Many Journalists Held Back by Imposter Syndrome

In a recent article for The Atlantic, blogger and author of “The Up Side Of Down” Megan McArdle digs into imposter syndrome, an issue affecting many journalists. The article, titled “Why Writers Are The Worst Procrastinators,” was published February 12. Here is an excerpt:

This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable.

The term first appeared in a 1978 article by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance titled, “The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention,” published in the journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice. The article notes how many successful women had trouble believing in their intelligence and felt heavily criticized by others.

Unlike a mental disorder or personality trait, imposter syndrome is the reaction to not believing in whatever method you have taken to achieve success.

Erika Owens, program manager at Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, offered a prediction for 2014 to Nieman Journalism Lab that this year will be “the year to eradicate imposter syndrome.” Here is an excerpt:

As more people grapple with impostor syndrome publicly, it brings transparency to the process of how someone gets to be regarded as an expert. How even experts ask questions. How those experts often want to share what they know — not just with other experts, but with anyone interested in learning. Twitter is a great way to watch those conversations unfold. In 2014, we’ll all need to challenge ourselves to more publicly share and document not just how we deal with insecurity, but how we build our skills, networks, and confidence.


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