They say that money can’t buy happiness, but can it buy validation?
A case study on how I tried to buy my way out of impostor syndrome
So what is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome was first studied and came into the popular lexicon when Dr. P. Clance and Dr. S. Imes published their findings based upon their research on high-achieving women in 1978.
Basically, it boils down to this: despite having a good education and a respectable job, you feel like you are a fraud, a fake, an impostor. On the outside, you might look calm, cool and collected, but if others only knew what a hot mess you really were!
It’s the little voice inside your head that says “I lucked out” or “I was just in the right place at the right time”. Worse yet, you might be thinking “gosh, I don’t belong here – people will find out I’m a complete fraud”
Despite it being called a “syndrome”, it’s not really considered a malady. It is not a sickness or illness or psychological condition.
It’s more a tendency. Like a cognitive bias. And it is very common. It is estimated that approximately 70% of the population will have a bout of this sometime in their lives. Though it is more commonly it is expressed by women, men suffer from it too.
What are Impostor Syndrome thoughts?
My own history is rife with impostor syndrome. It started once I got into university.
Everyone seemed to be catching on to the concepts faster than me. Others appeared to be sailing through assignments and midterms, while I was plodding along. I was burning the midnight oil night after night to complete simple assignments. After the first couple of months, I started to feel like I didn’t deserve to be there and that I wasn’t smart enough to make it through the program.
It was the same once I started my career and started advancing. I lived in constant fear that I’d be found out a fraud. If I made a mistake on a report, I was convinced that I’d be fired. I was terrified of going to meetings; what if they asked me a question I couldn’t answer? Did I even belong in those meetings? Were people thinking “who invited her?”
These doubts are perfectly natural. But it starts to wreak havoc if we try to buy our way out.
How We Spend Out of Impostor Syndrome
It doesn’t have to be buying fancy cars or luxury bags. It could be signing up for course after course. I have mentioned elsewhere on this site that I have 2 professional designations. If I were really honest with myself, the second one was not necessary. I spent thousands on registration, tuition, textbooks, testing fees. Not to mention all the hours I spent at the library forcing more formulas and graphs into my brain.
All this because I felt I had to prove (once again) that I deserved my position. It seems I’m not alone.
Earlier in the year, I read this article about how a fashion editor became a shopping addict. She racks up a pile of consumer debt in hopes that the next purchase would satisfy her desire to be “seen as important and that [sic] belonged to the ‘fashion club’”.
Despite earning the title, she felt like a fake. She felt she lucked out.
Impostor syndrome and that feeling of “lucking out” doesn’t only strike us in our careers, but in our relationships too.
Another woman shared how she felt she “lucked out” in having a dream boyfriend. This feeling of not being good enough for her boyfriend and his family led her to borrow on credit cards to buy coordinating outfits and fancy kitchen appliances to play the role of the perfect girlfriend.
How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome Spending
There are many articles that offer strategies for overcoming the syndrome like this or this. I recommend reading them to get a better understanding of the many nuances of the syndrome. I know I identified with more than one.
Like other cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias or recency bias, they never truly go away. It’s just how the brain is wired. Because of this, I don’t believe overcoming means eliminating, but managing these biases.
The first step to managing any condition is awareness. So first we must be willing to observe ourselves to see if we might be buying something because of a psychological need.
Even if we are aware of it and we know we are spending money based on our feelings of being a fraud, stopping ourselves is easier said than done.
Use it to your advantage
Again, since biases never truly go away, I don’t fight them. I turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Since I doubt myself and believe others, I’ll adopt their viewpoints.
- At University, I told myself a school like this with over 100 years of tradition surely must know what they were doing. If they accepted me, they must have experience in admitting students with my skillset.
- At work, I told myself, so-and-so invited me to this meeting and they are really smart. They know what they are doing, so there must be a reason I’m here, even if it is not clear to me right now.
- For the fashion editor, considering the intense competition for that role, the magazine wouldn’t risk hiring someone who didn’t belong in the “fashion club”
- For the girlfriend, if her boyfriend really was perfect, he must be smart also. And she respects his judgment. So just trust that he knows what he’s doing.
I am not recommending we just always defer our judgment for others’. The person on the other side is not always right. But for people like me who feels like a fraud, we have to engage in logic and we have to give our respect to the other person.
I need to accept and respect my university admissions officer’s expertise. The Fashion editor can respect her employer’s authority on style and how they have entrusted her with their direction. The girlfriend respects her boyfriend to know that she is the person he wishes to be with.
Finally, we must practice respecting our own accomplishments, even if that little voice isn’t happy about it.
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Originally published in sundaybrunchcafe.com