Apparently certain successful women – although quite what anyone is doing describing Michelle Obama as such is unknown – suffer from imposter syndome:
In this context Ardern has spoken – again – about her self-doubt. She said she suffers – still, after three years in office – from impostor syndrome, a lack of confidence in her professional ability. Not, she insists, because she’s a woman. “However, I have on many occasions thought, ‘I cannot do that because it’s me’. Impostor syndrome is real.” With this she becomes the most eminent woman associated with impostor syndrome since Michelle Obama told British schoolgirls: ”It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
That these doubts should be problematic has been pretty much an axiom in the endless discussions since imposter syndrome was first identified in 1978 – around the time women were really starting to infuriate male-dominated professions. No parallel term has, for some reason, caught on for the contrasting superpower: a pattern of idle over-confidence and assumptions about merited success that has rarely been more visible than throughout Brexit, starting with that paragon of baffling self-esteem David Cameron.
Having actually met David Cameron before he was famous I agree. There was an entirely unfathomable self-belief there. What some might call an arrogance in it.
However, this idea that imposter syndrome is something that only affects women, or is specific in any manner. I regard it as merely psychologically healthy.
OK, so I’ve not stormed the heights of our society. In business I’ve been a very large fish in the tiniest of ponds, that shadowy international scandium oligopoly. As a freelance I scramble for commissions – but I’ve had columns in The Times. And when those peaks, however Monro they are rather than Everest, do occur there’s always that voice at the back of the head going “What, who, me?” This is not just a side effect of having older sisters.
Which is exactly what that imposter syndrome is. This personal part of it is not simply because I am fully in touch with my feminine side. It’s because I’m a rational adult. It’s a complicated world out there and I know that I understand there merest fraction of it. There are 7 billion others out there with their own skills, talents and failures. Mine aren’t going to map over theirs and nor am I going to be at the forefront on everything or even anything. Other than the tautology of being the best at being Tim Worstall (and there is actually another one of the same name out there and who knows, he might be better at it) I’m not going to be the best at anything.
Of course, I don’t need to be the best at anything, as David Ricardo pointed out at book length I need only comparative advantage to thrive, not absolute.
This is just the human condition, it’s nothing to do with gender – or even sex.
Given this reality those who think they are good at many things, are righteously at the head of the pack, are psychologically deluded. Sure, some really are the best at specific things. George Best sure could play football but his liver had complaints about other aspects of his life. We even have a name for this:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from people’s inability to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their level of competence.
All those who do not suffer from imposter syndrome are, I insist, suffering from Dunning Kruger. This not being an advance in mental health.