It is an odd fact that if you suffer from some condition, it is reassuring to discover that it has a name, and even more reassuring to find that many others suffer from it as well. Think how unbearable mortality would be if you were the only person to have contracted it. This thought is prompted by my reading of a fascinating and extremely detailed evaluation of the Chapel Hill graduate Philosophy program prepared, as part of a departmental self-critique, by present and former graduate students.
At one point in the 37 page document reference is made to something called "Imposter Syndrome," a phrase with which I was unfamiliar. Google took me to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia told me that "Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."
I was enormously cheered up by reading this because all my life I have been suffering from something that I now discover has a name and afflicts large numbers of other people as well. I began my long teaching career lecturing at Harvard on the history of Europe from Caesar to Napoleon despite never having taken a college history course. I went on to teach a survey of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago without the slenderest scholarly credentials for such an enterprise. I strut about posing as a Kant scholar when I cannot really read German. I write endlessly about economics despite the fact that I probably could not pass an undergraduate Micro exam [although I have actually taught undergraduate Micro to two hundred UMass students. Talk about being an imposter!]
My secret shameful self-image is Wile e Coyote, who races pell mell over the edge of cliff and only discovers, twenty feet out, that he is no longer standing on anything, whereupon he plummets like a rock to earth.
But it is all right, because it seems there are many of us, and we have a syndrome. Now, if I could only find a support group.