Here's what I know about Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

I saw a couple of posts on Twitter about Imposter Syndrome and they really resonated with me as I felt particularly Imposter-like this week.




The posts were both from badass scientists, who in my opinion are far from Imposters. The thing is, Imposter Syndrome is irrational and indiscriminate, but I figured out how it manifests (while mucking out horses, which is when all the best thinking gets done).


Dreams - Imposter Syndrome thrives when you achieve your dreams.


Let’s first consider this quote that my dad used to say to me to inspire greatness in his little girl:


“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”

- Norman Vincent Peale


Based on that quote I set myself some ambitious dreams, thinking that if I didn’t achieve them, I’d at least get the next best thing. But Imposter Syndrome seems to find a way in even (especially) when you achieve your dreams.


Investment - Imposter Syndrome comes from uncertainty in investment.


In order to achieve your dreams, you need to invest (time, effort, money) and sometimes make sacrifices.


Looking at my dreams I know I will only achieve them if I invest. An investment of time and practice is clear-cut when it comes to climbing and yoga; without hours of practice I will never be able to do a handstand or climb a multi-pitch route. But the relationship of investment vs dream is sometimes blurred: How much money and time do I need to invest in order to have a horse? Who even decides how much investment is required to camera trap snow leopards or be offered a PhD position?


Living the actual dream and camera trapping snow leopards (© James Fleming)

Evidence - Imposter Syndrome ignores the evidence.


Evidence could come in the form of experience or formal qualifications, or it could just be the process of achieving previous, smaller dreams along the way.


In horse riding I have no formal qualifications, yet I am now working for an International Event Rider… “Hello Imposter Syndrome”. One way I intend to address this for the future is to gain some formal qualifications. They are not necessary, but if it gives me peace of mind that I know what I’m talking about then it’s worth it.


Imposter Syndrome in conservation, or any career path, is harder to tackle with qualifications alone. I have an MSc, a common prerequisite for a PhD, but Imposter Syndrome still found me. The biggest clincher here is experience, as conservation projects are not always subject specific and many projects are novel to either you or the world, so it’s hard to believe you have enough experience. Transferable skills and experience are transferable for a reason, there will always be new species to study using skills obtained from old species.


Horses don't care about qualifications

Expectation - Imposter Syndrome increases when you achieve greatness.


If you do all the right things at all the right times, Imposter Syndrome may still find you when you surpass your expectations and achieve a dream you never thought was realistically possible.


Self-doubt - Imposter Syndrome is fuelled by self-doubt.


Only you can say whether you achieved your dreams, and only you can know that you worked your butt off to get there and what sacrifices you made along the way. But you are also the only one who can take those achievements away.


No one can take away your achievements (apart from when they run out of 1st place rosettes)

The smartest, most hardworking people I know are filled with Imposter Syndrome. They suffer because they are working their damned hardest to achieve their dreams and are humble enough to see that greatness is not a given.


Maybe you feel like an Imposter because you’ve surpassed your own expectations to achieve dreams you didn’t think were possible, but you don’t believe you invested enough time in getting there and you doubt your capabilities. Let’s re-frame that and remember: You surpassed your own expectations and you achieved your dreams! The amount of effort you invested got you where you are!


You are not an Imposter.


You are not an Imposter unless you're a human pretending to be a dog

There are of course other contributing factors for Imposter Syndrome, I’ve just listed those that I relate to in the hope that I can reason with it. By considering and addressing these thing, I hope to reduce the grasp of Imposter Syndrome on my life.


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Photo Disclaimer: All photographs are property of Sophie May Watts or James Fleming unless otherwise stated.

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