The Curse of knowledge: The thing about learning something is that you can never un-learn something or un-know something. So once you know or understand something, it becomes part of you in a way that makes that knowledge seem obvious to you. When something feels obvious then we feel like everyone would know it easily and that there is nothing special about knowing the things we know.
This is the beginning of the impostor syndrome. We let the things that we don't know bully the things we do know. Since impostor syndrome is an abstraction of thought and emotion, we let it grow deep into our minds and allow it to become a symbol of intimidation in out lives. It gains power over our current knowledge and forever makes us feel like we really don't know anything and that affects the value we see in ourselves.
One important distinction I'd like to make is that although we suffer from this act of intimidation, the target is not really us but what we know. So, imagine that our knowledge is a kid in high school. It likes to grow in its own unique way and discover the world in a way that others don't really understand. Now imagine the bully: a collection of things we don't know. It is an imaginary construct of what we think we don't know, designed to beat up what we do know and steal its lunch money. Every time we let that happen, the impostor syndrome grows. The good news about my metaphor is that you are a spectator, not the victim. You are not that kid being bullied which means you can do something about it. Feel empowered my friend, because you have the power to protect your knowledge.
Protecting what you know from what you don't know is the key to beat the impostor syndrome.
The next question is, how do you protect your knowledge?
You start by acknowledging that what you know is important and valuable in your life. You have to find value in what you know and appreciate it. The reason what you know is valuable is not because you know something others don't (although that is probably true), but because you have lived life in a unique way that has allowed you to gain that knowledge.
If you care about what you know, you would not let it get hurt, right? But how do you know when the bully is going to come? The answer is: every time your knowledge is questioned. This can happen at work or at school whenever you confront someone who knows things you don't know. This starts to make you feel alienated and alone.
Whenever your knowledge is questioned, there is a choice you can make. You can choose to be ok with not knowing the answer, or you can change what you know. Both ways work. Let's start by talking about the first.
You can choose to be at peace with the fact that you will never know everything
No one in this world knows everything. Which means that you can use that to turn the dark shadow of what you don't know into light. The light that helps you realize that when you look into the unknown, the unknown is looking at you the exact same way.
Neil Gaiman, writer and film maker, sums it up in this story:
Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
You can choose to make a change
On situations where the confrontation of the unknown becomes pretty obvious you can then choose to absorb the thing that is intimidating you. In other words, you can choose to learn that which you don't know in order to make what you do know stronger. That way that small kid will eventually grow up, and never be bullied again.
I hope this has helped you cope a little bit with impostor syndrome, and that you can now see that you do have power in this situation. You are not helpless 😉
Talk to me about this 🦤