• Sara Murdock

Ever feel like you're not perfect? There’s a syndrome for that

“I have imposter syndrome” is not only a common phrase but a sort of popular one, too. Why don’t I care for it? In short, it blames you for feeling terrible in response to unhealthy cultural norms, such as workaholism, perfectionism, and achievement dysmorphia.

What if there wasn’t anything wrong with you at all? What if instead of “having” a syndrome you were “normal” for feeling lousy because of unhealthy and unsound expectations?

In some ways, this is just semantics. “Syndrome” is a pretty cool-sounding word. I find it fun to say. Plus, it sounds like a cartoon supervillain or part of a Pinky and the Brain plot. But it’s still a way to pathologize a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation:

Step A >> Think I should be perfect (according to whose standards?)

Step B >> Feel crappy about not being perfect

Step C >> Think that I have a problem (aka imposter syndrome) for feeling not perfect

At what point does the human win? The equation I see here blames people for internalized inadequacy based on inhuman expectations.

And from a business perspective, it’s expensive to have a fearful employee base that spends considerable energy feeling crappy. Wouldn’t you rather have a team of self-assured, confident, eager badasses? The culture you build — the types of feedback and forms of communication — are integral to whether your team experiences a sense of worthiness and “fit.”

It simply doesn’t feel good to have unrealistic expectations placed on you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to that. I don’t assume I’m good at everything — Almost the opposite. I assume I never know what I’m doing and that we’re all learning all the time. I constantly assume I’m messing up, not in a self-deprecating way, but in a hunger-inducing, growth-mindset way. And I find that delicious.

We can certainly debate what other phrasing is actually helpful. And if you identify with “imposter syndrome” as a phrase, please keep on using it. I, for one, like “focused vulnerability” where I position myself as an open book, ready to connect around anything important, including — and especially — the myriad things I’m pretty terrible at.

I’m not Neo, I don’t know Kung Fu, and while I relish the great feedback I receive, I don’t ultimately link my inherent human value on perfection.

Frankly, if you’re better than I am at every single thing I’m invested in being good at… well, lucky me! I subscribe to the “surround yourself with people smarter than you” ethos. What a way to learn and grow.