Recently impostor syndrome really hit me again. I’d been doing okay in this respect; I’ve learned a ton in my new role at work over the past year and was beginning to settle in to some sort of confidence that I knew enough to make informed choices and drive projects in the right directions for our business. Then, without warning I was whacked upside the head with a 2×4. Not because I suddenly doubted my choices again, but this time because my sphere of influence grew exceptionally in breadth and depth.

But, this post isn’t about that, as I discovered imposter syndrome isn’t just for business…

It seems it can sneak into relationships as well.

After pointing out to a new friend that they were uncommon in their interest, focus, and engagement, I received a verbal reply that stuck with me: “I’m afraid at some point you’ll discover how common I really am”. At the time, I argued best I could, but it really did hit me like a ton of bricks: the feeling of being an impostor isn’t limited to work/business. It really does transcend all aspects of life and relationships of all kinds and levels.

Most commonly I’ve seen and directly felt this sense of impostor syndrome around the technical writing communities and other very business-focused areas; to the point of it being pandemic in proportions. But I’d never considered that this same idea, this same feeling could creep into our relationships as we build them. That somehow, someone would discover who we really are, and that we would be a let down, is something that while new to me, also feels very timeless. It’s something I’ve felt since I began building relationships in my early childhood years, and likely is one of the deep driving factors to many of the choices I’ve made in life.

What I’ve come to realize is that in relationships, it isn’t what I have done in life (or what others have done) that builds the structure of relationships: it is the core of their values expressed through their personality that hangs as the cornerstone. While having done interesting things can make for good conversation, that’s all it is. Until you dig into those things and understand how they impacted our core values and world views, then you see how no one could really be an impostor if you’re looking at the right things to begin with. You can’t fake core values, and by definition you can’t be an impostor.

If, however, the only basis for the relationship is the interesting things you’ve done, then perhaps yes, there may be legitimacy to impostor syndrome in relationships after all.