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๐Ÿ“š Understanding Impostor Syndrome

by @Gnomeski

What is Impostor Syndrome (IS)? ๐Ÿค”

The context here is that in the brave new world of Web3 DAOs, everything is new. People frequently find themselves doing new things, in a new context, and sometimes with unclear expectations of how something should be. Added to this, most work is carried out asynchronously and remotely, with limited forms of communication. All of this can add up to potentially higher chances of IS rearing its head. ๐Ÿ

IS is a common syndrome consisting largely of false self perception and insecurity. IS is an issue with projections of Self not matching ability.


  • Ability is below that which we believe it should be, and we feel bad about this dissonance. Although we fear our incapability is transparent, we work to live up to our aspiration and hope no one notices the difference.. all the while suspecting that they do. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ


  • Our self perception is lower than our actual ability. Despite doing well at our tasks and receiving good feedback, we dismiss these acknowledgements as by-products of hard work (that anyone else could have done) or maybe as politeness, as encouragement to improve, or even a form of pity. We are, as a result, never satisfied and may suspect others are not being genuine with us.โœ‹

These projections can come from ourselves, our histories and upbringing or from the culture we currently find ourselves in. This insecurity typically manifests in an ongoing โ€˜cup half emptyโ€™ feeling of inadequacy and quiet desperation. This can cause anxiety and low self-esteem and/or over working.

We will explore it further below by looking at signs, beliefs, cultural influences, aggravating factors and possible solutions. โœ”๏ธ

Initial impressions of how it feels...

  • You feel like a fraud.
  • You worry people will, or already do, see through your โ€˜charadeโ€™ and realise you are tricking them. You do not belong where you are really.
  • Any signs of success or appreciation come from dumb luck, hard work anyone could do, or charity/pity on the part of others.
  • Others perceive you as being more competent than you are and it is just a matter of time till disappointment and resentment arise from this sorry situationโ€ฆ

Who is prone to IS? ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿฝโ€โ™€๏ธ

Me, them, anyone! First thought to be associated with perfectionists and women more than men, research on imposter syndrome has since debunked these myths.

All of us humans experience times of doubt. In DAOs, freedom and lack of structure can be greater, creating extra room for anxiety and neurosis. Increased room for interpretation and individual choice can also give rise to greater self doubt. This is a flip side of the opportunities such community structures provide for us. โ˜ฏ๏ธ

Wait, are you actually an Impostor? ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Unless your aims are to secretly extract value unfairly from a situation, while offering little in return (think thief or parasite), then the answer is simply NO, YOU ARE NOT AN IMPOSTOR!

Easy to say and yet, the feeling can persist. It is often deeply rooted in the mind as conditioningโ€” as the saying goes โ€œwhat we resist, persists.โ€ So let us look at how this can play out.

Here is a basic 10 minute test for Impostor Syndrome to maybe help get some idea.

Signs of IS ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โš•๏ธ

  • You attribute successes to forces outside your own control.
  • You criticise your own mistakes to the point of minute detail but are very sensitive to any outside criticism even if it is helpful.
  • You self deprecate frequently.
  • You often question whether you are capable.
  • You fear being discovered as ultimately โ€˜no goodโ€™.
  • You have trouble feeling that you belong.
  • You often compare your performance to that of others.
  • You see seeking support as incompetence and burdensome weakness.
  • You believe things should be perfect, and this can only be achieved by putting massive pressure on yourself. You must always focus on the negatives or risk becoming complacent. โ€œContentment is mediocrity.โ€
  • You feel unconsciously inadequate and thus compelled to push yourself more and more into over working. โ€œSee! I cannot be an impostor, just look at how hard I work.โ€
  • No matter how well you are doing, it can always be improved uponโ€ฆ nothing brings lasting satisfaction.
  • You believe you should โ€˜know stuffโ€™ naturally and already be able to do things excellently, that you should be innately gifted.
  • If you cannot sort something out by yourself, then you cannot count it as being a success of your own.
  • Not risking taking work on is better than being seen as a failure. โ€œIt must be perfect or not done at allโ€.

A few of the kinds of internal messages we might tell ourselves..

  • Validation through achievement is what I need to be accepted and loved. ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿฟ This can become like an addiction. Workaholism may result from spending too much time on a job, never feeling it is complete and maybe even making a loss as a result of freelancing or self-employment.
  • I do not fit the model of a person that is successful, I am destined to be a loser. ๐Ÿ˜ž In DAOs anyone can be of high value. Being white, male, comfy background and well educated, is no longer a measure of anything.. This is the beauty of these spaces, your value can increase, whoever you are. Minorities IRL may still carry some undermining conditioning and be more prone to these doubts, that they will always be held back. These doubts can then play out, sabotaging our self belief and fulfilling the neggy narrative in a vicious feedback loop of doom! DAO's typically operate both virtually and pseudonymously, so it's easy to contribute without other's possible biases playing out.
  • I should be better than this, I have no excuse. ๐Ÿ˜ณ If you are from a โ€˜successful demographicโ€™ you may feel greater pressure to know what you are doing and do it perfectlyโ€ฆ this may have been projected onto you by family, teachers etc

If this is the case it is no surprise you feel under too much pressure or never good enough..

What makes it worse? ๐Ÿค•

Certain situations can spark IS more so.

  • You have assumed a new role/undertaken an unfamiliar project recently (which often happens in DAO spaces).
  • Your online โ€˜Avatar Selfโ€™ projects your aspirations to others, rather than your current reality and the two do not match.
  • You have no belief in your ability to realistically assess your own abilities objectively, and it is hard for others to do so at a distance.
  • You have bouts of Social Anxiety.
  • Your expectations exceed your current abilities.
  • Worsened by competitive environments, feeling unsupported leads to fear of being a burden and a reluctance to be seen as vulnerable or struggling.

Cultural Influences ๐ŸŒ

Others may project onto us expectations or perceptions of us which are beyond where we currently are. We may accept these perceptions as a condition of belonging. This can be a collusive unconscious group dynamic enabling all participants to avoid honest and humble self acceptance that can actually cause systemic failures to occur due to the inaccuracy of this type of โ€˜group hallucinationโ€™. The event of systemic failures can make everyone feel like an impostor, which is highly uncomfortable and can begin a highly destructive blame game, eventual scapegoating and a return to the start of another cycle of denial, aspiration and quiet desperationโ€ฆ

Another factor would be if we were brought up with negative messages that we are not good enough etc


The Old World socio-economic demands and pressures to conquer through competitiveness and confidence can manifest as something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Watch this 4 minute TED Talk to see how this can play out in different ways. ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ

  1. People with little ability/knowledge in an area have an inability to acknowledge this lack (embarrassment, ignorance?) and bandage over the weakness with false positive, sometimes grossly inflated self perception. Realising part of you has been operating like this can cause IS to arise.
  2. People with moderate abilities/knowledge in an area are all too aware of just how much they do not know (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, to the self). This will be the majority of us, our awareness of our own current limitations are seen as embarrassing inadequacies and character flaws which mean we are really โ€˜no goodโ€™.
  3. Experts in an area suffer Solipsism, that is, a belief that everyone else understands something as well as they do. This can encourage negative expression in the first 2 types.

What to do about IS? ๐Ÿ’Š

  • Do not judge yourself for feeling like an Impostor, just notice the feelings and allow/welcome them, so you can learn more where they come from. ๐Ÿ‘‚
  • Share what you are feeling with someone you trust. ๐Ÿ’ž
  • Know that up to 70% of people are estimated to experience bouts of IS. ๐Ÿ“ˆ
  • Contemplate that people who do not experience IS are also not statistically any more successful than those that do and vice versa! ๐Ÿค”
  • Create or find a culture that is warm and nurtures self knowledge, acceptance, honesty, openness and learning. ๐Ÿ 
  • Learn to accept and ask for constructive criticism. ๐ŸŽ“
  • Developing skills and knowledge can help us realise where we formerly had something missing. This awareness itself can make us more accepting of the fact that we likely have more holes in our knowledge and abilities and this is OK and a normal part of learning and โ€˜being a work in progressโ€™. ๐Ÿ“š
  • If you are projecting an image that is ahead of your abilities, then dial it down to match where you actually are presently in your journey, get learning and levelling up. ๐ŸŽญ
  • If you suspect people who compliment your efforts or you downplay them frequently, then you may need to dial up your perception of your abilities and achievements. ๐Ÿ‘‘
  • If you feel comfortable sharing your feelings more widely, this may help others struggling with the same issue. The more people share the less power these kinds of alienating complexes can isolate us and make us miserable. ๐Ÿ“ข
  • Return here and read this again if you are suffering; eventually the message might sink in! ๐Ÿ”

The feelings of self sabotage and doubt of IS are isolating and while very common, if left unchecked they might, for some, be infectious to many different areas and relationships in your life. If they are serious and/or persistent, then Psychotherapy/Counselling is an excellent idea.

At the very least, reach out to someone you trust. Please be kind to yourself. ๐Ÿ˜‡