Impostor Syndrome

standing woman hiding face with both hands

Impostor Syndrome is something I live with every day. I have spent 20 years working with ACA students, first in the professional body they hope to qualify with, and then as part of the tuition company I co-founded to help them pass the final exam. I have extensive experience of the Case Study exam they are about to sit.

But I am not an accountant.

And I have zero teaching qualifications.

Admitting this, on the rare occasion I am asked, makes me feel sick to my stomach. My experience is all on the operations side – I know how things work. I know how to run a marking school or a tuition programme, but from experience. Is that as real as a qualification?

It was this fear of being unproven that led me to starting my MA in Online and Distance Education with the Open University in 2019. A new world opened up to me, showing me there was plenty that I knew, and plenty that I did not. It also showed me just how common impostor syndrome is.

In a project group made up of university lecturers, senior administrators and a firefighting control room supervisor, none of us felt qualified to be project leader. Obviously we were all qualified. I grabbed my courage and volunteered, citing my part-time job as the reason because I had more time than others to dedicate to the project. I also shared the story below, from the writing God Neil Gaiman:

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

Neil Gaiman

We all loved this story, and I still think about it when I feel less than a grown-up. If we’re all impostors, does it matter?

Published by sarahjalcock

PhD researcher at the Open University with a focus on Learning Analytics, Learning Analytics Dashboards, feedback and Self Regulated Learning. Follow me on Twitter @SarahAlcock19. Author text is licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

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