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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

The Imposter Syndrome and Why It's Hard to Make It When You Fake It

Most people feel in over their heads when they first enter a challenging situation or even a new job. And, while conventional wisdom suggests those with trepidations about trying new things should "fake it 'til they make it," it may not always be the best course of action.

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Bob Duke and Dr. Art Markman discuss what's known as "imposter syndrome" — the practice of pretending to be the person you want people to see you as rather than who you truly are — and explain why it may just be better to just start working towards your goals instead of faking it.

That first step to actually making it to your goals is to power through any feelings of insecurity and know when to ask for help. Many people perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness, but often it’s confident people who tend to say, “I don’t know.” After realizing where you need help and how you can achieve a goal, it's important to put forth the effort required.

Specific demands for success often vary across different types of people and jobs, but the temptation for people to feel like they have to pretend to be experts in impossible situations is pretty common across the board.

Unfortunately, this pressure can really hinder people in the process of developing true expertise and being happy in their work.

Abilities can be divided into talents and skills (although, likely, any ability is a combination of both). By definition, a talent is the innate capacity to perform an activity, whereas a skill is an activity that can be learned through practice. Being successful at anything requires a lot of hard work, so, while everyone has traits at which they are more gifted, being an expert requires hours of practice for everyone.

One hurdle to feeling authoritative is that we see experts as experts, not in their past (and present) roles of learning through experience and taking their hard knocks. Becoming an expert is a process that requires setting clear goals, understanding what it takes to complete them, and the willingness to put in the effort to successfully achieve them. Experts, whether they be teachers, bosses, or professional athletes, can help by making sure they show the people they mentor the challenging, and often winding, road it took to get to where they are—as well as the challenges they still face.

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
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