I no longer use the Getify name on Twitter. I'm not on Twitter any more. People are constantly tweeting and trying to follow that account. It's just a dead account. I'm known as Getify everywhere else, but not on Twitter. All right. I'm going to talk to you today about imposter syndrome. Yes. But I'm going to try to reframe this discussion. And immediately when you think about imposter, you may be wondering, does he play the game Among Us? But no, that's just my kids that play that game. I'm going to talk to you about being an imposter and I'm going to try to reframe this. Because we can see from the definition a person who practices deception that this is a negative thing. So, automatically we assume that this is a negative thing if you are an imposter, you are trying to deceive people. There's a mal-intent involved. You're trying to deceive the people around you into believing something that's not true. And that's the assumption that we make. And I'm going to try to reframe from being an imposter, like around imposter syndrome. I'm going to try to reframe this to a concept that I'm calling a professional imposter. And I want to say right off the bat that there is definitely a negative way to go about this. This is Frank Abagnale, the Catch Me If You Can, if you've seen that movie or read that book. He made a living literally being an imposter and pretending to be somebody that he was not. And I'm not talking about that at all. But I do think there is a positive way for us to go about embracing the identity of imposterism. So, let's look at this imposter syndrome and compare it to the negativity that surrounds imposterism as we have come to know it. It's a psychological occurrence, so it's something that's happening in our brain. And it's very real but it presents us with these doubts and we fear that others are going to find out that our skills are not sufficient. In other words, we think everyone around us is an expert except for us. And I have a little secret for you. There's no experts anywhere. I'm not an expert. You're not an expert. There's no experts, okay? We're all just at various different stages of figuring this out. But it is a very real thing that our brain tries to trick us into believing. So I don't want you to hear any of what I have to say today as diminishing this very real lived experience. I have some disclaimers for you. First of all, I'm not at all a doctor or a psychologist. And I'm not in any way, shape, or form qualified to speak to you about the actual mental problems that come from this, right? And don't hear me to be trying to refute anything that very smart doctors and psychologists have said on the topic. Secondly, I also want to recognize that there are many people, and I see many people out here in this crowd, that are from a people group where you experience this much more disproportionately severely than I would. I definitely have experienced and presently experience imposter syndrome. And as much as I would like to empathize with those of you that are in these different people groups, maybe underrepresented people groups, I can't fully understand that lived experience.

2. Reframing Imposter Syndrome

Short description:

I found tons of fantastic information about imposter syndrome and almost doubted if I should even do this talk. But let me point out one particular resource by Louise Curtis, who identifies the idea of concert impostor syndrome. She relates it to the experiences we have in work and turns it into a positive. Another interesting word that caught my attention is 'empiric', which refers to someone who relies solely on practical experience. It unblocks us from feeling like we have to be experts before sharing our work. So, if you're waiting to be an expert before showing your work, you've waited too long. The journey is what's most important.

And I don't mean to invalidate any of the real problems that you have perhaps dealt with on the topic. Lastly, I also want to say that in the research for this talk, I found that there was tons of fantastic information about imposter syndrome. And I literally started to think, well, maybe I don't even need to say anything about this because there's so much great stuff out there. There's so many fantastic talks and blog posts that have been written, and I was impressed by the research so much that I literally started to doubt maybe I shouldn't just even do the talk. Because you might be wondering, well, you know, or what does he have to say? So, I want to point out one particular resource. This is among many that are out there. One particular resource is a blog post by Louise Curtis, and she identifies this idea called concert impostor syndrome. It's a great metaphor. Like, you're at a concert with your favorite band and you're singing along to the lyrics, and then all of a sudden, you notice the person to the left or right of you knows more of the lyrics than you do, and all of a sudden, you feel like you're not a good enough fan. And she expertly relates that to the experiences that we have in work. And I'm not doing at all justice to it. Read it. Go watch the attached TED talk as well. I strongly recommend that you take it. But I wanted to pull out a couple of quotes here, because she turns this into such a positive at the end. When I feel impostor syndrome start to bite, I know this means I'm passionate about something, that I'm surrounded by the right people to help me improve. I love that mindset. If you're feeling like an imposter, you're probably in the best possible position to learn and grow. All you need to do is embrace the experience. And again, after reading this, I thought maybe I don't have much else to say on the topic other than to point you to that. But I do want to take a different direction. I want to try to add a little bit to our discussion. So I want to take what we traditionally think of as a negative and try to see if we can spin this back into a positive. So I want to go back to this notion of impostor, and we're going to pull out our thesaurus and look at a few words that are synonyms of impostor. In fact, I'm going to weed out all of those ones that are specifically about deceiving people that have the malintent, that are about trying to create negative for other people. Throw all of those out and see if there's anything positive left over. And a few of these jumped out at me. Specifically actor and imitator. When we think about an actor or an imitator, we think about that in a positive sense, generally. We think of that as entertaining and useful. But it's this third one that I want to call attention to. Empiric. That's a word many of you probably don't know specifically, but you'll instantly recognize it as the root of the word empirical. It's a very old and arcane word. And I want to highlight what an empiric is. A person who relies solely on practical experience rather than on scientific principles. Again, as with most things I'm saying here, there is a positive and a negative to this. If you are an empiric who uses your own observations and when facts are presented that you don't believe in or you don't agree with, you just completely ignore those and you stay stuck in your own mindset for your entire life or your entire career, that's certainly not the right way to go. But there's another way of thinking about this, because I think we can think about an empiric, someone who's relying on this practical experience, as unblocking us from feeling like we have to become an expert before we can share what we are doing with others. I hear this a lot. I get somebody will come up to me and I've even heard it already today. I'm working on this thing and they fill in the blank, it's a project, it's a talk, it's something, but they said, but it's not quite good enough to show others yet. I don't know if any of you would identify with that, but I certainly have identified with those feelings like, Oh, I'm not sure if I'm ready to show this off to the world yet. And I want to give you the same advice that I give everyone when they asked me this question, this is the advice I give them. If you wait until you're a quote expert, you waited too long. Why do I say that? It's because it is the journey that is most important. Think about it. If I had stood up here just a moment ago and I said, here's why you should listen to me. And I'd listed off all of my credentials and all of my accolades and all of the books that I've sold and all of the great things that I've been privileged. So beyond what I deserve privilege to achieve in my career.

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