We Are All Imposters

Saghir Bashir (www.ilustat.com)

I often have flashbacks to a conversation, as a graduate student, with an internationally renowned award winning statistician. We had been discussing some issue for which I was seeking advice. It was a fruitful conversation but then they finished with something along the lines of “Saghir, I realise that I don’t know anything about statistics.” I was stunned. It hit me so hard that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks, in fact for years. For months I had been struggling with a ground breaking publication by the said statistician for which they had been widely recognised. I asked myself if somebody like that doesn’t know anything what chance do I have. It was one of my first experiences of the “imposter syndrome”.

More than ten years later I found myself analysing some data with various challenges. The more I looked the more I saw and everything was going in different directions. I was struggling to get to grips with the magnitude and complexity of it all. At some point I stopped and felt that I didn’t know anything. Immediately my mind flashed back to the conversation and I smiled as I finally understood it. From that moment onwards something changed. I was free and relieved. I was no longer trying to swim in an ocean that continuously pushed me under with its waves.

Now I happily embrace my imposter experiences with a passion for different reasons.

  • First and foremost is that the other extreme would be one of arrogance where I would foolishly believe I knew it all. Bad!

  • It helps me identify gaps in my knowledge, experience and skills which feeds my desire to continue learning and developing.

  • It gives me the adrenaline to do my best much like the nervousness before a presentation.

  • I am forced to focus on what I really need to know given my constraints.

  • I have the power and confidence to consult others without fear and regardless of their rank or position.

  • It helps in connecting the dots betweens areas that I feel I know and those that I don’t know.

  • It is a reminder of all of my achievements and milestones, however small they may seem, that allow me to feel like an imposter.

  • It empowers me to answer questions with “I don’t know”.

  • It lets me switch off from my work when I am living my life.

  • It keeps me human.

The renowned statistician had in some sense revealed that they were an “imposter”. It was a passive remark without any sense of defeatism or failure. It was matter of fact. We are all imposters. Let’s enjoy it!