Imposter Syndrome

By | December 12, 2016

I want to know which wines I should buy that are within my budget but also to my taste.

That was my starting point just over ten years ago. I was fed up buying wines that I didn’t enjoy – even when I spent twice the money I’d usually pay (i.e. about £10). One course led to another and, before I knew it, I was being flown around the world to visit winemakers and talk at conferences. It was a great hobby. But I often felt a complete fake. I was travelling with real wine people: it wasn’t uncommon for me to be at a wine tasting alongside experts and Masters of Wine who wrote for The Times, were the wine buyer for Waitrose or had written multiple best-selling books. Someone was going to find me out sooner or later.

Welcome to the world of Imposter Syndrome, something that coaches are very familiar with. The concept, coined by two clinical psychologists (Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes) in 1978, refers to highly successful people who are unable to accept their success and achievements. Such people put their success down to luck, a mistake, or misunderstanding of their ability – despite clear evidence that they have what it takes. As Watts and Morgan describe in The Coach’s Casebook , “Many people with imposter syndrome minimise their achievements and maximise their deficiencies. They often put their achievements down to factors outside their control … simply because they struggle to internalise their achievements.”

The beauty about wine is that, however good you are, you can never know everything; each year, vineyards makes a wine that is different from the previous years. Sure, you can specialise in a specific region, but you can’t become a specialist on everything. I have my niche – the interplay between the wine industry and technology – and have a good general knowledge built up over time (although I focus on reds, especially Pinot Noir). I don’t profess to be an expert and I know that my learning will never end. And I’m happy to admit that.

This approach works in my work life too. I have a good general knowledge that has been picked up through experience over the years, and I specialise in certain areas (such as forecasting and estimation). But I am happy to admit that I don’t know everything and that I never will.

And I accept that Imposter Syndrome will sometimes strike. What I find useful is to record when this happens so that I will recognise the triggers next time and can minimise its effect. A recent engagement saw me updating a Lord of the Realm on how his money had been spent. I’ve dealt with senior people before (although, granted, never someone with such a grand title) and I know how Imposter Syndrome works with me in this situation: “[Insert name] is a highly respected expert and influential and powerful person so who am I to advise them?”. But I’ve recorded my experience and have my antidote: “I am also an expert in my field and have a wealth of experience. They hired me to help them and I have done the best that I can with the situation”.

Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? How do you address it?



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2 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome

  1. Darren

    I really understand what you mean – in a previous life before I got into technology, I was a caseworker in the criminal justice system. I often found myself having to deal with highly-experienced and knowledgeable barristers and QCs; but one day it occurred to me that I was paying their bills and at the early stages I knew more about the case than they did. Without me, they couldn’t have implemented their instructions.

    On a more prosaic level, I compete in powerlifting and often deny (if that’s the right word) my successes, until one day recently I found out I was in the top 10 in the UK for my specialist lift. Time to stop being an imposter!

    1. David Lowe Post author

      Thanks for your story Darren. Congratulations on the powerlifting feat! Get a photo of yourself powerlifting and stick a “top 10” sticker on it … then put it up on your wall. It’s important to remind ourselves of how much we’ve achieved.


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