A woman from my town I haven’t crossed paths with in years showed up on my LinkedIn profile this past week. Usually when that happens, the person needs contacts, of which I have quite a few. I typically send a greeting email with an offer to help if needed.
Her response, let’s say, was shockingly less than friendly. But I see it as a real gift. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Here was her response to my greeting and offer to help (copy and pasted from LinkedIn):
“I must admit I look on your page occasionally trying to figure out what kind of work you do. At times, I just don’t understand how you comment on the business world when you don’t work in it.”
Zing! This woman thinks I don’t work, and she thinks that people who don’t work shouldn’t write articles about workplace issues.
I was caught a little off-guard, because before this I was trying to make polite small talk, which went unnoticed. I said I understood her confusion, because recently I emptied out my LinkedIn profile (too many recruiters), we’re in different industries, I work from home, etc etc. I then asked her, “Why the hostility?”
“I certainly don’t mean hostility toward you but I must admit I have read many of your articles about workplace matters. I wonder what makes you feel qualified to express your ideas and opinions. You don’t work. You don’t have a boss. You don’t meet deadlines or try for promotions. You don’t balance working, managing a home and caring for your children yet you convey to your readers that you do. I agree there is an art to it and it’s nice for those involved to share ideas and lend support. I’m sorry, I just feel you do [sic] qualify.” (She corrected this to “don’t”).
Here’s the key line: “I wonder what makes you feel qualified to express your ideas and opinions.” I seem to recall my mother saying this same exact thing to me when I was 6!
Wow, though, right? This is one of those times where it’s obvious the speaker is way out in left field. Because even if we assume she’s correct in her assumptions that I’m an idle rich woman with no work experience or cares in the world, where is it written that a grown woman isn’t qualified to express ideas or opinions? Plus, if one doesn’t see a thought leader as legitimate, then one usually moves on to sources they trust. Something else must be going on here.
We could analyze and make guesses on this woman’s motivation behind her statements but at the end of the day, none of what she said applies to me. Why not? Because I know it doesn’t. Heck. A simple Google search would demonstrate it doesn’t. But that isn’t the point.
The real point is this: Resistance comes in many forms, and being accused of being an impostor is one of the strongest delivery methods of resistance. Very few of us are gifted with such a straight-forward example of resistance. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to remind us all to watch out for Impostor Syndrome, that fear of being “found out” as a poser. Now you can see what it is, in a real-life example, to be called an Impostor.
See? That’s the worst it gets! Am I dead? No. Am I aching to explain myself to this person? No. Do I even think it applies to me? No!
I want you to take this example of a real-life Impostor Accusation on as your own. Pretend this woman said it to you. How will you respond? How will your heart feel? Is you soul sucked away? Are you enraged? Do you vow revenge? Or do you choose to see it as a moment of struggle for someone else? Perhaps this woman meant to hurt me. But it takes two to make hurt, doesn’t it? It takes two to make an Imposter. Don’t give in your half.
Remember these things about Impostor Syndrome:
What people say/do has nothing to do with you. Let me repeat:
It has nothing to do with you.
I know this is a tough one to understand. You decide what is relevant to you. This woman is feeling something totally unrelated to my credentials. Perhaps it has to do with me personally, but more likely, it has to do with her own self. I don’t know what her issue is, nor do I hazard a guess. But I have my own measures of legitimacy and I’m more than qualified to write articles about workplace issues on Linkedin. 🙂 And frankly, she doesn’t affect my life at all, so there’s nothing I need to do to address her delusions.
This is the most important thing to remember about Impostor Syndrome:
Let Resistance come from the outside.
When it comes, learn from it or let it bounce off you. NEVER deliver resistance to yourself. “Impostor Syndrome” is a devil that is waiting to plant seeds of doubt. Don’t let it in your heart. Never tell yourself you can’t. Never tell yourself you aren’t “allowed.” You can. And you are.
Want to learn more in-depth about Impostor Syndrome and how it applies to you?
Have a look at the slides and video of a couple of brilliant millennials I know. Briana Morgan and Amanda Clark are two professionals, quite marginalized by their youth and gender, who have some deep insights and wisdom to share about Impostor Syndrome.
Mask photo by ven y siente… on Flickr