Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Krueger Affect: an epic duel

Junior year of high school I decided to join the knowledge bowl team. After a few practices, our coach announced I’d made the varsity team. I didn’t understand. I hadn’t done very well during practice. I was so convinced of my inferior skills that I tried to convince my coach to take me off varsity. He refused. That year our team made it to districts, and the year after we won second in state.

In retrospect, at that point I should have realized I’m prone to imposter syndrome, or the persistent feeling that I’m not good enough and that I’m about to be exposed as a fraud. Unfortunately, despite early evidence that I persistently underestimate myself, it’s a lesson I still continue to re-learn.

Image description: picture of the ocean through blades of wild grass.

By the time I started writing, I’d realized I’m prone to imposter syndrome. As such, when I started this blog, I told myself I wasn’t going to apologize and qualify. I was going to state my opinion and move on to the next post.

But then, this summer I started pitching a novel to prospective literary agents. If you have a website it’s customary to include the URL in your pitch. This caused me to look at my website with new eyes. How would someone with years of experience in the industry see my blog?

Suddenly, I’d written the worst blog in the history of the internet. The content was all over the place. My writing was unfocused. My early posts so clearly fell victim to the Dunning-Krueger effect that I developed permanent cringe face.

Then I began to wonder if it was possible the process of submitting a novel to agents might be causing a new round of imposter syndrome? Yes, absolutely. But looking back at my earlier posts, it also seemed clear I’d fallen victim to the Dunning-Krueger effect.

Finally I realized the ugly truth: imposter syndrome and the Dunning-Krueger effect can co-exist. Sigh. Why is personal growth always hard?

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m sharing these squishy bits of my emotions. Why put this insecurity on display? Because I’m not alone. I know this anecdotally because I live in the world and talk to people. I know this scientifically. Both the Dunning-Krueger effect and imposter syndrome are real, and they matter. They matter in our personal lives and in larger professional, societal, and cultural spaces. However, in my experience, we don’t talk about them, which makes sense. It’s hard to admit you’re wrong. But it’s also hard to defeat a silent foe. Thus, I’m talking about them. I’m sharing with you that I’m trying to find a balance. I know I’ll fail sometimes– that’s the nature of being human. I’m going to keep trying to do better. As I said before, personal growth is hard, but it’s important. Keep fighting the good fight, friends.

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