Imposter Syndrome: fighting your gremlins

Earlier this month, I went to the V&A’s Undressed exhibition with a bunch of lovely people who are all fans of the lingerie brand Kiss Me Deadly. Since I was awarded my MA – which involved two years of research and academic writing about underwear, specifically bras – the brand’s head honcho Catherine has rather delightfully referred to me as “Lori, Master of Bras” and I received top billing on the Facebook event page for this trip. This was all very exciting, until a voice in my head said “what if someone asks you a question you can’t answer? Your research was quite narrow in scope… there’s lots in that exhibition that you know absolutely nothing about.”

Poster for an exhibition by the UAL Curation SocietyAt first I dismissed this as silly, because it wasn’t actually supposed to be an organised guided tour, but then I remembered all the times I’ve read a lingerie blog or chatted to a designer/maker and thought “these people know so much more than I ever will.” Cora Harrington has been writing about lingerie for eight years, and being an expert in it is her full-time job. Karolina Laskowska has a contour degree, a lingerie brand and is extremely knowledgeable about her sizeable collection of vintage pieces. Compared to people like that, what right do I have to call myself an expert? I started to worry that everyone was going to find out that I really don’t know very much at all.

Then I stopped for a minute, as I realised I recognised this voice in my head. These… gremlins. I remembered a TEDx talk on Imposter Syndrome given by Maryam Pasha, and also the session she ran on the topic at last year’s Irreverent Dance summer school, which I attended. The TEDx talk is online (and embedded below), so I re-watched it and recognised a lot of what Maryam mentions. One of her slides described the defining features of Imposter Syndrome as:

  • Feeling that other people have an inflated perception of your abilities
  • Fear that your true abilities will be found out
  • Persistent tendency to attribute success to external factors, such as luck

Well, I can definitely tick off the first two and am probably extremely guilty of the third on occasions too, but what can I do to fix this? For starters, I’m hoping that writing this blog post will help. Admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step, right? Next I should probably start listing all the things I do know. After all, I may not consider myself to be an underwear expert yet, but I do have a Master’s degree and my dissertation was on the bra so “Master of Bras” is a matter of fact. I think I should accept that there’s plenty that I don’t know, but this is actually quite exciting as it just means there’s more left to discover.

Main image via yevkusa‘s Flickr photostream. Second image of an event poster taken by lipsticklori.

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