"Run! You know nothing!" The perils of imposter syndrome and the need to be 'better than you.'


Hello one and all, I recently had the dubious task of training a cohort of high falutin’ folks. I write 'dubious' because without fail, time and again (and only ever with this audience) I start the session and within a matter of seconds the question that I loathe will spring forth, 'So, Steven, what's your highest qualification?' I always answers the redundant question with, 'So it's really important for you to know how educated I am?' That tends to get a grumble of, 'It's important to know who you are etc.' And I respond with, 'You'll get to know me when we commence the training, cheers.'


The subtext being, 'Hold your horses Talbot, never forget I'm cleverer than you and you can't teach me anything.'

I never bang on about me, if there's one thing, I can't abide its trainers who spend ten minutes telling everyone how wonderful they are, how qualified and how in demand they find themselves. I think the fact that you are stood in front of me (or on a computer screen) means they know what they are doing, and if they don’t, I'll soon come to that realisation myself.


I litter my learning and development sessions with copious tales of my work, my time working directly with children, young people, people experiencing homelessness, alcohol misuse, drugs etc. Because it was working with THEM that made the better person that I am today. I do NOT start sessions by mentioning, 'well, when I got my POST GRADUATE degree in so and so,' I find it so crass and self-indulgent. It's tripe like that that leads to folk having to deal with their imposter syndrome. People who feel they can't speak up in meetings because 'so and so' is speaking and they know best.


I once had a supreme leader of a certain department use an acronym that I hadn't heard before and I asked what that meant, she peered over her glasses at me, chortled to herself and said in her imperious, overbearing tone, 'You were a teacher for thirteen years and you don't know what it means?' And I replied, 'correct, I was a teacher for thirteen years and what does it mean?' Guess what, after much bluster and blabbing SHE DIDN'T KNOW. Meanwhile this self-styled guru of education was the first one to bang the drum of 'be kind.' Well, rather than let it lie, I soldiered on, 'What did you do that for?' As her face reddened, I asked, 'What was the point of trying to make me look ridiculous in this meeting? By being condescending you've just shown yourself up.' I thought my then manager was going to explode in the seat beside me. After the meeting she said, 'Steven no one talks to her like that,’ and I replied, ‘They need to start then.’ Needless to say the supreme leader and I never saw eye to eye but she also kept away from , if there’s one thing a bully hates it’s an assertive person.


I bet on her first dates she asks her prospective boyfriend how much he earns. Or what star sigh he is.


What's the point of the anecdote? I was chatting to a peer of mine who is an expert citizen with a wealth of knowledge, experience and value and she gets the same questions that I am asked. This is a woman who has;


- totally reinvented herself after a life time of abuse and childhood neglect


- used her knowledge and intelligence to better inform services


- told her story again and again in such a wonderfully compassionate way that people shut up and actually listen.


Meanwhile she's asked 'where did you get your degree?' Sigh.... Not just me then.

Do these people have ANY idea how that makes her feel? She’s already nervous about speaking up in front of people and she gets rubbish like that hurtled her way. And maybe that’s why some services just do not respect the voices of the clients, service users (people!) they work with, because after all, THEY are better than THEM and thus THEY know best. So shut up and do as you are told and know your place.