So here’s a very interesting thing that happened to me during my recent work trip to Berlin.
I bumped into a LOVELY woman who I worked with a few years ago. We were close buddies for a while until she moved away, and although we aren’t in touch very often, and don’t see each other much (she moved to New York and I am in Oxford), the minute we saw each other we jumped up and down and squealed and hugged and nattered away at each other as if she never left.
(Actually that’s not quite true – the minute we actually saw each other, the conference had already started, so we discreetly nodded to each other in a totally professional manner, and then in the first morning coffee break we dashed over to each other and squealed and hugged and jumped up and down etc).
We were busy catching up on what each other has been up to, family-wise, work-wise, life-wise, and a really funny thing happened.
She commented that I was the “cash expert” at the conference (which was mostly full of Water and Sanitation/WASH experts), and I laughed and said “Well I’m hardly an expert!”.
She said Don’t worry, I feel the same way about WASH (water and sanitation). She then explained that despite having worked as a Water and Sanitation advisor at a prominent UN agency in the New York headquarters for the last 5 years, she still sometimes feels like an imposter. She added that, in most meetings, she feels perfectly competent and able to do an excellent job, and more than capable of advising on water and sanitation issues.
But then she sees someone like me, who knew her before she worked in the WASH sector, and suddenly feels like a fraud, as if she’s been pretending to know about sanitation the whole time.
I said it was funny, but I feel exactly the same about cash! I mean, in some cases, I will go to meetings and be shocked to discover that I know more than everyone else about cash transfer programming (CTP), but if I go to a meeting of cash experts, I immediately become aware of how limited my knowledge is, and how much I don’t know, and feel like a fraud. Similarly, I am now in a new role as a cash expert in my old department, most of whom knew me when I knew nothing at all about cash, and I often worry they might find me out, or suddenly realise I’m a fraud.
I subsequently mentioned this feeling of faking it to another lovely colleague, who was none other than my first manager in the aid sector, a colleague I now work with, who knows better than anyone how green I was when she first hired me seven years ago.
She smiled, rooted around in her desk for a folder, and handed me a photocopy of this article, which she keeps copies of specifically to hand to female colleagues, who apparently suffer from this problem regularly.
So it’s not just my friend and me that suffer from imposterism!